Everything you need to know about amphetamines

Gail Evans, Alphabiolabs

By Gail Evans, Technical Trainer at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 06/03/2023

Although not as commonly used as cocaine or cannabis, deaths associated with amphetamines are on the rise in the UK.

Here, we take a closer look at amphetamines, what they are, the different types available, and how long amphetamines stay in your system.

Table of contents
  • What are amphetamines?
  • What are the street names for amphetamines?
  • What do amphetamines look like?
  • What are amphetamines used for?
  • Which drugs are classed as amphetamines?
  • How do people behave when they take amphetamines?
  • What are the effects of amphetamine misuse?
  • What happens when you use amphetamines with other drugs?
  • Which legislation covers amphetamine use?
  • Are amphetamines used in medicine?
  • How long do amphetamines stay in your system?
  • How long does it take for amphetamines to show up in a drug test?
  • How can I find out if a friend or family member is using amphetamines?

What are amphetamines?

Amphetamines are synthetic drugs that stimulate the brain and are often prescribed by doctors to treat conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain types of sleep disorders, including narcolepsy.

Also known by the street names ‘ice’ and ‘speed’, amphetamines are most commonly found in tablet, powder, crystal, and capsule form and can be white, pink, or yellow in colour.

When prescribed by a doctor, the use of amphetamines is legal. However, amphetamines are also commonly misused by recreational drug users.

These types of drugs are typically swallowed, injected, smoked, or snorted. It is also not uncommon for amphetamines to be consumed in a drinkable format.

Under UK Law, amphetamines are classified as Class B drugs. This means it is illegal to possess or produce them without a licence or prescription. However, when injected, amphetamines are classified as Class A drugs.

Those in possession of Class B drugs can face up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both. For Class A drug possession, prison time can be as much as seven years.

What are the street names for amphetamines?

When sold and used illegally, amphetamines are commonly known by the following street names:

  • Speed
  • Uppers
  • Ice
  • Crystal
  • Meth

Ecstasy, classified as a Class A drug in the UK, is an empathogen drug that derives from amphetamines. This means that the effects of ecstasy and amphetamines can be similar.

What do amphetamines look like?

Amphetamines are often sold illegally in powder and tablet form, as crystals or capsules, and can have an off-white, pink, grey or yellow appearance, sometimes resembling putty.

They are often packaged up in aluminium foil, plastic bags, or small balloons.

What are amphetamines used for?

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that are highly addictive and speed up the rate at which messages are sent between the brain and the body. This makes individuals more alert and focused.

Amphetamines also cause an increase in dopamine levels, the feel-good chemical in the brain.

When a person consumes amphetamines, they are broken down by the liver and released into the bloodstream. This is when the drugs begin to increase brain activity levels.

In medical settings, amphetamines may be prescribed to treat a range of health conditions, including:

  • Narcolepsy – a rare neurological condition that can affect the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles. This can cause people to become drowsy throughout the day
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a condition that can affect people’s behaviour, making it difficult to concentrate. People with ADHD may also experience restlessness, or may act impulsively

In some cases, doctors may also prescribe amphetamines to aid weight loss, or to treat mental health conditions like depression.

Recreational drug users who take amphetamines illegally typically use them to boost energy levels and focus, as these drugs can make users feel more alert, happy, creative, and confident.

Even after the effects of amphetamines have worn off, the drug and its metabolites can still be detected in the body in different ways including via, hair, nails, urine and saliva.

Which drugs are classed as amphetamines?

Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants, which speed up the way the body reacts including breathing and heart rate.

Medical professionals commonly prescribe the following drugs which are classified as amphetamines:

How do people behave when they take amphetamines?

How someone feels and behaves after taking amphetamines can vary.

For some people, it can make them feel more energised, awake, and excited, which can in turn make them chatty and talkative.

However, others might feel agitated, anxious and/or panicked. Amphetamine use has also been linked to increased aggression.

What are the effects of amphetamine misuse?

While the initial effects of amphetamines might only last a few hours, depending on how much has been taken and whether it is used regularly or not, amphetamines can cause several long-term side effects.

Outside of a medical setting, users typically consume amphetamines because it makes them feel full of energy and excited.

However, it is important to remember that drugs affect different people in different ways, so not everybody will have the same experience while using the same substances. Drugs can even affect the same person differently when taken at a different time.

The short-term effects of amphetamine misuse include:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Rising body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Breathing issues
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hallucinations

Long-term misuse of amphetamines can lead to:

  • Stomach issues including sickness
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle cramps and muscle breakdown
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Tooth decay
  • Organ failure

It is also not uncommon for amphetamine users to experience ‘amphetamine psychosis’ which can lead to paranoia, erratic behaviour, restlessness, and irritability.

As is the case with other drugs, long-term amphetamine misuse can also increase the likelihood of tolerance and dependence.

What happens when you use amphetamines with other drugs?

Below is an overview of the side effects of using amphetamines alongside other drugs.

Antidepressants

People who take certain antidepressants alongside amphetamines could be putting themselves at risk of irregular heartbeat and seizures, which could even be fatal.

Alcohol

Using amphetamines while drinking alcohol can increase heart rate and blood pressure. It can also increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, as a person taking amphetamines may not be fully aware of how much they are drinking.

Opioids

People who take amphetamines and opioids simultaneously are at increased risk of irregular heartbeat, seizures, overdose and even death.

Which legislation covers amphetamine use?

Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

Under UK law, amphetamines are classified as Class B drugs.   

Controlled drugs refer to any substances that are tightly controlled by the government, because they pose a risk of addiction or misuse.

It is an offence for a person to have controlled drugs in their possession, unless in exceptional circumstances, such as when they have been prescribed by a doctor. This also covers activities relating to the production, supply or preparation of controlled drugs.

SENTENCING FOR OFFENCES
Possession Up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both
Supply Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Drug Driving Road Traffic Act 2015

SENTENCING FOR OFFENCES
Drug driving Up to 6 months in prison, an unlimited fine or both

Criminal record

Driving licence endorsement for 11 years

One-year driving ban

Causing death by dangerous driving Up to 14 years in prison

Are amphetamines used in medicine?

In the UK, stimulant drugs like amphetamines are most commonly used to treat medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can cause a person to act on impulse and affect their ability to concentrate, and narcolepsy, a neurological disorder that affects sleep-wake cycles.

Certain amphetamines have also been shown to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

How long do amphetamines stay in your system?

When a person uses amphetamines, a proportion of the drug and its metabolites are released into the bloodstream, with a small amount being excreted by the body in a variety of ways.

How long a drug remains in the system and how quickly a person might feel the effects depends on several factors including how the drug was ingested, frequency of use, and the metabolism and weight of the individual.

For example, if amphetamines are swallowed, the effects are typically felt more slowly and can be less intense. However, a person who snorts, injects or smokes amphetamines may experience effects more quickly and more intensely.

The effects of amphetamines can last from 30 minutes to eight hours. However, it is important to note that it can take a few days for a person to feel normal again after taking amphetamines.

How long does it take for amphetamines to show up in a drug test?

Even after the ‘high’ has long worn off, amphetamine use can be detected by a drug test long after the drug was first consumed, depending on the type of drug test you take.

For oral fluid (saliva) drug tests, amphetamines remain detectable for up to 48 hours, while urine drug tests provide a detection window of up to four days.

The rate at which head hair grows means that head hair drug tests provide a wide window of detection for amphetamine use, making it possible to detect metabolites in the hair for up to 12 months, depending on the length of the hair.

Similarly, nail drug testing can be used to provide an overview of up to 12 months for drug use (six months for fingernails and 12 months for toenails).

How can I find out if a friend or family member is using amphetamines?

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of easy-to-use home drug tests, designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who has been misusing drugs.

Simply choose our Drug and Alcohol Nail Test (from £99) or our Home Urine Drug Test Kit (£18) and place your order online today.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email info@alphabiolabs.com.

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court. If you require a drug test for official matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test.

Home drug tests

Concerned about a loved one using drugs? Order one of our home drug tests today and get the answers you need.

Gail Evans, AlphaBiolabs

Gail Evans

Technical Trainer at AlphaBiolabs

A professionally-trained forensic scientist, Gail joined AlphaBiolabs in 2012 and holds the role of Technical Trainer.

Her day-to-day responsibilities include delivering in-depth training sessions both internally and externally, covering DNA, drug, and alcohol testing.

Throughout her career at AlphaBiolabs, Gail has held a variety of roles, including within the Legal and Workplace sectors of the business.

Before joining the company, Gail was a practicing forensic scientist with 25 years’ experience working for the Forensic Science Service, attending scenes of crime, and analysing physical and biological material with potential evidential value.

Gail also holds qualifications in chemistry and is a Lead Auditor for the ISO 9001 standard, the international standard for quality management.

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