What Are Stimulants? Types, Side Effects & Treatment Options
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Stimulants are a commonly used class of substances that can be used for medical purposes as well as abused.
Stimulants are common substances. Many people take stimulants daily in the form of caffeinated coffee. Potent forms can be used to treat many different medical problems like narcolepsy, obesity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Other forms are used illicitly to get high. This broad and powerful class of drugs activates the central nervous system.
What Are Stimulants?
Stimulants are drugs that speed up the brain and body. They increase the level of dopamine and norepinephrine, common neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, is a chemical responsible for activating the body’s fight or flight system. In contrast, dopamine activates the brain’s reward pathway. As a result, stimulants can be highly addictive, and many are classified under the Controlled Substance Act.
How Are Stimulants Administered?
Stimulants can be taken in different ways depending on the drug. Legal stimulants are taken by mouth, and many are meant to be taken whole. Illicit stimulants are typically smoked, snorted or injected to cause a high.
Types of Stimulants
Some stimulants are legally available to treat medical conditions. A few are even available over the counter. However, others are illicit and are sold illegally in the United States.
Many different prescription stimulants are available. Most stimulants are controlled substances, meaning that they are associated with a risk of abuse, addiction, and dependence. These drugs are categorized from Schedule I to Schedule IV, with Schedule IV being the most highly addictive. Further, some prescription stimulants are not controlled substances at all, meaning that no risk of abuse, addiction or dependence has been proven. Prescription stimulants available in the United States include:
Also sold under the brand name Nuvigil. It is mainly used for narcolepsy and excessive daytime sleepiness. The drug is a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand name Provigil. It is prescribed mainly for narcolepsy and excessive daytime sleepiness. It is a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Ergotamine and Caffeine
Also sold under the brand names Cafergot and Miergot. The drug is mainly used for headaches. It is not a controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand names Adzenys, Dyavanel, and Evekeo. This drug is mainly used for ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine
Also sold under the brand names Adderall and Mydayis. It is mainly prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand names Dexedrine, ProCentra, and Zenzedi. The drug is mainly used for narcolepsy. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand name Focalin. The drug is mainly used for ADHD. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Mainly prescribed for obesity. It is a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Mainly prescribed for obesity. It is a Schedule III controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand names Adipex-P and Lomaira. It is mainly prescribed for obesity. The drug is a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand name Vyvanse. The drug is mainly used for ADHD and binge-eating disorder. It is a Schedule II controlled substance.
Also sold under the brand name Desoxyn. It is mainly used for narcolepsy and is a Schedule II controlled substance. However, much of the methamphetamine used in the United States is illegal.
Also sold under the brand name Wakix. It is used for narcolepsy. The drug is not a controlled substance.
Mainly used for ADHD and narcolepsy. It is a Schedule II controlled substance. Methylphenidate is also sold under many brand names like:
In addition, some stimulants are available without a prescription. These include:
- Caffeine products like coffee and soda
- Nicotine products including cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies
- Pseudoephedrine which is sold behind the counter at pharmacies
Illicit stimulants include many different drugs like:
Like cocaine, meth is a Schedule II drug with some valid medical uses. However, most meth is illicit.
This drug contains the Schedule I substance cathinone.
They contain man-made cathinone drugs of which some are Schedule I.
It is not illegal at the federal level but has been banned by some states.
What Do Stimulants Look Like?
Stimulants can come in many different forms. Prescription stimulants are generally pills taken by mouth. However, illicit stimulants can come in more forms, like:
Leaves and Twigs
These can be chewed. Khat is often sold as the leaves, shoots, and twigs of the shrub it comes from.
These can be snorted or swallowed. Cocaine and bath salts often come as a white powder and are snorted. Conversely, kratom often comes as a green powder and is swallowed.
These are snorted or smoked. Meth often comes as clear or bluish crystals that look like ice or glass.
These can be smoked. Crack cocaine looks like small chunky rocks. The color of crack rocks ranges from yellowish-white to yellow. The rocks are usually small and weigh only a few tenths of a gram each.
These can be injected. Many liquids are originally other dosage forms, like crystals, which are dissolved in a liquid base and then injected.
Street Names for Stimulants
Because so many stimulants are available, there are a wide variety of street names. While some refer to stimulants as a whole, others are drug-specific. Street names for stimulants include:
Stimulant Side Effects
Stimulant side effects include:
- Flushed skin
- Chest pain
- Stomach cramps
- Hostile behavior
How Long Do Stimulants Stay in Your System?
Because so many different stimulants are available, the amount of time they stay in one’s system varies. Among illicit stimulants:
- Bath salts cause a high that can last up to 3 hours.
- Khat can cause a high that lasts up to 3 hours.
- Cocaine can cause a high that lasts up to 1 hour.
- Meth causes a high lasting up to 12 hours.
Prescription stimulants often last much longer than illicit stimulants because many of them are formulated to be long-acting. Because they start to work slowly, they also wear off very slowly, making them less likely to cause a high. For example, Ritalin LA takes about 2 hours to reach its greatest effect. It takes 3.5 3.5 hours for half of Ritalin LA to wear off, and it can take about 17.5 hours for Ritalin LA to completely leave the body.
Are Stimulants Addictive?
Stimulants can be highly addictive. For this reason, some stimulants like khat are Schedule I controlled substances and are illegal. Even among legal stimulants like ADHD drugs, the majority are Schedule II controlled substances, meaning that they have a high risk of abuse and dependence despite their medical use. By triggering the release of brain chemicals like dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway, stimulants can lead to both addiction and physical dependence. This can make them not only prone to misuse but very difficult to stop taking without help.
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