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1939 Benzedrine advertisement
1939 Benzedrine advertisement

Benzedrine is the trade name of the racemic variant of amphetamine (dl-amphetamine). It was marketed under this brandname in the USA by Smith, Kline and French in the form of inhalers, starting in 1928. Benzedrine was used to enlarge nasal and bronchial passages and it is closely related to other stimulants produced later, such as Dexedrine (d-amphetamine) and methamphetamine.

Early users of the Benzedrine inhaler discovered that it had a euphoric stimulant effect, resulting in it being one of the earliest synthetic stimulants to be widely used for recreational (i.e., non-medical) purposes. Even though this drug was intended for inhalation, many people abused it by cracking the container open and swallowing the paper strip inside, which was covered in Benzedrine. The strips were often rolled into small balls and swallowed, or taken with coffee or alcohol. The drug was often referred to as "Bennies" by users and in literature.

Because of the stimulant side effect, physicians discovered that amphetamine could also be used to treat narcolepsy. This led to the production of Benzedrine in tablet form.

In the 1940s and 1950s reports began to emerge about the abuse of Benzedrine inhalers, and in 1949, doctors began to move away from prescribing Benzedrine as a bronchodilator and appetite suppressant. In 1959, the FDA made it a prescription drug in the United States.

When Benzedrine became a controlled substance, it was replaced by a less potent stimulant drug, Propylhexedrine (also known as Hexahydromethamphetamine). Propylhexedrine was also manufactured by Smith, Kline and French and was marketed under the name Benzedrex. Although Benzedrex is not as potent as Benzedrine, it still has the potential for abuse and has been the cause of death by intravenous use. The Benzedrex inhaler is still available today, but is no longer manufactured by Smith, Kline and French.

Benzedrine should not be confused with the fundamentally different substance Benzphetamine.


  • Benzedrine and derived amphetamines were used as a stimulant for armed forces in World War II and Vietnam.
  • This drug was very popular with the beat generation and its influence can be seen in the literature and biographies of William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Also, a famous user was the prolific mathematician Paul Erdös, who spent much of his restless life on psychostimulants. An article of November 1987, published in the Atlantic Monthly profiled Erdös and discussed his Benzedrine habit. Erdös said to writer Paul Hoffman that he had liked the article "...except for one thing...You shouldn't have mentioned the stuff about Benzedrine. It's not that you got it wrong. It's just that I don't want kids who are thinking about going into mathematics to think that they have to take drugs to succeed."
  • Benzedrine is also prevalent in the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. In the first novel, Casino Royale, the villain Le Chiffre inhales benzedrine during a battle of wills over a game of Baccarat with 007, earning himself the description, "filthy brute", from an American lady at the table next to Bond. In the novel Live and Let Die, Bond himself eats a benzedrine tablet before going underwater to infiltrate Mr. Big's lair. Similarly, in the novel Moonraker, 007 mixes the drug with champagne before his card game with Sir Hugo Drax in order to "keep my wits about me"; according to the book, the only side effect was overconfidence. In the novel Thunderball, rogue pilot Giuseppe Petacchi consumes two tablets while flying the British Vulcan bomber he has hijacked. This drug use has never featured in the film adaptations, until Casino Royale (2006 film), in which Le Chiffre uses a platinum inhaler, ostensibly for his asthma.
  • Benzedrine is mentioned in the lyrics of the R.E.M. song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?". The band later recorded a song with William S. Burroughs, whose late wife Joan was a notorious user of the drug.
  • It is also mentioned in the song popularized by Fred Astaire known as "On the Beam."
  • Former Beach Boy Brian Wilson claims that many of the songs on his album Smile were written while the lyricist Van Dyke Parks was under the influence of Benzedrine.
  • The Beatles have said that in their early days in Hamburg, Germany, they used Benzedrine quite often in order to play several concerts a night without getting sleepy.
  • In the novel Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr., the character Georgette, a transvestite, grapples with an addiction to Benzedrine in the face of her abusive brother and unrequited lust for a local drunk, Vinnie.
  • Progressive house DJ duo, Deep Dish, opened their 2005 album George Is On with an intro track that states, "No stopping for benzedrine, no stopping for rock 'n roll stars".
  • In Robert Harris's novel Enigma, Benzedrine is taken by the cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park in order to keep them awake and alert during shifts stretching over several days.
  • Benzedrine was given to Judy Garland at a young age to help with her weight. She became dependent on the drug for the rest of her life.
    In the classic 1971 cult movie Vanishing Point, the main character Kowalski takes "Bennies" before undertaking his reckless drive through the Southwestern USA.
  • Benzedrine is the preferred drug of choice amongst the flawed characters which make up the noir fiction of James Ellroy, who himself has confessed a past addiction to the drug.
  • In Alice Sebold's novel The Lovely Bones, a mother and grandmother argue about whether Susie Salmon is - at fourteen - too young for benzedrine, her grandmother's "own personal savior."
  • The song "Wet Sand" by Red Hot Chili Peppers contains the lyrics "The travesties that we have seen, are treating me like benzedrine".
  • The song "Oh Marie" by Sheryl Crow, on her self-titled album released in 1996, contains the lyric "She's on magazines and Benzedrine and vodka."
  • In the British Sitcom Fawlty Towers, during the episode entitled "The Psychiatrist", Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales) tells Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) that he is "spitting poison at them like some benzedrine puff-adder."
  • In F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, The Last Tycoon, main character Monroe Stahr takes benzedrine before a date.
  • In Joyce Carol Oates' Novel Blonde, a fictionalized version of Marilyn Monroe's life, Marilyn is said to have used Benzedrine "sparingly: to 'provide quick and valuable energy,' sorely needed by an exhausted actress" (418).
  • The classic anime Akira opens with a character ordering benzedrine at a bar, with the well-known line "Red bennies. Three of 'em".
  • Harry "The Hipster" Gibson had a novelty hit in 1944 with the song, "Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?"
  • In addition to his addiction to heroin, the great jazz alto saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, Jr. often took Benzedrine in tablet form, dissolved in cups of hot coffee. As a result, Parker often did not sleep for days at a time, and friends noted that he was always moving, "24/7".
  • Jerry Reed and others have recorded a truck-driving song called "Caffeine, Nicotine, Benzedrine (and wish me luck)."
  • Many truck driving songs, including "Six Days on the Road" and "Midnight Hauler," refer to "whites" which are the tablet form of benzedrine.

See also

Home | Up | 3,4-Methylenedioxyamphetamine | Adderall | Benzedrine | Bupropion | Ephedra | Ephedrine | Khat | Methamphetamine | Methylenedioxymethamphetamine

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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