ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind recently had an excellent programme on amphetamine, discussing its varying uses from its original selling point as a widely abused nasal decongestant to its modern popularity as a kiddie behavioural control agent in the age of methylphenidate (Ritalin).
One of the most fascinating parts is where the guest, history of science professor Nicolas Rasmussen, discusses how after amphetamine was discovered in the 1930s the drug companies desperately tried to find an illness which it could be prescribed for.
Smith, Kline & French wanted to find a big market and so they looked at common diseases that you know might plausibly be treated by an adrenaline derivative and they tried it out on a huge range of conditions. Menstrual cramps, bed wetting, you name it — it turns out actually to work for bed wetting if you give it to little kids who have that problem, probably by making them sleep shallower — but also in psychiatry for depression, and that’s what really caught on.
They tried it for an enormous range of conditions through medical experts and the clinical trials where the drug didn’t work out well weren’t published, because that was already the arrangement then, when a drug company funded a trial unless it fit their marketing needs the results wouldn’t be published.
Great to see the spirit of the 1930s is still with us today.
The programme also discusses how the subculture use of the drug interacted with its ‘official’ uses in the mind of the public and policy makers to give speed the image it has today.
It seems the programme is based on a new book by Rasmussen called On Speed and I love the link at the bottom of the book’s website which says ‘Purchase On Speed’. I’ve drunk a lot of coffee. Will that do?
If you’re interested in a book on the science of amphetamines, Leslie Iverson’s book Speed, Ecstasy, Ritalin is simply wonderful and just so much fun to read, as I noted in an enthusiastic review last year.
The AITM programme is a fantastic introduction to the fascinating story of amphetamine, so a great place to begin.
Link to ‘Wakey Wakey! The many lives of amphetamine’.