The Surprising History Of Adderall

June 17th 2015

Thor Benson

It's well understood that the college population in America is familiar with Adderall. Instead of doing drugs to escape worries, students who use it are getting high to be more productive. While this may feel like a recent development, this kind of artificial stimulation has existed on college campuses and beyond for decades.

Amphetamine was first synthesized by a Romanian chemist named Lazăr Edeleanu in 1887. Edeleanu wrote extensively on amphetamine but never discovered its physiological effects. In 1929, a biochemist in California named Gorden Alles injected himself with 50 milligrams of the drug to experience its physiological effects. He was trying to develop a drug that would be more effective than ephedrine, which was used for asthma, allergies, and colds.

Alles took notes of his experience with amphetamine. He wrote that his nose indeed dried up, and he had a significant feeling of "well-being." The next day he had a "rather sleepless night," because his mind was racing. He patented amphetamine sulfate and amphetamine hydrochloride in 1932 and was the first to publish the effects.

Alles went to the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline and French and assisted with the unveiling of a decongestant inhaler called Benzedrine by 1934. That's where the college kids come in. By the end of the 1930s, the Adderall of its day had taken over the academic world. Students from all backgrounds were using Benzedrine to stay awake late into the night to finish their school work (and probably to have a good time).

Both the allied forces and the Nazis used amphetamine and it's relative, methamphetamine, during World War II to stimulate the troops. It has been recorded that more than 200 million methamphetamine pills were distributed to German troops between 1939 and 1945. The Nazis were known for marching for extreme distances, which was often fueled by drugs.

Amphetamine-based drugs, like Benzedrine Sulfate, became popular among mothers in the 1950s. "Mother's little helper," as it was called, was supposed to help women lose weight and become happier housewives. It was also used to treat Parkinson's Disease. Benzedrine was later a drug of choice for many of the beatniks of the 1950s and 60s. Writers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs often used the drug for fun or to help them write. Kerouac's "On the Road" novel was said to have been written in 20 days during a Benzedrine-fueled binge.

As amphetamine drugs became more popular medically and recreationally, along with the illegal production of amphetamines worldwide, governments started to crack down on the drugs. Using amphetamines without a prescription was made illegal in the U.S. with Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. That said, many of the same amphetamines were still prescribed by doctors into the 1980s. The illegal use of speed, an amphetamine drug, was a significant part of the punk and gay scenes in the 1980s and 90s as well.

That may sound like the nail in the coffin for legal amphetamine and methamphetamine in the country, but it is far from it. As we've mentioned, Adderall, an amphetamine drug, is still quite popular among college students. While it can be obtained as a prescription to treat ADHD, it is typically obtained by college students illegally through a friend. About one third of college students are said to use the drug at some point during their first four years of college. Methamphetamine is also obviously a persistent drug of choice for some Americans, and it is often made in illegal labs in rural areas. The prescription ADHD drug Desoxyn contains methamphetamine, though it is prescribed significantly less than Adderall.

Methamphetamine and drugs such as Adderall are considered Schedule II drugs by the DEA, which means they have a "high potential for abuse" and can lead to "severe psychological or physical dependence." The ADHD drug industry made more than $9 billion in 2012, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down.