cover bar Title: Speed: Everything You Need to Know (and Then Some)
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: March 2011
Catalog Number: 152

..Bad Mojo in Edge City

You see it everywhere -- from the rush to school in the morning to the crush in the cafeteria at lunchtime, through the long afternoon countdown to the final bell.

It seems like all anyone wants is to zip past where they are to get to where they're going next.

That's not the reason they call it the human race -- but it could be.

It's not like it's bad that things are that way.

If people didn't want to go faster, we'd probably all still be tooling down Main on good old pedal-power. Heck, nobody probably would have bothered to invent the bike -- or the wheel, for that matter -- so we'd all be walking.

And if people didn't like the idea of speed, we probably wouldn't have Roadrunner cartoons or Air Jordans or Sonic the Hedgehog or a million other things a lot of us consider essential.

On the other hand, the drive to race through life and hang ten at the edge of existence isn't always good, either.

Example? Consider the group of drugs known as "speed." They're the original who-says-you-can't-have-it-all drug group that supposedly lets you burn the candle at both ends (Watch out for that drip!), and have your cake and eat it, too. (Burp!)

People use them for the same reason they run red lights and put off studying until the night before an exam -- because they think they can get away with it.

What they get instead is a short burst of jangled energy that they hope sets them apart from dull-witted mere mortals (like you and me) who have to do boring stuff like eating and sleeping and homework.

What they also get instead are problems. And speed can cause a ton of those: to both mind and body.

That's the point of this pamphlet. In it, we're going to talk about stimulant drugs. We'll describe how they work and discuss some of the problems they cause.

And they do cause problems.

In fact, in a lot of ways for a lot of people, the only thing that speed really speeds up are problems. And that's worth considering in a world where you have to choose as fast as you do in this one.

Fast Facts

The word "speed" itself can refer to any of a number of stimulant drugs, which do just what their name implies: they stimulate, or speed up, the body and brain.

Lots of speedy chemicals have been used throughout history in the quest for fast times, but the Big 3 are still the Big 3: caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine.


The most common pick-me-up in the world is caffeine. About a billion people use some form of it every day -- maybe even you.

It's a drug that occurs naturally in coffee and chocolate, and one that's added by the ton to colas and other soft drinks for the lift it provides. It's also an ingredient in stay-awake tablets and painkillers.

One reason for its popularity is its mild stimulating effects. But caffeine has a downside, too.

For starters, it makes some people jittery and irritable. (Ever hear of "coffee nerves"?) And it can also cause sleeplessness.

It's also habit-forming, which means that the first cup of Folgers in the morning (or the first Dr. Pepper) often leads to another -- and another. Hey, man, can you spare a buck for some Mountain Dew?

But since its effects are mild and most people tolerate it well, caffeine has earned a permanent place in the hearts and minds of people today.

But it's still a drug. And believe it or not, it's not all that different from other forms of speed.


These are the drugs most people think about when they talk about "speed." And amphetamines have gotten a lot of attention lately, thanks mostly to methamphetamine -- also known as "crank" or "crystal meth."

It might surprise you, but amphetamines were once considered "wonder drugs." That's because they work so well at blocking hunger and fatigue that no one got around to checking out how they work.

When they did, doctors linked dozens of problems to the drugs, including increases in blood pressure and heart rate and major vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

When they dug even deeper, they found that the drugs work by tilting the balance of chemicals in the brain that regulate attention and mood.

Amphetamines make users feel like the mayor of Edge City itself -- powerful, confident, in charge.

The problem is that they only get to stay in office as long as they're wired (and keep on taking more speed) and mayors in Edge City tend to get assassinated anyway.


Here's another stimulant drug that's famous for turning heroes into zeroes and the living into the no-longer-living.

Sold as a white powder that's sniffed or injected or as rock-like chunks that are smoked ("crack"), cocaine causes the same basic effects as other forms of speed, but which usually don't last as long.

That might seem like a good thing, but it isn't.

Since cocaine lasts such a short time (crack's effects wear off in minutes), users have to keep using it to stay high. And it's the first part of the high -- what users call the "rush" -- that hooks people.

That's also the riskiest time for users. That's when blood pressure and heart rate soar, sometimes completely off the charts. (See paragraph one above for what happens when that happens.)

..Spin Cycle

Stimulant drugs do more than produce similar effects. They also cause similar problems.

That's because they make the body run hotter and harder than it's meant to. And you know what happens when you push something too hard for too long: It breaks.

Some problems happen all at once -- overdose, for example. Others take longer.

Since speed zaps appetite so well, the body can run out of the vitamins and minerals it needs to run on and repair itself. And even though it can draw on stored supplies for a while, when they're used up, serious problems can result.

Teeth and bones lose calcium, and cavities and weakened bones result. The heart, liver, and lungs can also be damaged.

Other problems stem from lack of sleep and changes in brain chemistry.

But no matter where they come from, some of the psychological problems that speed can cause (including violence, paranoia, and mental illness) aren't pretty or fun -- or easy to get rid of, after the fact.

..Thin Air

For a long time, people thought that stimulants somehow created their effects out of thin air.

They were wrong. Speed and cocaine only let you borrow energy from tomorrow (or the day, week, or month after) to use today.

Real energy has to come from somewhere, since it doesn't come in pills or powders. Where it comes from is inside the person who's using the drug.

That's one reason so many people get strung out on speed.

They get hooked on energy they're borrowing from the future, from parts of their lives they haven't lived yet, and they burn it all up at once.

And while it might seem like a cool idea to be able to keep bopping and buzzing along for days at a time, if you're not in control of your own body and brain in the present and you're burning up your future, it doesn't matter how fast you're going, because you're not really going anywhere.

Ask anyone who's ever been there, but remember: You don't have to go to know.

Edge City isn't all it's cranked up to be.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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