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Birth of Amphetamine

First synthesized by Lazar Edeleanu in Germany in 1887, amphetamine remained quietly under the radar until it came to the attention of chemist Gordon Alles in 1929.  Alles was looking for an asthma medication that was better than the drugs available at the time.  To test its safety, he took amphetamine himself, noting only a “feeling of well being” as a side effect.  Unfortunately, at doses needed to treat asthma, amphetamine caused an increase in heart rate and an elevation in blood pressure.  To boot, it often left patients sleepless, nauseous and headachy.  But amphetamine did prove to be an effective decongestant when inhaled, and by the early 1930s the “Benzedrine Inhaler” had become a popular cold remedy, even among people who were not suffering from colds.  Breaking open the inhalers and consuming the contents provided a feeling of exhilaration!

Pharmaceutical companies took note with hopes of marketing amphetamine as an anti-depressant.  Military scientists became intrigued by the drug’s ability to induce alertness and combat fatigue.  The Germans focused on methamphetamine, a derivative first synthesized back in 1893 by the aforementioned Nagai, and introduced in Germany in 1938 as a pharmaceutical stimulant under the name Pervitin.  German troops during the first three months of the Blietzkrieg were supported by tanks, heavy artillery, air power and thirty-five million tablets of methamphetamine!  When taken by dive-bombing pilots, they were referred to as “Stuka Tablets,” supposedly helping to maintain consciousness by countering the blood pressure lowering due to the tremendous G forces generated by violently pulling up after a dive.  Even the Fuehrer was into amphetamine, being injected on a regular basis by his personal physician.  No clarity of mind was induced in that case.

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