Benzedrine is the trade name of the racemic mixture 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. Benzedrine was also used by doctors to perk up lethargic patients before breakfast.
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. Benzedrine and derived amphetamines were used as a stimulant for armed forces in World War II and Vietnam.
When Benzedrine became a controlled substance, it was replaced by Propylhexedrine (also known as Hexahydrodesoxyephedrine). Propylhexedrine was also manufactured by Smith, Kline and French and was marketed under the name Benzedrex. Although Benzedrex has only slight potential for abuse, it 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 (currently GlaxoSmithKline).
Benzedrine should not be confused with the fundamentally different substance Benzphetamine.
In popular culture
- In Neal Stephenson's novel "Cryptonomicon", several characters, notably World War II soldiers, are depicted using Benzedrine tablets as a stimulant.
- In Ian Fleming's novel Live and Let Die, the character James Bond receives benzedrine tablets amongst other materials intended to aid him in a mission. Bond takes a tablet and later credits its effect with preventing him from fainting after severe injury. Bond also mixes benzedrine into his champagne glass in order to be more alert for a game of bridge in the novel Moonraker. Benzedrine is also the drug of choice of Bond's nemesis Le Chiffre in Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, albeit administered via an inhaler.
- In Jake Thackray's humorous song "Sister Josephine" the song's protagonist administers a "goodbye sniff of benzedrine to the convent budgerigar".
- In the movie The Runaway Bus(1954) the character Stewardess 'Nikki' Nicholls played by Petula Clark is heard to say "Give me a Benzadrine and set me on my way!" in response to being asked to take a bus load of airline passengers delayed by fog to another airport after working a 9 hour shift.
- In the purported diary of an anonymous teenage girl, Go Ask Alice,the main character mentions taking a "benny."
- Benzedrine is also referenced in the song "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by R.E.M. Much earlier, in 1946, a minor hit record by Harry Gibson was, "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine," which was a song about a woman who partied at all the nightclubs and lost a lot of weight doing so. One line in the song was, "The benzedrine's the thing that makes her swing."
- On the song "Semi-Truck," the "speed freak anthem" by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, the singer laments his fate: "Here I sit, all alone with a broken heart. I took three bennies, and my semi-truck won't start."
- In his autobiography, Malcolm X mentions using benzedrine as a young hustler in Harlem.
- Benzedrine is referenced in the song Wet Sand by Red Hot Chili Peppers from their album Stadium Arcadium: "The travesties that we have seen/Are treating me like Benzedrine/ Automatic laugher from a pro."
- "Bennie" figures largely in Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
- Benzedrine is issued to the German POW "Happy", played by Oskar Werner, in the 1951 war movie Decision Before Dawn to keep him alert during a spy mission into his native Nazi Germany.
- Benzedrine is one of the drugs used by the brilliant but schizophrenic Nathan Landau in William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice.
- Jack Kerouac allegedly wrote his famous novel On The Road in twenty days, while high on Benzedrine. The book makes many references to "bennies" throughout. Other Beat Generation's figures used Benzedrine, such as Joan Vollmer, William Burrough's wife.
- In Bob Fosse's 1979 film All That Jazz the protagonist Joe Gideon, an eccentric Broadway musical director, played by Roy Scheider, is seen taking Benzedrine pills on a daily basis, in increasing dosage, which, as the screenplay suggests, contributes strongly to his medical problems.
- The song "Roll Up Your Sleeves" by the rapper Mickey Avalon also references Benzedrine: "Juiced on bennys and hard lemonade I boost so many sweets I've got tooth decay"
- In the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., a doctor working for the Green Star is said to have "... probably been living on benzadrine and doughnuts since the shot that killed the city."
- In Gravity's Rainbow Ned Pointsman mentions that he takes it (or used to take it) with his morning coffee (see p. 142 in the 760 page editions).
- In the novel "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac.--"We're trying to communicate with absolute honesty and absolute completeness everything on our minds. We've had to take benzedrine. We sit crosslegged, facing each other."
- In The Highwaymen's song "Committed to Parkview" they mention "...and a superstar's next drummer trying to kick Benzedrine" as a resident of "Parkview", which is assumed to be a mental hospital of some sort.
- In Metal Gear Solid (PS1 Version) Before Solid Snake infiltrates Shadow Moses, during the briefing with Colonel Campbell Dr Naomi Hunter gives him a shot of Benzedrine along with his Nanomachines to keep him stimulated and focused for 24hrs whilst on his mission.
- In the film Vanishing Point, Kowalski (Barry Newman) purchases the drug to aid him in his trip from Colorado to California.
- Benzedrine is referenced in the song Cherry Bomb by Ash from their album Free All Angels: "Is she real or just a dream? / My heart beats fast like Benzedrine."
- In the song "Swordfishtrombones," Tom Waits sings, "Well he packed up all his/expectations he lit out for California/with a flyswatter banjo on his knee/with a lucky tiger in his angel hair/and Benzedrine for getting there..."