Benzedrine: Old School Adderall!
As you all may have noticed, I am kind of a geek. I love to research many subjects, and archaeology and pharmacology (particularly psychopharmacology) are two of my favorites. So, when CAP found an old Benzedrine inhaler on campus, I jumped at the opportunity to read and write about them both at the same time!
Benzedrine is an amphetamine, so it is a stimulant similar to many of today’s ADHD meds. It was initially used as a bronchodilator, which is something that increases airflow to the lungs. The name “Benzedrine” is the trade name of a particular kind of amphetamine mixture, and was first marketed under this name by Smith, Kline, and French in 1933. People soon realized that it woke them up and made them “speedy,” which led to it being one of the first synthetic stimulants to be used re
creationally. Instead of inhaling it, people would often crack it open and swallow the Bezedrine-covered paper strip inside, sometimes with coffee or alcohol*. It was said to have a bitter taste.
Benzedrine and other amphetamines were used in WWII to keep troops awake. We found the inhaler in an area that was used by the ROTC after the war, so it is possible that it was used by someone who had fought and become addicted to the drug, therefore still needing it when they came back. The inhaler was not broken in half like it would have been if they had been swallowing the paper, however. Benzedrine and other stimulants would often keep them awake past the point of exhaustion, which led to side effects such as paranoia and hallucinations, which are pretty bad when you’re flying a plane.
It could also be said that the Beatniks were “benny” fueled. It was referenced in Alan Ginsberg’s Howl and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Many of them felt that stimulants enhanced their creativity.
Benzedrine also came in tablet form, and was sometimes used to treat mental illnesses such as depression. It was tested on children with behavioral problems in the 1930s. It became a prescription drug in 1959.
It’s no secret that college students today often use stimulants that they were not prescribed to study. According to a study, 14% of MSU students reported taking an unprescribed stimulant such as Adderall or Ritalin in 2012. Here, we may have material evidence that this is not a new phenomenon.
*Not to sound like a PSA here, but mixing a stimulant (i.e. Benzedrine) and a depressant (i.e. alcohol) is a terrible idea. At best, it can make someone not know how drunk they really are and do very stupid things with a lot of energy. At worst, it can cause coma or death. Don’t do it.