Amphetamine psychosis: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment
These are the characteristics of amphetamine psychosis
Amphetamine psychosis is of equal parts interest and concern.. It is a possible side effect resulting from the use of certain illegal drugs or certain medications, which can completely alter the life and functioning of the person who suffers from it.
There are several important unknowns to understand its nature: How does it manifest itself? How long do its effects last? Is it similar to other types of psychosis? Does it have a treatment? In this article we explain it to you.
What is amphetamine psychosis?
Psychosis is the name given to a type of mental dysfunction that causes a break with reality in the mind of the affected person.. That is, the person is not able to distinguish what is only happening in his or her head from what is happening in the real world. The awareness of illness or insight is usually absent, so that people who suffer from it also often suffer deep states of anguish because they do not know what is going on.
Psychosis is typical of severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and the most characteristic and common symptoms are delusions and hallucinations. However, when we speak of amphetamine psychosis, we are referring to the psychosis that appears in an apparently healthy person after the consumption of amphetamines, and the most common symptoms are delusions and hallucinations..
Some studies place the prevalence of amphetamine psychosis between 15 and 23% when it is associated with recreational use, and 60% when we are talking about dependent people who have been using amphetamines for long periods of time.
Although the cause of the above-mentioned individual differences is unknown, some risk factors for developing amphetamine psychosis have been identified. some risk factors have been identified for developing amphetamine psychosis:
- Consumption of high doses of amphetamines
- Frequent use
- Combined use with other drugs
- Family history of psychosis
- Schizoid or schizotypal personality traits
- Presence of genes predisposing to this type of disorder.
The most plausible hypothesis so far is based on the vulnerability-stress paradigm, indicating that certain people would be more vulnerable to suffer psychosis and the consumption of drugs (stressor) would trigger its appearance..
Delusions are confusing thoughts of paranoid, persecutory or self-referential type (the person believes that certain stimuli or impersonal messages refer to him/her, for example a message launched in a television commercial), among others. These thoughts are very difficult to modifyand even when confronted with evidence that what they think is not real, they usually do not disappear.
Hallucinations are perceptual alterations in which the person sees, hears, smells or feels person sees, hears, smells or feels stimuli that are not really present. The most common are auditory or visual, but they can also be tactile, olfactory or cenesthetic (related to bodily sensations).
Duration of their effects
The evidence to date suggests that the symptoms of amphetamine psychosis can evolve in different ways depending on the person affected, although it is not known which are the most common symptoms.The reasons for the differences are not known. From people who, in spite of consuming large doses, never suffer from it, to people who suffer a psychotic episode and later recover, to people who never manage to recover and live with psychotic episodes chronically.
The treatment for amphetamine psychosis, as for other psychoses, is based on antipsychotic drugs.
It is a treatment aimed at reducing the symptoms of amphetamine psychosis.It is a treatment aimed at reducing the symptoms, since, for the time being, there is no definitive cure for chronic cases.
Differences and similarities between amphetamine psychosis and primary psychosis
Are primary psychosis (that which does not derive from another condition) and amphetamine psychosis completely the same? The truth is that they seem to manifest themselves somewhat differently.
In primary psychoses, for example that suffered by a person with schizophrenia, positive symptoms and negative symptoms may occur.
We call positive symptoms all those alterations that the person suffers and that should not be there (delusions or hallucinations are positive symptoms). On the other hand, negative symptoms are those functions that the person should be able to perform normally but cannot or has difficulty in doing so (absence of speech, absence of movement, affective dullness...).
Amphetamine psychosis seems to present mainly with positive symptoms.the most common being
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Persecutory delusions
- Ideas and feelings of influence
- Thought transmission (belief that others can read your mind).
In these cases the negative symptoms are much less frequent. Additionally, patients suffering from amphetamine psychosis tend to recover more quickly than those suffering from primary psychosis.
Cause of amphetamine psychosis: amphetamines
Amphetamines are a type of chemical substance that generates stimulant effects in the organism and have been used, both legally and illegally, since the 1920's. Some of their most common effects are:
- Decreased tiredness
- Feeling of well-being
- Sensory alterations
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased fear
Since it is a substance that activates our central nervous system, all the effects derived from its hyperactivation are to be expected, both in a purely physiological way, such as hypertension, and with subjective sensations derived from cognitive, perceptive and mood alterations.
As with all other drugs, its addictive effects are due to the activation of dopamine, which is responsible for our sensations of pleasure.. The consumption of the substance becomes a pleasurable behavior that we are willing to repeat as long as it is available.
Its historical trajectory
It is a drug with a rather controversial history, because in the early days of its at the beginning of its appearance on the pharmacological market, it began to be used without too many precautions for multiple therapeutic purposes. and only generated some concern when they began to see the side effects it could cause, among them amphetamine psychosis. During its therapeutic boom, amphetamines were used to treat almost anything: epilepsy, asthma, cranioencephalic trauma, sexual dysfunction, depression, obesity, multiple sclerosis...
During the Second World War, it was even administered to the armies for various purposes. To the soldiers of the troops to make them feel more euphoric and less tired and fearful, to the workers of the war industry to make them perform better and, finally, to the suicide pilots who crashed their planes against the enemy's ships.
But why did amphetamines become the solution for everything? Mainly because of the type of effects it causes in the organism, which can be very varied. It is a chemical substance whose structure is very similar to that of some of the neurotransmitters secreted by our brain, so it has the ability to activate various brain areas. Its mechanism of action involves dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and noradrenaline, and is extremely complex.. So much so, that research is still underway to better understand its neurobiological effects.
Despite the side effects, which contributed to its depopularization, amphetamine is still used today under different trade names to treat some diseases or syndromes. Pharmaceutical companies have focused their efforts on obtaining substances that minimize the adverse and hallucinogenic effects, increasing the beneficial ones. Even so, no substance without side effects has yet been obtained, so its use continues to generate controversy. It is currently commonly used in the treatment of attention deficit disorder, obesity or narcolepsy (sleep disorder that generates sudden sleep attacks and chronic fatigue).
At the same time that amphetamines were becoming popular in doctors' offices, they were also becoming popular at more alternative parties. It quickly became one of the most popular drugs of abuse among young people and attracted the attention of health authorities. and attracted the attention of health authorities in several countries, who began to question its use even if it was legal and under medical prescription.
Some of the side effects that this kind of psychoactive substances can cause are:
- Increased body temperature
- Bruxism (clenching of teeth and jaw)
- Urinary retention
- Hormonal alterations
- Feeling of anguish or panic
- Strange thoughts
In addition to these, more serious effects include cardiac arrhythmias, Cardiovascular collapse, liver toxicity, renal failure or amphetamine psychosis.
It has also been described that, after its consumption, there are certain effects similar to those of an amphetamine, there are certain effects similar to those of a hangover that last a few days after consumption. These effects may include:
- Memory loss
- Lack of sexual desire
- Muscle pain
Recreational and Illegal Use of Amphetamines
In recreational use, amphetamines can be found in different compositions and under different names.
Pure amphetamine is commonly known as speed. Dextroamphetamine (a drug used to treat the symptoms of attention deficit disorder and consumed illegally) may be known as dexies o kiddie-speed. Finally, methamphetamine when consumed in solid form is called crystal methamphetamine and, in its liquid form, red speed.
Other illegal uses of this drug, apart from parties, have been sports doping and consumption by workers or students who want to improve their cognitive performance.
Different formats and their effects
Amphetamine can be found in various forms: tablets, powder, crystals or as a liquid. Depending on its format, it can be swallowed, snorted, injected, smoked or rubbed on mucous membranes such as the gums.
Depending on the format of consumption, we will obtain effects of a certain intensity that will appear more or less rapidly.. In this sense, the most intense and rapid effects are obtained by injecting or smoking, however they disappear soon after consumption. When inhaled the effects are less intense, lasting between 15 and 30 minutes. Finally, when taken orally, the effects take longer to appear but are the longest lasting.
Drug use and associated psychological problems
Other types of psychological problems have also been associated with amphetamine use, such as cognitive dysfunctions (memory and executive function problems) or anxious-depressive symptoms. Likewise, other types of drugs, such as cannabis, have been associated with the appearance of similar symptoms, including psychosis.
As we can see, the consumption of these substances can have multiple effects on our organism with short-, medium- and long-term consequences, so it is not advisable to trivialize their use, whether for therapeutic or recreational purposes.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)