How They Work

Ever wondered how these drugs work? Our understanding of how drugs work is drowing and changing all the times and this content represents our best interpretation of the current research. We welcome any contributions that adds to this information base, and encourage you to post comments regarding any research or knowledge that will assist in extending our understanding.
What are amphetamines
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What are amphetamines

Amphetamines are a group of chemicals based on the amphetamine molecule. They include

  • amphetamine
  • methamphetamine (methylamphetamine)
  • dextroamphetamine (dexamphetamine)

The effects of each of these amphetamines are very similar, with methamphetamine being the most common type sold illicitly in Australia.

After cannabis and MDMA, the amphetamines are the third most commonly used illicit drug in Australia with about 7% of 20-29 year olds having used the drug in the last 12 months.


Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants and speed up the nervous system by producing effects similar to a natural adrenalin response.

Historically, amphetamines have been used to treat a wide range of ailments including weight control, lethargy, depression, colds and flu and to increase stamina and concentration.

With an increase in non-medical and recreational use, prescription availability of amphetamines such as Dexamphetamine and Adderall is now really limited to treatment of narcolepsy and childhood ADHD.
In Australia, the most common form of illicit amphetamines is methamphetamine.

Street Names

Amphetamines are known by names including speed, crank, meth, ice, crystal, base, goey, fast, tweak, amph, dex, phet, yaba, shabu and others


What do they look like?

Amphetamines can take the form of powder, tablets, capsules, crystals or liquid (although the liquid form is rare).

The most common presentation is a white or off white powder.

Powder can range in colour from white or off-white to hues of yellow, red, pink or brown and other colours. Differences in colour can be caused by left-over ingredients, the use of different chemicals, cutting agents (to increase volume) or even food-dye.

The powder can be fine, clumpy or rocks and can be sold loose, packed into capsules or pressed into pills (usually sold as ‘ecstasy’).

Speed powder

Occasionally, amphetamines are in the form of a pasty or waxy substance which is sometimes referred to as base. A pasty or waxy consistency can occur for a few reasons including leaving it out in the open to absorb moisture or by not converting all freebase to a salt in the manufacturing process. It’s not necessarily an indication of purity.

Another increasingly common form is translucent white or yellow crystals. This is usually methamphetamine hydrochloride and is known as crystal, crystal meth, ice, glass or shards.

How are amphetamines used?

Amphetamines, like most drugs, can be swallowed, smoked, injected or absorbed via mucous membranes by snorting, gumming or rectally.
Each method has advantages and disadvantages with injecting posing the most risks.

See the Reducing risks / during use section for harm reduction information related to each of these routes of administration.

Meth pill

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