Posted on Jul 25, 2022, 5 p.m.
The drug scene in America has always been a mixed bag, and stimulant drugs are no exception. While many conversations about stimulants are devoted to the meth epidemic, there exists an entire enterprise of prescription stimulant drugs that have similar negative statistics associated with them. Which is it? Is meth the more dangerous drug, or do prescription stimulants pose the greater threat? Let’s consider this important question.
Not Yesterday’s Stimulants
Stimulant drugs can be defined as substances that increase central nervous system activity. This means they manage communications between the brain and the body. In the most basic sense, even caffeine would qualify as a stimulant, though prescription and illicit stimulant drugs are much stronger and more dangerous by comparison. Speaking of illicit stimulant drugs, these are probably the most widely known forms of the drug, which saw their peak in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s. These include drugs like cocaine and ecstasy, and while millions of people still use them today, these drugs are not nearly as popular as they used to be.
However, the reason is not because of a general decline in the popularity of stimulant drugs. Instead, it’s because these drugs have been beaten out by cheaper and more potent forms of stimulants. This is where meth enters the picture. When drug smuggling became much more difficult for cocaine and crack, meth production rose as a much cheaper alternative, along with the added benefit of easier production and distribution. The risk and production of the older stimulants meant they would be sold for higher prices, and they failed to offer the same kind of high that people could get from meth. Because of this, meth quickly beat out its stimulant counterparts, and before long, we had an epidemic on our hands at the turn of the 21st century.
Today’s Stimulant Dangers
But this was only the beginning of the new era of stimulants. Alongside the wild popularity of methamphetamines, pharmaceutical companies saw prescription stimulants soar in usage. While people were busy focusing on the dangerous progress of methamphetamines worldwide, prescription stimulants saw an increase in prescriptions from 2 million to over 15 million from 1991 to 1999. These prescription stimulants include drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin, both of which were marketed to teenagers to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or to young adults to help with concentration during academics.
In fact, these drugs eventually gained the title “study drugs” because of how commonly college students used them for testing. Though these drugs carry a legal status not shared with methamphetamines, we can look to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s black box warning, their highest warning for potential abuse and/or death, as a signal of how dangerous these drugs are.
So how do these drugs compare? According to the National Institute of Health, meth and prescription stimulants can cause short-term effects such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased breathing, and intense wakefulness. In both drugs, increased dosage amounts can raise these to deadly levels, resulting in seizures, heart attacks, and high body temperature levels which can cause organ failure.
Long-term use of both drugs can include severe weight loss, memory loss, paranoia, and overall changes to brain functions. At this point, the drugs seem to be fairly equal overall. However, there is one key difference that helps us understand why the answer to this entire discussion is meth. In its chemical structure, meth has an extra methyl group. This allows the drug to cross the blood-brain barrier at a faster rate compared to prescription stimulants. Because of this, meth is more potent by comparison.
But there is another factor for us to consider. Meth (apart from its limited prescription form as Desoxyn) is an illicit substance that criminal organizations make with over-the-counter ingredients and other toxic chemicals. Not only does this produce all kinds of hazardous waste in the process, but it also means no amount of meth can be regulated or dosed. By comparison, consuming meth means consuming a more potent and more toxic substance compared to prescription stimulants.
Though meth’s higher potency and toxicity make it a more dangerous drug, we need to remember that both stimulants can harm the body. The same physical and mental damage can occur when taking these drugs long-term, and both pose a risk for addiction even if used for a short time. With this in mind, the best way to combat the dangers of stimulant drugs is to be mindful of behavioral signs, either in ourselves or those we love taking these drugs. Treating the addiction as soon as possible is the best chance of experiencing a full recovery.
This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine.
Content may be edited for style and length.
Materials provided by:
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