What is Benzedrine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Benzedrine is a form of amphetamine that was once in widespread use in the West. The trademark is owned by Smith, Kline, and French, a pharmaceutical company which is itself owned by GlaxxoSmithKline (GSK). GSK no longer manufacturers Benzedrine, but a drug with an essentially identical formulation is still on the market, although much less widely used than Benzedrine once was.

Benzedrine was originally used to widen the nasal and bronchial passages.
Benzedrine was originally used to widen the nasal and bronchial passages.

The history of Benzedrine begins in the late 1800s, when chemists first began to produce synthetic amphetamines. At first, uses for these new chemical compounds seemed limited, but pharmaceutical companies began to recognize that they could be used as stimulants. Benzedrine was introduced to the market in 1928 as an over-the-counter (OTC) inhaler. Initially, the drug was designed to be used to widen the nasal and bronchial passages, relieving breathing difficulties.

Doctors prescribed benzedrine to people who had difficulty waking up in the morning.
Doctors prescribed benzedrine to people who had difficulty waking up in the morning.

However, consumers quickly realized that Benzedrine could have other, potentially more exciting, applications, and they started breaking the inhalers open to get at the drug inside, taking it orally rather than through an inhaler. This marked one of the earliest known recreational uses of a synthetic stimulant, and set the stage for the coming decades of rampant abuse.

Benzedrine is available by prescription only.
Benzedrine is available by prescription only.

By the Second World War, the drug was also being manufactured in the form of tablets. Doctors prescribed it to people who had difficulty waking up in the morning, along with patients who suffered from narcolepsy, and Benzedrine tablets were also shipped out by the caseload for use by soldiers on the front. Benzedrine, along with many other stimulants, was extensively used by soldiers from all of the nations involved in the war, and it was especially popular with pilots. In fact, advertisements for this drug stressed this point, saying that it would make people more alert.

Benzedrine has been used to relieve breathing difficulties.
Benzedrine has been used to relieve breathing difficulties.

Benzedrine was widely available in tablet and inhaler form in most drug stores, and people from all walks of life used it. Movie stars, flight crews, and truckers consumed large amounts of Benzedrine in the course of their work, and the drug also proved popular with bored teens, housewives, and many others.

By the late 1940s, Benzedrine abuse had attracted attention, and “Bennies,” as the pills were known, began to face serious scrutiny. The US Food and Drug Administration first tried banning the inhalers, and in 1959, it ruled that the drug would be sold by prescription only. By this time, numerous other amphetamine derivatives had reached the market, capitalizing on the success of Benzedrine, and while these drugs were also made prescription-only, the abuse of prescription amphetamines continues to this day.

The abuse of prescription amphetamines continues to this day.
The abuse of prescription amphetamines continues to this day.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


1969 was the best of times and was the worst of times. Older speed freaks coaxed us eager teenyboppers into going to the drug store for them to pick up gel caps when they were making doses. We thought it funny then but in the sellers' defense, TV sold us the counter culture. What a waste. They used to call some asolphate? Only made me not eat and talk too much. Why do people still take this crap? I know counter culture won and those church going folks have more worry about arrests than pot smokers do now while they hunt same sex relationships.


The Hi-Tech "Benzadrine" isn't the same benzadrine from the 30's. Benzadrine was just a brand name for the chemical stimulant amphetamine. Hi-Tech is just trying to capitalize on the brand name but it doesn't contain any amphetamine. It actually contains caffeine. I'm sure they've sold many bottles of the stuff on this false advertising.


I take Adderall for both ADD and to fight off the extreme sleepiness and fatigue that usually hits me at about 10 a.m. on days that I work, which is only about six months out of the year. During my working days I take two 10mg Adderall tablets when I wake up in the morning. I then take one additional 10mg tablet after lunch at about 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

I've found Adderall to absolutely not be addictive in my case and when I'm not working I often forget to take it. When I forget to take it, I end up being sleepy all day.


I think it should be taken off of all shelves.


These days benzedrine (amphetamines) are normally prescribed for ADHD,ADD and people who need weight loss for health reasons. It is generally given as dexamphetamine or adderral.


Is the OTC brand name "Benzadrine" by Hi-Tech the same or just similar to the old benedrine from the 1930s?


Benzedrine used to be standard issue in the survival packs in ship's lifeboats. The man on duty would take one if he was sleepy.


what diseases does it cause?


Just found out from a tobacco group that it is contained in cigarettes.


This is a great little blurb about the history of how amphetamines came out if anyone, like me, happens to be writing a huge paper on it lol. thanks a bunch.


yes, benzedrine is used today. lol. i have a huge bottle of the pills here, myself. they are used for dietary weight loss, although if used recreationally, they give people a high near the same as speed (amphetamine) does.


@dill1971: Well, from what I understand just from reading, Benzedrine is just another name for amphetamine, which is called dexamphetamine. That is a very addictive stimulant drug. It is the chemical basis for ecstasy, and crystal meth.

It became very popular as an appetite suppressant drug. From what I can understand, it is now mainly used for recreational purposes rather than medicinal ones.


Is benzadrine still around today? If so, what is it used for now?

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