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Amphetamines: Amphetamines were widely prescribed as appetite suppressants in the 1950s and 1960s. They work by increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which suppress appetite. However, their use declined due to the risk of addiction and side effects like insomnia, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure. Currently, amphetamines are not approved for weight loss in the US.

Amphetamines were widely used for weight loss in the US during the 1950s and 1960s.
Era of Discovery

1950s and 1960s

Mechanism of Action

Increase release of neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine) that suppress appetite

History of Use in the United States

Widely prescribed as appetite suppressants in the 1950s and 1960s

Benefit of Weight Loss Agent or Medication

Weight loss due to appetite suppression

Possible Side Effects

Insomnia, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, addiction

Current Regulatory Status in US

Not approved for weight loss

Amphetamines and Weight Loss: A Controversial Chapter in Obesity Treatment

The use of amphetamines for weight loss represents a complex and contentious chapter in the history of obesity treatment. The journey of these potent stimulants from early popularity to cautionary tale illuminates our evolving understanding of both obesity and drug safety.

The Early Days: Amphetamines Rise to Fame

Amphetamines were first synthesized in the late 19th century, but it wasn't until the 1930s that their appetite-suppressing properties were discovered, leading to their use as diet pills. These drugs, which increase energy and decrease appetite by stimulating the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, were welcomed as a miracle solution for weight loss. Brands like Obetrol and Dexedrine were common prescriptions for those seeking to shed pounds.

The Dark Side: Efficacy at a Cost

Amphetamines were indeed effective for weight loss; however, they came with significant downsides. They can lead to serious side effects like hypertension, heart disease, and mental health issues like anxiety and insomnia. Their potential for abuse and addiction became increasingly clear, as they produce a "high" similar to that of illicit drugs.

Famous personalities such as Judy Garland and Elvis Presley were known to use amphetamines, contributing to their glamour but also highlighting the dangers of misuse. These celebrities faced severe health consequences, underscoring the risks associated with these drugs.

The Shift: Replacement by Safer Alternatives

As the health risks and potential for addiction became undeniable, the use of amphetamines for weight loss fell out of favor. In the 1970s, they were largely replaced by drugs like phentermine, which have similar appetite-suppressing effects but a lower potential for addiction and abuse.

In terms of efficacy, amphetamines might cause more weight loss than phentermine, but their potential for severe side effects and addiction makes this a risky trade-off.

Amphetamines Today: A Cautionary Tale

Today, the use of amphetamines for weight loss is highly restricted and generally not recommended due to their addictive potential and severe side effects. However, it's important to note that certain amphetamine derivatives, such as lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), are approved for the treatment of binge eating disorder, a condition often associated with obesity. These medications are prescribed carefully under the supervision of a healthcare provider and are not intended for weight loss per se.

The history of amphetamines as weight loss aids serves as a reminder of the need for safe, effective, and sustainable obesity treatments. It also underscores the critical importance of understanding and managing the potential risks associated with pharmacological interventions for weight loss.

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