Using historical research that draws on new primary sources, I review the causes and course of the first, mainly iatrogenic amphetamine epidemic in the United States from the s through the s. The latest national surveys show that about 3 million Americans used amphetamine-type stimulants nonmedically in the past year, in the past week, and that to are addicted. The original amphetamine epidemic was generated by the pharmaceutical industry and medical profession as a byproduct of routine commercial drug development and competition. Searching for a decongestant and bronchodilator to substitute for ephedrine, in , biochemist Gordon Alles discovered the physiological activity of beta-phenyl-isopropylamine soon to be known as amphetamine. SKF marketed it as the Benzedrine Inhaler, a capped tube containing mg of oily amphetamine base and little else. For congestion, one was meant to inhale amphetamine vapor every hour as needed. SKF-funded Harvard psychiatrist Abraham Myerson played a particularly influential role, theorizing that amphetamine adjusted hormonal balance in the central nervous system by creating or amplifying adrenergic stimulation so as to promote activity and extra-version. Because Meyerson understood minor depression as anhedonia caused by suppression of natural drives to action, amphetamine represented an ideal depression therapy to him. The US military also supplied Benzedrine to servicemen during the war, mainly as 5-mg tablets, for routine use in aviation, as a general medical supply, and in emergency kits.
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