Why Are Amphetamines Still So Popular?

Amphetamines should be one of those words that strike fear in people. It's doing quite the opposite.

Canada.com is reporting that amphetamines, most specifically methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA, have received great amounts of attention. Amphetamines have reached 'party drug' status within the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) community. That has spilled over to other arenas of entertainment and now to sports. Within the last two months, two NFL players, Orlando Scantrick of the Dallas Cowboys and Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos, have both been suspended for the first four games of the upcoming NFL season. Each player tested positive for PED's, or Performance Enhancing Drugs, laced with amphetamines.

It goes by many different names; E, Ex, Ecstasy, Molly, Mandy, what have you. But what, exactly is MDMA?

The party drug known as ecstasy is essentially the chemical 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. It spikes serotonin in the brain that causes users to feel extremely euphoric — the source of the "love drug" moniker often associated with MDMA.

MDMA was originally developed and patented in 1912 as a pharmaceutical but was not widely used in psychotherapy until the 1970s. But, like other synthetic drugs, this amphetamine was quickly adopted for recreational use. By the 1980s, it was growing in popularity in North America and Europe. In fact, for a time, you could go up to the bar in New York or Dallas — yes, Texas was one of the hotspots for ecstasy— and order MDMA legally.

Here's where it gets truly scary. Because it is so difficult to get MDMA in pure form, most of the ecstasy made today has different, sometimes more harmful chemicals substituted for MDMA. The demand is so great for amphetamines; drug manufacturers will make essentially knock-offs of Ecstasy to keep the pipeline flowing. With this new amphetamine derivative, however, comes new fears that the knock-offs are even deadlier, and more addictive, than the original.

The Daily Mail is reporting that the biggest reason for amphetamines' popularity has exploded is the misconceived scare tactics being used to dissuade teenagers and young adults from trying amphetamines. Kids are being told if they try amphetamines once; they could die from it, making amphetamines seem dangerously cool. Though there have been deaths attributed to amphetamines, the actual number is in the hundreds, a startling number indeed, but unlikely to scare today's youth. And dying from a first-time usage of amphetamines is even lower than that.

The biggest actual scare now is that drug manufacturers are using MDMA alternatives, making amphetamines more likely to cause brain damage. Ecstasy influences the 5HT neurons. These are nerve cells on the brain considered part of the serotonin pathway, responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter that lifts mood, promoting warm pleasurable feelings, regulates temperature, restricts appetite and sleep.

Levels of this feel-good transmitter reach extreme highs with Ecstasy. Experiments on rats and monkeys, however, have revealed that, while stimulating a temporary overproduction of seratonin, MDMA also appears over time to corrode the nerve cells responsible for producing it.

Amphetamines continue to grow in popularity. It would seem the short-term high is more powerful than the long-term effects on the brain. That's a hard obstacle to overcome.