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What are stimulants?
As the name suggests, stimulants are a class of drugs that enhance brain activity - they cause an increase in alertness, attention, and energy that is accompanied by elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate and respiration. Stimulants were used historically to treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments. But as their potential for abuse and addiction became apparent, the medical use of stimulants began to wane. Now, stimulants are prescribed for the treatment of only a few health conditions, including narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression that has not responded to other treatments. Stimulants may be used as appetite suppressants for short-term treatment of obesity, and they also may be used for patients with asthma.
How do stimulants affect the brain and body?
Stimulants, such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin), have chemical structures that are similar to a family of key brain neurotransmitters called monoamines, which include norepinephrine and dopamine. Stimulants increase the amount of these chemicals in the brain. This, in turn, increases blood pressure and heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood glucose, and opens up the pathways of the respiratory system. In addition, the increase in dopamine is associated with a sense of euphoria that can accompany the use of these drugs.
What are the possible consequences of stimulant use and abuse?
The consequences of stimulant abuse can be dangerous. Although their use may not lead to physical dependence and risk of withdrawal, stimulants can be addictive in that individuals begin to use them compulsively. Taking high doses of some stimulants repeatedly over a short time can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia. Additionally, taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperatures and an irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures.
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