Why Dexamphetamines Have Become A Staple Of Australia’s Party Scene

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Dexamphetamines or as they’re colloquially known ‘dexies’ have risen to become a staple in Australia’s party scene. 

In fact a national survey found that taking non-prescribed pharmaceutical stimulants like dexamphetamines increased from 17% in 2007 to 39% in 2020, and that number is still on the rise.

The latest report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that 46% of participants had recently used pharmaceutical stimulants. This is the highest reported use since the survey started in 2003.

Some of the reasons why they’ve become such a fixture of Australia’s nightlife scene is their abundance, price and accessibility. 

Dexamphetamines are prescribed for people with ADHD and this because the drug releases dopamine which can help curb hyperactivity. This is why you also might have heard of dexamphetamines being used as a study drug to help keep focused for longer

However it’s the release of dopamine caused by dexamphetamines which has meant it’s being used recreationally in party contexts across the country. 

So when it comes to stimulants like dexamphetamines, what are the risks of taking them? And what happens to your brain if you use them long term?

Emma Devine is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Matilda Centre at the University of Sydney who explains, “dexamphetamines are a class of drugs called stimulants. What stimulants do is essentially stimulate the central nervous system to speed up the messages that go between the brain and the body.”

Dexamphetamines work by releasing two neurotransmitters, the first being dopamine and the second being norepinephrine. These go on to stimulate receptors in the brain that increase our uptake of these two things and result in making us feel more alert, motivated and excitable.

There are stringent regulations around dexamphetamines because they are a pharmaceutical drug, as Emma Devine tells me, “they’re very regulated in terms of what’s in them, so there’s this real perception that they’re safe, but when they’re taken in a party context, a lot of the things that are associated with that safe perception sort of go away,” said Devine. 

This is due to a doctor not overseeing what a user is taking and generally speaking the doses that tend to be taken are much greater than what would be prescribed to someone who has ADHD.

The national survey from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found the median usage of pharmaceutical stimulants is two tablets, but one of the main risks with consuming dexamphetamines recreationally is mixing them with other substances and this is known as poly-drug use. 

“When an individual is taking dexamphetamine and another substance at the same time, most often that substance is alcohol, but because the symptoms of alcohol can be masked when you’re taking dexamphetamine people often feel like they’re not so drunk and think they’re safe to drive,” Devine says. 

However this is often not the case as the alcohol will still be in effect, even if the dexamphetamine masks those feelings of sluggishness. 

Devine told me that dexamphetamines have been linked to road accidents including crashes because of the driver’s inability to perceive the feelings of the alcohol.

There’s also research that suggests that mixing stimulants and depressants, like dexamphetamines and alcohol, can be tough on your heart. 

One of the main perceptions that comes with dexamphetamines is that users often don’t see it as an illicit substance because it’s pharmaceutical. 

Devine noted an interview study in Perth where young people were asked if they had used any illicit substances, and to rate the risk of them. Participants in this study didn’t mention dexamphetamines because they don’t perceive the drug to be risky as it’s a pharmaceutical. 

“It’s really important to remember that taking dexamphetamine recreationally, it is an illicit substance, so make sure you’re thinking about it that way and be cautious and avoid poly-substance use as you just don’t know how your body is going to react.”