After the success of Benzedrine, the amphetamine marketed as a cure-all and used in the treatment of everything from colic to migraines, Smith Kline & French, the pharmaceutical company now part of the GlaxoSmithKline company, introduced Dexedrine as its successor in the years before the patent on Benzedrine lapsed in 1949.
Dexedrine is a dextroamphetamine that was originally widely used in the treatment of depression. In high doses the drug increases the production of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, both of which produce a 'fight or flight' response in the user.
Initially Dexedrine enjoyed modest success in the market, though it didn't achieve the same levels of popularity as Benzedrine. However, when users began reporting that Dexedrine induced weight loss the amphetamine became an overnight success, and by 1955 SKF was making sales of $12 million per year.
During the Korean War the US military distributed Dexedrine to troops for use as a stimulant, helping infantry, sailors and airmen stay alert for long periods. The fight or flight response was ideal for helping soldiers stay awake during protracted battles.
This practice continued until a Congressional investigation during the war in Vietnam found that the average enlisted man received 800mg of Dexedrine each year between 1966 and 1969, and questions were raised about the recreational use of the drug in the military.
The backlash from the investigation coupled with negative press coverage about the side effects of amphetamines led to a change in the law in 1971. The Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs made all amphetamines Schedule II controlled substances in the US, which meant that they could only be distributed with a prescription from a medical practitioner.
By 1975 SKF was forced to cap production of Dexedrine, and this limit quickly knocked Dexedrine off the top of SKF's list of best selling drugs.
While Dexedrine is still legal and available (both under its brand name and under the generic title dextroamphetamine) its use is limited in the present day. Indeed, the popularity of Dexedrine has fallen so low that the rights were sold by GlaxoSmithKline to Amedra Pharmaceuticals in 2010.
Today the drug is indicated for the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and while it shares its active ingredient with the vastly more popular Adderall and Ritalin it is rarely prescribed in favor of those drugs.
Dexedrine is prescribed more commonly to treat narcolepsy. When used in high doses it can help keep sufferers awake, while in low doses it has a calming effect.
Dexedrine is occasionally used in the treatment of morbid obesity, with mixed results. While Dexedrine was touted as a weight loss aid in its first years on sale it is, in fact, a poor solution to weight problems. Prolonged use of Dexedrine can result in cardiovascular problems, and the risks outweigh the benefits in all but the most desperate cases.
In the present day Dexedrine is most commonly used as a recreational drug. Like other amphetamines it produces a sense of euphoria, and is popular for illicit use. As is all too common with recreational use of controlled substances, Dexedrine use can often lead to overdose when used for off-label purposes without medical supervision.
Symptoms of Dexedrine overdose include confusion, aggression, hallucinations and panic. Repeated overdose can lead to acute psychosis. Amphetamine psychosis produces symptoms that closely resemble the effects of extreme sleep deprivation, with the sufferer often experiencing vivid visual, tactile and auditory hallucinations. Since Dexedrine users often suffer from sleep deprivation as a result of long term use of the drug it may be the case that this symptom is actually caused by the lack of sleep. Whatever the cause, this form of acute psychosis can have serious consequences.
For Dexedrine history has been unkind. What began as a promising treatment for depression soon took on a reputation as a recreational drug with great potential for misuse that has persisted to the modern day. However, when prescribed therapeutically and carefully controlled Dexedrine can be a very effective treatment for narcolepsy, ADHD and treatment resistant depression. It is only illicit use that had turned the tide of popularity on Dexedrine, and it is illicit use that has kept Dexedrine from gaining popularity as a common treatment for ADHD.