Altered States is a series that intends to educate readers about drugs for the sake of harm reduction.
It’s freshman year; you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and, best of all, clueless. You’re at your first-ever college party and you have questions. Who made this garbage playlist? What ingredient puts the “jungle” in jungle juice? Is this a fire hazard? Where did my friends go? Should I snort a line of whatever is in that Ziploc baggie?
Well, should you? It’s not a quiz, so don’t worry if you don’t have an immediate answer, but also don’t pull out a magic eight ball on me. The best decisions are made by an informed individual acting on their own accord.
Stimulants (like the coke mentioned earlier) are just one of the many varieties of drugs. Stimulant drugs can be further broken up into two categories: legally prescribed medications which are often abused by people without prescriptions like Adderall (the brand name for the combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine), Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine), and Ritalin (methylphenidate); and those that are illegal, like cocaine and methamphetamine.
“In very untechnical terms, stimulant drugs activate the brain in a stimulant fashion,” Dr. Richard Ries, director of outpatient psychiatry and the psychiatry addiction division at Harborview Medical Center and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said. “In a more technical sense, stimulant drugs have similar characteristics in what they do and what they make you feel. They make you feel more awake and more alert.”
Ries explained that caffeine is also a stimulant drug. If you get jittery after a cup of coffee, cocaine might be a little intense for you.
Legal and prescribed stimulants are often used as treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If prescribed and used correctly, stimulants like Adderall and Vyvanse can stimulate the brain in such a way that improves overall function, academic performance, and even driving technique.
So, if a licensed medical professional prescribes you a stimulant, it’s because you need it.
“For college students who are prescribed ADD medication, only about 50% take it exactly as prescribed,” Ries said.
The other 50% might skip a day every now and then or double up when they need to be extra alert. Sometimes — and this may be shocking — stimulants like Adderall are shared or sold to people who do not have a prescription.
In small amounts, prescription stimulants are shown to serve as cognitive enhancers. Illegal uses of legal stimulants in these small amounts often stem from academic pressure. Thank God we don’t have any of that here.
Take too much Adderall and the stimulating effects heighten and surpass a threshold of focus and take you into a euphoric state or a high that does not occur when dosed properly to treat ADHD.
“There aren’t too many people who use prescription stimulants as their only abused drugs,” Ries said. “If you like that feeling, you’ll probably move into stronger versions.”
While it can be a lifesaving and necessary tool when prescribed, for people who start abusing stimulants, Adderall is the scrawny, studious precursor to stronger stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine.
Illegal stimulants make people really happy. That’s why they are really addictive, a fun little trade-off. Users may experience feelings of intense well-being, decreased appetite, an increased sense of mental alertness, and heightened sexual arousal.
The big difference between different types of stimulants lies in absorption.
“Prescription stimulants absorb slowly and may be called long-acting,” Ries said. “Cocaine and methamphetamine are rapidly absorbed, which gives you that high and euphoria.”
Ries warns that stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine are not the greatest medicine for good judgment.
“You could do cocaine or methamphetamine and while you’re high, you could do something you wouldn’t normally do, like have party sex or jump off a roof,” Ries said.
And that’s if your stimulant is not laced with something more dangerous, like fentanyl, a strong opioid with an incredibly small lethal dose.
Beyond immediate risks, it is important to consider the long-term effects of snorting a line or dabbling in meth. Some people are genetically more likely to develop an addiction to stimulant drugs; however, not every person who uses these drugs abuses these drugs.
“There are some people that can take recreational stimulants every now and then and not get in trouble,” Ries said. “[In comparison to alcohol], there’s a finer line between ‘I’m having fun and in control’ and ‘the drug is in control of me.’”
It’s not as straightforward as your middle school D.A.R.E. programs may have led you to believe. It is possible to engage with stimulant drugs safely, but it's a risk dependent on how susceptible you are to addiction based on your genetic makeup and environmental factors.
Regardless, it is a risk you get to decide if you are willing to take. There’s coke in a Ziploc baggie, and you are bright-eyed and you are bushy-tailed, but you are not clueless.
Reach writer Hannah Krieg at email@example.com. Twitter: @Hannah_krieg
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