Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Schizophrenic Attitudes towards Legal versus Illegal Stimulants

The United States has always had a peculiar and highly inconsistent attitude towards amphetamines, and it seems to become more and more schizophrenic about them with each passing day. The government, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the media systematically overstate the dangers of the illegal variety, while systematically understating the dangers of the legal varieties. 

In actuality, as neuroscientist Carl Hart points out in his book High Price, there is really no significant difference between these two. 

Why aren’t kids who are given daily doses of Adderall getting “meth mouth?” Again according to Dr. Hart, because meth mouth is not actually caused by methamphetamines per se. A media-generated old wive's tale.

In my past writing on this subject, I have brought up a couple of interesting stories about stimulants that bear repeating. (If you’ve seen them, skip this paragraph and the next). When I was a freshman in college from 1966-1967, I was going to school in Berkeley. I got to personally witness the hippie scene in the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco months before the media even knew it was there. As you may know, the hippies were all in favor of experimenting with getting high on a variety of drugs. But even they used to say, “speed kills.”

Then much later in my life there was a talk I attended given by a representative at NIDA, who went on and on about how illegal stimulants deplete the brain of dopamine and thereby destroy the ability of addicts to have pleasurable experiences with anything besides maybe the drug itself. This of course is another one of those grossly exaggerated scare stories. Taking it at face value, however, someone in the audience got up and asked, “So aren’t we doing that to our kids with ADHD?” The non-answer from the NIDA man, “But the drugs work so well!”

Interestingly, the Federal Government's drug regulatory agencies seem to think that stimulants are far more dangerous and prone to abuse than benzodiazepines. Benzo’s are demonized by almost everyone in both their legal and its non-prescription uses. Stimulants are classified as Schedule II, which means they have a high potential for abuse. Opiates like oxycontin are also Schedule II.

Benzo’s, on the other hand, are classified in schedule IV, which consists of drugs considered as low risk for abuse and dependence. That is correct. When was the last time you ever read in the newspaper or online about a big bust of an illegal valium dealer?

I came across a really interesting history of America's attitudes towards amphetamines on line at

A sample of the subtopics covered:

In the sixties, stimulants were hawked by the drug industry as diet pills, resulting in an epidemic of stimulant abuse among housewives. (This was dramatized in the movie The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - DA). According to the above story:

"By 1970, nearly 10 percent of American women regularly used or were dependent on some form of amphetamine, most prescribed for weight loss. In his book Speed-Speed-Speedfreak, Mick Warren reminds us that hooked housewives and twenty-something women were established cultural tropes….” 

To make up for ground lost from this scandal, Pharma and its surrogates are now in the midst of making a huge and concerted effort to market to women both the drugs and the condition known as “Adult ADHD.” 

There’s a lot more interesting history in the web story. I would recommend the whole piece to anyone interested in this subject. The pictures of old advertisements are particularly awesome.


  1. Well thanks for that Dr Allen. Legalised dealing, dealing in human misery, lovely just lovely. I for one see this issue as a crime against humanity, just basic human rights, have we sunk this low??? Why am i surprised.

  2. I was put on Adderall as one of my many medications as a kid. I didn't really like having to take them, because they made me different from the other kids who didn't have psych meds (even the kids in special ed apparently). On Ritalin, at least, my stomach would feel strange.

  3. I'm a fan of your blogs and blocks but why use the term "schizophrenic" to describe self-contradictory behavior? It seems both inaccurate and potentially stigmatizing.

  4. I agree with Oliver.

    In fact, I thought the use of the word was insensitive and unprofessional, to say the least.

    On a larger scheme, it's time to eliminate that label all together - It's dehumanizing.