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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.
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.
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.
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 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.