The ancient warrior Vikings became legends thanks to a tireless ability to kill their enemies all day and night. Such tireless actions were achieved using a concoction of fly agaric mushrooms. This idea has endured to recent historical and current time periods. For example, during the Second World War active military units on both sides actively used synthetic stimulants. It has been claimed that during the French campaign in May 1940 German tank divisions were able to continue their lightning crushing attack both day and night because the tankmen were taking amphetamines. In other camps, Allied pilots escaped from falling asleep during raids over long distances via the use of amphetamines.
By contrast, the same can be used to explain inaccuracies of some bombing expeditions when bombs were dropped next to planned targets as opposed to hitting the mark. With this, it was discovered that negative side effects of amphetamine stimulants (including psychological addiction) outweighed the benefits and in 1970 they were classified in the United States as a drug and banned.
How do stimulants work?
Man is not perfect as he will never be fast enough, brave enough, nor strong enough compared with what is the ideal. Accordingly, when scientists realized that the transmission of a nerve impulse and, hence, nervous system activity depends on unique substances (i.e., neurotransmitters), the question of whether this mechanism can be exploited arose.
Nerve cells communicate with each other with the help of lengthened processes that do not come into contact with one another. If this is true, then how might signals be transmitted throughout the body? Within the space between cells is called a synapse. This is where active substances are released and are able to come into contact with receptors of another neuron. This works as ‘key and lock’ function that promotes the transmission of nerve impulses. The speed and quality of the transmitted signal depend on the amount of substance that is released and the availability of receptors.
Given this information, suppose that some substance can help neurotransmitters stay within the synapse and remain for an extended period of time. The resultant nerve impulse trafficking would theoretically persist throughout the nervous system! This is how amphetamine-type stimulants act. The neurotransmitter noradrenaline is responsible for the state of emotional recovery. Together with another neurotransmitter (i.e., dopamine), noradrenaline is able to increase wakefulness and energy leading to improved desire to work and high confidence.
When something is threatening, the so-called sympathetic-adrenergic mechanism of urgent adaptation in response to extreme conditions is activated. This is the effect that amphetamines provoke in humans. They release norepinephrine and dopamine into the synapse and interfere with its re-uptake, which is why people taking such substances feels surges of energy. However, nothing occurs without a cost. After administering amphetamine, neurotransmitter reserves become depleted, which is followed by a state of depression.
The amphetamine epidemic
In the 1930s no one was aware of the consequences of taking amphetamines. People only knew of the bright prospects associated with taking amphetamines. Amphetamine for inhalation was first put on the market in 1932 in the form of a drug called “Phenamine” by Smith, Kline & French. By 1935 doctors officially recognized the stimulating effect of this drug. Two years later, amphetamines were first approved by the American Medical Association for sale in the form of tablets.
During the Second World War, both amphetamine and methamphetamine drugs were widely used by soldiers to improve performance and endurance, which incidentally led to an increase in drug addiction in Japan following the war. In 1954, amphetamine dependence in Japan took the form of an epidemic. There was a dense population of nearly 2 million people addicted to amphetamines in a country with a population of 8.5 million! In the USA, there was also amphetamine fever because this stimulant is an appetite suppressant, which made this drug highly successful as a weight loss tool.
The amphetamine drugs are actually amphetamine (the original trade name is phenamine) disguised as benzedrine, desbutal, dexamyl, methamphetamine, and/or “ice” – crystalline methamphetamine. All of these substances are currently recognized as narcotic drugs and are limited in medical practice.
A stimulator that is easy to acquire
A much milder and relatively legal stimulant is Sydnocarb. Despite demonstrating some resemblance to amphetamine, Sydnocarb markedly differs from the former in that it does not demonstrate a free amino group, which plays a significant role in how this drug works. Sydnocarb is often prescribed to individuals who are pale, exhausted asthenic persons, depressive creative bohemians, and alcoholics during withdrawal (hangover syndrome). This drug is also used to treat people with schizophrenia. As such, because there is almost no euphoria effect from ingesting Sydnocarb, the stimulating effect of this drug increases gradually and just as smoothly decreases. Therefore, the effect of Sydnocarb is not dramatic.
Sydnocarb increases working capacity and reduces drowsiness and inhibition. This drug is nontoxic and well tolerated, which is why it is well known to both students in classes as well as night duty guards. However, Sydnocarb can only be acquired via prescription.
Now, it is party time!
What about those where real life begins only at night? Having fun all night until the morning is quite difficult. This lifestyle was difficult up until nightclubs began to sell extasy. MDMA (i.e., the correct name) stands for (3,4) -methylene-dihydroxy-methamphetamine and, hence, is a drug that allows users to “club” all night. At rave parties, this substance became a cult hit due to two effects with complex names, entactogenesis and empathogenesis. The first means “inner touch,” or the feeling that everything is fine in the world and within users, which is accompanied by harmony and happiness. The second term refers to sympathy and the destruction of barriers to communication with others (i.e., inexpressible erotic experiences with close contact). It is easy to guess why extasy is so popular in clubs (peak occurred in the 1980-1990s).
The psychedelic effects of stimulants do not interest the main customer of these drugs, which are military departments. They are in need of a “universal soldier” who does not know fatigue and doubt and for long periods of time do not need food or sleep. “Ordinary” people do not demonstrate these qualities. According to American army psychiatrists of the Second World War, while fighting roughly one-quarter of soldiers vomited caused by fear, many could not control GI function, about 10% wet themselves, and some ran away from the gun fire.
Therefore, during the Second World War and the war in Korea, American soldiers were given amphetamines. Now contained within the first-aid kit of special forces are amphetamines, which should be used in emergency situations. Nevertheless, the utilization of amphetamines causes sharp debate among US specialists, particularly when it comes to pilots. In the face of extreme physical and mental stress, pilots become so dependent on stimulants that they develop chronic insomnia. Accordingly, in order to fall asleep pilots need to take a strong dose of sedative. As such, doctors suggest that it is this alternating back and forth between stimulants and tranquilizers over time that can cause unpredictable health reactions. Despite this knowledge, according to US Air Force command, amphetamines are used by pilots on a voluntary basis. Each of pilot wishing to acquire amphetamines provides in writing confirmation that they are aware of the risks associated with taking such medications. However, command reserves the right not to allow pilots to fly if drugs are refused.
Naturally, the development of an alternative to amphetamines for military use is very intense. In 2003, the UK introduced the drug Modafinil (Provigil), which ‘turns off’ the need for sleep. Modafinil has already been tested and licensed as a drug for the treatment of narcolepsy (i.e., impairment in the brain, the primary symptom of which is bouts of uncontrollable sleepiness).
Although some experts predict that only robots will be fighting in the future, people can compete with machines. This is only true if humans are able to remain awake all day and stay absolutely fearless as a result of using modern stimulants.