Pill Pushing©

Benzedrine - O! The elation and clarity of mind! - (1/1/2017)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The drug in question -  Benzedrine 

Society at the time
In 1933, the US population was 140,000,000, approximately 43% of what it is today. That same year The Lone Ranger debuted on America radio. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. The New York City-based Postal Telegraph Company introduced the first singing telegram. The original film version of King Kong, starring Fay Wray, premieres at Radio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxy Theatre in New York City. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 53.84 to 62.10; March 15th’s gain of 15.34%, achieved during the depths of the Great Depression, remains to date as the largest 1-day percentage gain for the index. In 1933, Roosevelt begins the first of four terms as President. The first alleged modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster occurs. The Marx Brothers' anarchic comedy film Duck Soup is released in the U.S. The Mexican Indian Wars end after 414 years. Yoko Ono and Carol Burnett were born. Calvin Coolidge died and the King of Afghanistan, Mohammed Nadir Shah, was assassinated. The first Krispy Kreme donuts were sold at a general store in Paducah, Kentucky. Even though amphetamine was discovered in 1887, it had had no pharmacological use until 1933, when Smith, Kline and French began selling it as an inhaled decongestant under the trade name Benzedrine.

The good, the bad, and the ugly
Benzedrine is the trade name of the racemic mixture of amphetamine (dl-amphetamine). The drug was often referred to as "bennies" by users and in literature. It was marketed under this brand name in the United States in the form of inhalers, starting in 1933. At first, Benzedrine was used medically to enlarge nasal and bronchial passages until it was discontinued and replaced with compounds with weaker psychoactive properties (e.g., ephedrine [Bronkaid®, Primatine®], and propylhexedrine [Benedrex®]).

While the drug was initially used for medical purposes, as a bronchodilator, early users of the Benzedrine inhaler discovered it had a euphoric stimulant effect, resulting in its being one of the earliest synthetic stimulants to be widely used for recreational (i.e., nonmedical) purposes. Even though this drug was intended for inhalation, some people used Benzedrine recreationally by cracking the container open and swallowing the paper strip inside, which was covered in Benzedrine. The strips were often rolled into small balls and swallowed, or taken with coffee or alcohol. Because of the stimulant side effect, physicians discovered amphetamine could also be used to treat narcolepsy. This led to the production of Benzedrine in tablet form. Benzedrine was also used by doctors to perk up lethargic patients before breakfast.
 
In 1937, the effects of Benzedrine, and stimulant use in general, were beginning to be studied in children with behavior and neurological disorders, seminal work for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Today, amphetamines are still the gold standard for treating this disorder. 

Abuse becomes rampant
In the 1940s and 1950s, reports began to emerge about the recreational use of Benzedrine inhalers, and in 1949, doctors began to move away from prescribing Benzedrine as a bronchodilator and appetite suppressant. In 1959, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it a prescription drug. Benzedrine and derived amphetamines were used as a stimulant for armed forces during World War II and the Vietnam War. Benzedrine was commonly referenced in Beatnik culture and writings. It was referenced in the works of famous Beats, including Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, William S. Burroughs's novel Junky, and Allen Ginsberg's memoir poem "Howl". Benzedrine is also mentioned in John Rechy's novel City of Night and several novels by Jacqueline Susann, in particular, The Love Machine in which main character Robin Stone treats the drug as a staple of "a well-balanced diet" inclusive of red meat and cigarettes. 

During World War II, the military in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan used amphetamines to increase alertness and endurance and to improve mood. At the time, methamphetamine was sold in tablet form under the brand name Pervitin, produced by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company. It was used extensively by all branches of the combined Wehrmacht armed forces of the Third Reich, and was popular with Luftwaffe pilots in particular, for its performance-enhancing stimulant effects and to induce extended wakefulness. Pervitin became colloquially known among the German troops as "Stuka-Tablets" (Stuka-Tabletten) and "Herman-Göring-Pills" (Hermann-Göring-Pillen). Side effects were so serious that the army sharply cut back its usage in 1940. Historian Lukasz Kamienski says "A soldier going to battle on Pervitin usually found himself unable to perform effectively for the next day or two. Suffering from a drug hangover and looking more like a zombie than a great warrior, he had to recover from the side effects." Some soldiers turned very violent, committing war crimes against civilians; others attacked their own officers. 

Obetrol, patented by Obetrol Pharmaceuticals in the 1950s and indicated for the treatment of obesity, was one of the first brands of pharmaceutical methamphetamine products. Due to the psychological and stimulant effects of methamphetamine, Obetrol became a popular diet pill in America in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, as the addictive properties of the drug became known, governments began to strictly regulate the production and distribution of methamphetamine. For example, during the early 1970s in the United States, methamphetamine became a schedule II controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. 

Methamphetamine is often used recreationally for its effects as a potent euphoriant and stimulant as well as aphrodisiac qualities. Abuse bof the drug began to rise during the 1960s and 1970s with the discovery that the intravenous injection of amphetamines (particularly methamphetamine) produced enhanced euphoric effects with a more rapid onset than oral administration. Although structurally similar to amphetamine, methamphetamine has more pronounced effects on the CNS. Between 1986 and 1989, law enforcement and treatment admission professionals in Hawaii reported that abuse of a concentrated form of methamphetamine (known as "ice," "glass," and "crystal") was increasing. 

According to a National Geographic TV documentary on methamphetamine, "an entire subculture known as "party and play" is based on methamphetamine use". Members of this San Francisco sub-culture, which consists almost entirely of gay male methamphetamine users, will typically meet up through internet dating sites and have sex. Due to its strong stimulant and aphrodisiac effects and inhibitory effect on ejaculation, with repeated use, these sexual encounters will sometimes occur continuously for several days on end. The crash following the use of methamphetamine in this manner is very often severe, with marked hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness). Methamphetamine use has also been noted among men having sex with men in New York City.

How the drug has affected society 
Benzedrine has impacted the pop culture media in print and on the screen  

Movies & TV
The Man in the High Castle (TV – 2015)
In the first episode of season one, Joe Blake is handed a package containing Benzedrine to aid him in making the journey from New York City to Cannon City.

Trumbo (Film – 2015) 
The screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo was known to be dependent upon Benzedrine, which he often combined with hard liquor, as portrayed in this film.

W.E. (Film – 2011)
In a Netflix original directed by Madonna, King Edward the VIII livens up his sleeping guests with a Benzedrine pill added to every glass of champagne and announces to Wallis Simpson "It's time to wake these people up." The party transforms into a raucous party with laughter and dancing and a much greater sense of euphoria.

Literature
Ian Fleming's James Bond references
In the series of books by Ian Fleming, the character James Bond repeatedly makes use of Benzedrine in times of peak stress and typically during the climax of various books. Actually, Ian Fleming initially makes reference to Benzedrine in his first book Casino Royale, written in 1953. Le Chiffre, is the paymaster of the "Syndicat des Ouvriers d'Alsace" (French for "Alsatian Workmen's Union"), a SMERSH-controlled trade union. In the very early scenes, Le Chiffre is noted to make use of a Benzedrine inhaler as he plays baccarat. This detail is not lost in the 2006 film remake of the same name with 'Le Chiffre' played by Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, also uses an inhaler. Benzedrine, however, was now considered to be too 'druggy' so a platinum cased salbutamol inhaler, used as a bronchodilator, makes do instead. The character of James Bond's first use of Benzedrine is in the form of tablets in the book Live and Let Die"...He still felt perfectly fresh and the elation and clarity of mind produced by the Benzedrine were still with him..." This scene occurs as James Bond is maneuvering through an underwater coral reef toward the island of Surprise off the coast of Jamaica. The next instance of James Bond using Benzedrine is in Moonraker where early in the book he uses a champagne and Benzedrine mixed drink (to which he says "Never Again.") to stay alert to beat the villain Hugo Drax at a game of high-stakes contract bridge. Additionally, when James Bond is about to deal with two gangsters in The Spy Who Loved Me over a long night at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court, "...He took out two and when I gave him the coffee he swallowed them down. 'Benzedrine.' That'll keep me awake for tonight." says Bond. 

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins (1976)
"It was a cloudless night with only moderate smog. A furry northeaster was blowing in over Coney Island and Brooklyn, bringing to the upper East Side a teasing sniff of the ocean. Trembling with energy, unable to contain itself, Manhattan was popping wheelies beneath her. In every direction, her tired eyes saw flashing lights, lights that caromed off the horizons and joined with the stars in the sky. The city seemed to be inhaling Benzedrine and exhaling light; a neon-lunged Buddha chanting and vibrating in a temple of filth."

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
In Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar, the title character Esther Greenwood dreams up a list of unrealistic expectations for herself in the midst of her depression. "I thought I would spend the summer reading Finnegans Wake and writing my thesis. Then I would be way ahead when college started at the end of September, and able to enjoy my last year, instead of swotting away with no makeup and stringy hair, on a diet of coffee and Benzedrine, the way most of the seniors taking honors did, until they finish their thesis." 

Filth (1998)
In Irvine Welsh's novel entitled Filth, the protagonist, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is offered Benzedrines by his colleague Ray Lennox, who claims that "They keep you going when you are a bit fucked."

Music
Elton John - Bennie and the Jets (1973)
Bennie and the Jets is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The song's titular character "Bennie" is an allusion to Benzedrine. Similarly, the titular "Jets" is an allusion to "speed" (a popular street name for amphetamines).

Harry "The Hipster" Gibson (1947)
The jazz pianist, singer and songwriter Harry Gibson wrote a song called "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?"

Tom Lehrer (1959)
Benzedrine appears in the song "Bright College Days" by the satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer. It appeared on the album More of Tom Lehrer.
"To the beer and Benzedrine
To the way that the dean
Tried so hard to be pals with us all."

Bud Brewer/Gary Stewart (1975)
RCA country music performers Bud Brewer and Gary Stewart both released versions of the song "Caffeine, Nicotine, Benzedrine (and Wish Me Luck)" in 1975. The song, written by Bill Hayes, Betty Mackey, and Bill Howard, is sung from the perspective of a truck driver struggling to stay awake on the road.

R.E.M. - What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (1994)
R.E.M. released this song in 1994 which uses the term in the opening line "'What's the frequency, Kenneth?' is your Benzedrine, uh-huh." The song was written in reflection of the 1986 incident in which CBS Evening News anchorman Dam Rather was beaten on the streets of New York City by a then-unknown assailant, William Tager. The year the song was released by the group, Tager shot and murdered NBC stagehand Campbell Montgomery outside of the stage of the Today Show. 

Where the drug is today
Benzedrine was pulled off the market decades ago because it caused major peripheral stimulation (nervousness) without much CNS stimulation, thus, it would not have controlled symptoms of ADHD. It was one of the most famous drugs of abuse in the 1960s. The inhaler had a Benzedrine pill in it that one could take out and snort, shoot, or just add it to their morning coffee. 

As Benzedrine was more difficult to get, it was replaced with methamphetamine, usually made in homemade labs or larger clandestine drug manufacturing facilities. As with many stimulants, methamphetamine is most often abused in a “binge and crash” pattern. Because the pleasurable effects of methamphetamine disappear even before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly, users try to maintain the high by taking more of the drug. In some cases, abusers indulge in a form of binging known as a “run,” foregoing food and sleep while continuing to take the drug for up to several days. 

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 1.2 million people (0.4% of the population) reported using methamphetamine in the past year, and 440,000 (0.2%) reported using it in the past month. This represents a decrease from previous years: In 2006, 731,000 (0.3%) reported past-month use. In 2012, there were 133,000 new users of methamphetamine age 12 or older—the same as the previous year but continuing a general downward trend across the past decade. The average age of new methamphetamine users in 2012 was 19.7 years old.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Visit him at www.rx-press.com. 


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