Stimulants (Forensic Science)
Drugs that have stimulant properties are many in number and varied in form. All forms of cocaine and amphetamines are classified as stimulants, including concoctions that can be created in small clandestine labs, such as methcathinone, made from amphetamine and cathinone, and the street drug known as crystal or ice, a kin of methamphetamine made from seemingly innocuous and easily available ingredients. Other drugs that stimulate the nervous and cardiovascular systems include widely used substances such as nicotine and caffeine as well as less commonly known substances such as khat leaves (the leaves of the plant Catha edulis), which are chewed to deliver mild stimulating effects.
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Use and Abuse (Forensic Science)
Stimulant drugs have a limited number of legitimate uses, such as in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Appetite-suppressing drugs (also known as anorectics) used in the treatment of obesity are also stimulants, as are drugs used in the treatment of narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by random immediate onset of sleep. Stimulants are not widely employed in the treatment of other medical problems, as the use of these drugs has not received much support in terms of the balance of benefits over risks. The primary risks of stimulant use include raised blood pressure and the possibility of the development of a substance-use disorder, such as abuse or dependence.
Stimulants have addiction potential because they are reinforcing drugs. Users typically experience feelings of euphoria and power, decreased need for sleep, relief from fatigue, decreased appetite, increased talkativeness, and increased energy. These effects alone qualify stimulants for classification as performance-enhancing drugs, not only for athletes but also for others who may need these benefits, such as workers who need to stay awake during long shifts or long-distance truck drivers. For individuals who are easily distracted, such as those with ADHD, stimulants also tend to decrease distractibility, allowing them to focus their attention. In addition, stimulants may increase sexual interest and excitement and, because of decreased...
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Dangers and Side Effects (Forensic Science)
The problems associated with stimulant use are numerous. Aside from the desirable effects described above, stimulant intoxication can cause much less attractive effects, including paranoia, anxiety, panic, psychosis, rapid pulse rate, hyperalertness, restlessness, insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, agitation, aggression, violence, and suicidal or homicidal tendencies. It is not uncommon for stimulant use to be associated with crimes related to personal and interpersonal injury, assaults, and accidents.
Stimulant abusers often suffer physical problems such as worn-down teeth (from bruxism, or teeth grinding), injuries from the compulsive repetitive handling or manipulation of objects or the body (for example, facial picking), arrhythmias, heart damage, and even seizures. When withdrawing from stimulants, individuals may experience feelings of confusion and depression, increased fatigue, and other symptoms.
Many of the symptoms of stimulant use, abuse, and dependence mimic the problems of other mental health disorders. Because of this, persons who seek help for such symptoms resulting from stimulant use are often treated as if they have some of these other problems. For example, they may be treated initially for sleep problems, anxiety, depression, or psychosis with drugs such as sleep aids, antianxiety agents, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. As they cease stimulant use and detoxify, their symptoms often...
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Legal Issues and Crime (Forensic Science)
The manufacturers, distributors, and end users of illegal stimulants are all participants in various forms of crime. Manufacturers take part in the illegal procurement of component parts of these drugs and threaten the public health with the dangerous conditions they create in clandestine labs (where poor ventilation can lead to explosions or fires) and with the toxic chemicals they dump into the environment. They also commit crimes such as battery, assault, and murder at times to protect their illegal labs from being discovered or disturbed.
Once the drugs are made, illegal trafficking and sales become part of the picture, as does the potential for money laundering and other financial crimes. For end users, crimes related to intoxication are common, including driving under the influence, as are acts of violence and aggression related to paranoia and other psychological effects. Stimulant users sometimes commit crimes as a result of drug-induced feelings of power and euphoria, which may lead them to believe they are smarter than everyone else and can break laws without fear of being caught. Such users may commit fraud, forgery, crimes of opportunity, and even murder.
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Inaba, Darryl S., and William E. Cohen. Uppers, Downers, All-Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. 5th ed. Ashland, Oreg.: CNS, 2003. Provides an easy-to-read overview of a broad spectrum of stimulants, including look-alikes and over-the-counter drugs.
Julien, Robert M. A Primer of Drug Action: A Comprehensive Guide to the Actions, Uses, and Side Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. 10th ed. New York: Worth, 2005. Reliable, long-standing text provides information on how particular drugs affect individuals at different life stages, from youth to old age.
Solanto, Mary V., Amy F. T. Arsnten, and F. Xavier Castallanos, eds. Stimulant Drugs and ADHD: Basic and Clinical Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Presents a technical discussion of how stimulant drugs have been used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Notes the drugs’ effects on behavior and their side effects, as well as relevant brain effects.
Weil, Andrew, and Winifred Rosen. From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Presents a down-to-earth discussion of drugs that affect the mind. Easy to read.
Weinberg, Bennette Alan, and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. New York: Routledge, 2002. Social history of...
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Stimulants (Encyclopedia of Food & Culture)
STIMULANTS. Foods and drinks (and other substances) that stimulate the consumer to enhanced mental alertness, increased or prolonged physical activity, uninhibited conviviality, or fierce fighting are called "stimulants." This definition is intentionally a narrow one. It excludes the great majority of nourishing foods, for example, because a nourishing meal in itself produces, alongside a feeling of well-being, somnolence (sleepiness) rather than alertness and activity. It also excludes substances such as cannabis and opium (both occasionally taken as foods) that depress mental and physical activity: these are sedatives, not stimulants. We must distinguish enhanced mental alertness from hallucination, the tendency to see what isn't there; hallucinogens are, therefore, also excluded. Other exclusions include appetizers, which stimulate the appetite for food, and aphrodisiacs, which (to the extent that such foods really exist) stimulate sexual appetites and energies.
Using foods that have a stimulant effect provides ways of intentionally adjusting the body's metabolism, which carries risks. There is a good reason why a nourishing meal produces sleepiness: after such a meal, the body is occupied with digestion. Postponing or interrupting that activity may produce digestive disturbance. In any case, increased alertness and physical activity will eventually be paid for in greater-than-usual exhaustion, and there may be other undesirable aftereffects. For example, it may be necessary to compensate for the aftereffects of stimulants by using them again. If the desired effect lessens after frequent use, increased quantities might be needed. In this way, regular use turns into dependence and addiction.
It is even more true of stimulants than of foods in general that their use is not independent of its social context, but no simple generalization is possible. Some of the foods discussed here are nearly always taken in company, as part of a social ritual. Some are nearly always taken as part of, or immediately before or after, a meal. Some, however, are customarily taken when one is not in company and not eating a meal; such habits may vary from one culture to another. External observers focusing on individual psychology may see the solitary use of stimulant foods as posing a personal, social, or criminal problem, while social use might be perceived as no problem or as a different kind of problem. Furthermore, observers focusing on social groups will find users of these stimulant foods to be unexpectedly protective, even nationalistic, about the preferred means of preparing them, which may vary widely.
Stimulant foods have been identified, like nearly all other foods and like many thousands of medicinal plants, in the course of very long-term unrecorded experiments: each human community explores its environment, notes animals and plants that may be of use, finds ways to use them, sometimes begins to farm them, and to trade in them. The stimulant effects of these foods were discovered empirically, as were their associated side-effects and dangers. In the last two centuries, chemists and nutrition scientists have identified their active constituents, making possible for the first time a scientific explanation of their effects.
In general, stimulant foods and drinks are either taken in a neutral vehicle, such as hot water, or they are slowly extracted by chewing. Nonfood stimulants are often taken as smoke or snuff. These various methods all ensure gradual absorption with relatively little interference from other foods. Alcoholic drinks are unusual because they are frequently taken without admixture and often contain strong flavorings: however, water is the principal constituent of most alcoholic drinks, and more water is often added.
Most traditional cultures had one, or at the most two, familiar stimulants. Globalization has changed this, producing such effects as the worldwide fashion for coffee; the worldwide marketing of chocolate, instant coffee, and the "cola" drinks; and the complex social interplay between alternative stimulants of almost equal status, neatly symbolized by the ritual question at breakfast in a French hotel, "Café? Thé? Chocolat?" (Coffee? Tea? Hot chocolate?)
Caffeine is among the commonest of stimulants worldwide. It is the chief active constituent in coffee and tea, which are familiar in practically every country, and in maté, guaraná, and cola nut, which are popular in South America and West Africa. It is present in smaller quantities in some other stimulant foods, including chocolate.
Coffee. Coffee consists of the roasted, ground beans of Coffea arabica. Native to Ethiopia, its use spread in late medieval times to Yemen; from there it rapidly became popular around the Mediterranean. Both Arabs and Europeans encouraged its further spread. Details of its use vary. Boiling water is added; commonly sugar is used as a flavoring, and sometimes milk or cream. Often coffee is drunk after meals, but it is also often taken between meals, both by groups as a social drink and by workers as a stimulant. Several substances have been used as coffee substitutes. Most of them had the advantages of being cheap and of tasting somewhat like coffee but the
|Traditional stimulants: Origin and spread|
|Usual botanical source||Active constituent||Spread and current use||Analogues and substitutes|
|South America maté||Ilex paraguariensis||caffeine||Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southeastern Brazil||yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), cassine (I. cassine), American holly (I. opaca), and other Ilex species provide stimulant and narcotic beverages, mainly in North America|
|guaraná||Paullinia cupana||caffeine||Brazil only|
|coca||Erythroxylum coca, E. novogranatense||cocaine||Western South America only. The derivative, cocaine, is widely used as an illicit drug.||Erythroxylum cataractum, E. fimbriatum, E. macrophyllum used locally in South America|
|Central/North America chocolate||Theobroma cacao||theobromine, caffeine||Central America. Worldwide; spread began in 16th century||Pataxte (Theobroma bicolor) used locally in Central America|
|tobacco||Nicotiana tabacum||nicotine||Eastern North America. Worldwide; spread began in 16th century||Wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) used locally in North America and elsewhere|
|Mormon tea||Ephedra nevadensis||pseudoephedrine||Western North America only|
|West Africa cola||Cola nitida, C. acuminata||caffeine, theobromine||West Africa. Now an ingredient in some soft drinks worldwide|
|East Africa/Arabia khat||Catha edulis||cathinone||Southern Arabia and northeastern Africa only|
|coffee||Coffea arabica||caffeine||Ethiopia, then Yemen. Worldwide; spread began in 15th century mainly in Europe; instant coffee (Coffea robusta) now worldwide||Chicory root (Cichorium intybus) and other coffee substitutes|
|Western Asia wine||Vitis vinifera||alcohol||Northwestern Iran or southern Caucasus. Worldwide; spread began in 3d millennium B.C.E.||Also made from other fruits and other sources of sugar|
|beer||Hordeum sativum||alcohol||Mesopotamia; perhaps developed independently elsewhere||Also made from other cereals|
|South and East Asia tea||Camellia sinensis||caffeine||Southern China. Worldwide; spread began c. 9th century||There are many herbal teas, often sedative or medicinal, less oftenstimulant|
|betel||Areca catechu||arecoline||South and Southeast Asia only|
|kratom||Mitragyna speciosa||mitragynine||Thailand only|
|Australia pituri||Duboisia hopwoodii||nicotine||Australia only|
|Oceania kava||Piper methysticum||kavalactones||Oceania only|
disadvantage of containing little or no caffeine. These substitutes have now been overtaken in popularity by instant coffee, a soluble product manufactured from the beans of Coffea robusta, which does contain caffeine.
Tea. Tea is made from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis, native to southern China. The use of tea was already spreading beyond China in the ninth century; like coffee, it became popular in Europe in the seventeenth century and its use then spread worldwide. Again, like coffee, details of its use vary. Boiling water is usually poured onto the leaves, which are then allowed to steep for a few minutes. The resulting liquid is much lighter in flavor and color than coffee. Some add sugar to it: fewer, notably the British, add milk; some drink it iced. Tea is more often taken between meals than during meals; like coffee, it is used both as a social drink and by workers as a stimulant.
Caffeine beverages in South America. Maté, also called Paraguayan tea, is made by pouring boiling water onto the dried and roasted leaves of yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis). Most of the leaves that are used come from wild trees gathered from the forests of southern South America. Maté is traditionally a social drink, made in a gourd or a silver pot and sucked through a shared straw or
Guaraná (Paullinia cupana) is a tropical plant native to Brazil. Its seeds are traditionally roasted, pounded, and made into cakes called "Brazilian chocolate." They have this name not because they can be eaten solid, like modern chocolate bars, but because in pre-Columbian Mexico travelers used to carry similar cakes of powdered cacao for use in making an instant chocolate drink. Like those, cakes of guaraná are traditionally crumbled into water by tired travelers in Brazil, making a stimulating drink particularly rich in caffeine. Guaraná is now also used as a flavoring for soda, candy, and liqueurs.
Caffeine in Africa. The cola nut, a rich source of caffeine, is the usual native stimulant of West and Central Africa. It might rather be called a seed, since eight or ten of them are found in each fruit of the trees Cola nitida and C. acuminata. These seeds are white, pink, or red: the white ones are said to be the best. They are customarily chewed before meals: they have a bitter flavor but, perhaps as a result of this, foods and drinks taken afterwards seem sweet (water, taken after cola, tastes "like white wine and sugar," according to one observer). Apart from this effect as an appetizer, cola nuts have a high reputation among their traditional users, as stimulant, digestive, and aphrodisiac. Alongside caffeine, they contain theobromine (as does chocolate) and kolanin, a heart stimulant. Cola nuts can also be ground into powder and mixed with water as a drink, and cola extract is used to flavor sodas and candies: the names of Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola allude to cola nuts, which may well be an ingredient in these products.
Theobromine is the chief active ingredient in cacao beans, the seeds of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. These beans, fermented, roasted, and ground, are the raw material for chocolate, the traditional stimulant of Mexico, familiar worldwide. In pre-Columbian civilizations, chocolate was used as a drink: the ground cacao was mixed into hot water, which was then poured from a height into the serving cup to produce the much-desired foam. Flavors (chili, vanilla, or others) and color (notably annatto) might be added. Popularized in Europe by the Spanish, chocolate became successively a sugary drink and a milky drink; many other flavorings were tried, including the cinnamon now favored in Mexico. Eventually (in the nineteenth century) chocolate was made into bars to be eaten solid, and in many countries this is now its most familiar form. In the Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate was a social drink, taken after dinner, serving as a stimulant (and, according to some, an aphrodisiac). Whole chocolate contains caffeine as well as theobromine, and it is also rich in cocoa butter, making it an extremely nourishing food and, therefore, unlikely to produce aftereffects such as exhaustion.
Tobacco, the fermented leaf of Nicotiana tabacum, is usually smoked; in that form it cannot be classified as a food. It can be chewed, however. In Western cultures, chewed tobacco has been typical of sailors and other manual workers subjected to extreme weather conditions that make smoking difficult. Tobacco's active ingredient, nicotine, a deadly poison in the pure state, acts as a stimulant when slowly absorbed.
In Australia, another plant, Duboisia hopwoodii, has leaves and flowers very rich in nicotine. Aborigines dry and grind the leaves, mix them with the ash of certain other plants, and roll them into balls, called "pituri," for chewing. These are used by solitary workers and travelers as a stimulant to stave off tiredness and hunger; they are also exchanged as a sign of friendship. They are, or were, used by warrior groups in preparation for a battle. There is a definite advantage in chewing ash in pituri (and also with coca and betel nut), because alkalis in the ash detach the active stimulant substance, in this case nicotine, from the plant acids, allowing it to be more rapidly absorbed. The use of ash in this way has developed, apparently independently, in Australia, southeastern Asia, and South America.
Coca is the dried leaf of a plant species native to western South America, Erythroxylum coca, and of a second species, E. novogranatense, which developed under cultivation. Coca leaves were known as a stimulant to the pre-Columbian peoples of the Andean region, and continued to be used by them and their Spanish conquerors. Their use is extremely widespread in South America. As with the nicotine plants, the principal use of coca leaves has been as a stimulant for workers and travelers. The usual way is to take some leaves, mix them with the ash of burnt coca or another wood, roll the mixture into a ball, and chew it. Coca leaves, like chocolate, are really nourishing, a property that tends to reduce the severity of the exhaustion that usually follows the use of stimulants. The active constituent of coca leaves was isolated (and named cocaine) in 1860. When taken in the pure form, cocaine was found to be a useful medicinal drug but also highly addictive. It was among the first stimulants to arouse strong medical and governmental disapproval. In the early twentieth century, many countries made it illegal. The name of Coca-Cola alludes to coca, and the early recipe for the product contained cocaine, like other soft drinks of the period.
Some other species of genus Erythroxylum contain cocaine or similar compounds and are used as stimulants by various South American peoples: E. cataractum by the Cubeo of Colombia; E. fimbriatum and E. macrophyllum by the Bora and Huitoto of Peru.
Betel. The commonest traditional stimulant of southern and southeastern Asia is betel. Like pituri and coca, betel is customarily made up as a chewing packet that includes ash. The active ingredient, arecoline, is contained in the areca nut or betel nut (the nut of the palm Areca catechu), which is cut into long narrow pieces and placed inside the packet along with a "lime" made from burnt coral and oyster shells. The packet is formed from a leaf of the betel pepper vine (Piper betle). In traditional households, the betel chews are made up each day from fresh supplies; as with pituri, it is a sign of friendship and hospitality to offer a chew to any visitor. The habitual chewing of betel eventually stains the mouth red and the teeth black. When it is first tried, betel can produce feelings of anxiety, excitement, and vertigo; to those who use it regularly, it is a mild stimulant.
Khat. Coffee, when it was introduced to Yemen from across the Red Sea, was not the country's first stimulant. That position belongs to khat (or qat), the leaf of Catha edulis. Khat is used in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and a large area of East Africa from Ethiopia and Somalia to Mozambique and South Africa. It had not spread outside the region until some Americans acquired the taste for it while they were in Somalia with United Nations troops during the early 1990s. Khat is often taken as a tea, made by pouring boiling water onto the dried or fresh leaves. Fresh leaves can also be chewed; in this form its effect is said to be stronger than coffee but not as strong as alcohol. When chewed, khat is often used socially because it enlivens conversation. The principal active constituent in khat is cathinone, now classified as an illegal drug in the United States; however, cathinone is only present in fresh leaves. The second active constituent, cathine, which is still present in the dried leaves, is an appetite suppressant.
A milder stimulant of the same general type is Mormon tea, the leaf of Ephedra nevadensis. These leaves contain the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, and are made into a tea with boiling water.
Kava. The root of the plant kava-kava, Piper methysticum, is the source of kava, a familiar stimulant used in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. The fresh root is chopped or ground and then soaked and squeezed in water to produce a milky, spicy liquid, which is traditionally served in half coconut shells. Kava is a social drink whose effect is to produce a condition physically resembling drunkenness, though with apparent clarity of mind. The principal active constituents are known as kavalactones.
Kratom. Kratom, a stimulant indigenous to Thailand and little known elsewhere, consists of the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa. These leaves can be smoked or made into a tea. The active constituent is mitragynine, which, like cocaine, is a stimulant at low doses but a narcotic at higher doses.
Alcohol is an atypical stimulant because it is not naturally present in any fresh plant. It is produced from the fermentation by yeast of plant sugars. One starting point is a fruit juice. Grape juice makes wine; apple juice makes (hard) cider; pear juice makes perry. Several other fruits are used in various parts of the world. A second starting point is malted cereal: barley is the commonest choice, and the result is beer. Plant saps can be used if they contain sufficient sugar: liquid cane sugar is so used in India, while pulque, a Mexican alcoholic drink, is made from the sap of the maguey (Agave atrovirens). Finally, honey, mixed with water, can be used, and the result is mead (a beverage that figures importantly in the Old English epic Beowulf ). There are two common adjustments to the process: adding cane or beet sugar to the original juice gives the yeast more raw material to work with, producing more alcohol; distilling the final product achieves much greater concentrations of alcohol, resulting in "hard liquor."
Wine and beer are both ancient inventions, going back to southwestern Asia several thousand years B.C.E. But yeasts are naturally present in the air; therefore, alcoholic drinks might have been invented or discovered many times in human history; certainly, the origin of pulque is independent of those of wine and beer.
Alcoholic drinks have most generally, in traditional societies, been used as social drinks, and they have commonly been used in a ritualistic way as well. Their production is linked with the seasons (in general the required juices are available only when fruit is ripe, and the fermentation process takes time); therefore, by contrast with most other stimulants, the discovery of alcoholic drinks and the annual vintage (especially of wine) tend to be celebrated in major festivals. In many cultures, the ordinary, everyday consumption of alcohol follows precise rules, tending to ensure, for example, that everyone drinks equally. Both in the major festivals and in everyday social drinking, it is commonly the case that drunkenness is aimed at, at least to the extent of the loss of inhibitions, but sometimes going all the way to unconsciousness.
Like kavand unlike many stimulantslcohol tends to produce enhanced mental activity accompanied by physical incapacity. In traditional societies, travelers used coca, maté, guaraná, pituri, and other stimulants to keep them going; they would not use alcohol or kava till they had arrived. Likewise, coffee, tea, and some similar stimulants may enhance one's ability to drive safely, for a certain period, while kava and alcohol impair it.
See also Alcohol; Chocolate; Cocktails; Coffee; Mexico and Central America, Pre-Columbian; Spirits; Tea.
Bibra, Ernst von. Plant Intoxicants. Edited by Jonathan Ott. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts, 1995. Originally published as Der Narkotsischen Genussmittel und der Mensch. Nürnberg, Germany: Wilhelm Schmid, 1855. The 1995 edition is a major revision and expansion of Baron von Bibra's work, with an up-to-date bibliography that should be the starting point for further study.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Henman, A. R. "Guaraná (Paullinia cupana var. sorbilis): Ecological and Social Perspectives on an Economic Plant of the Central Amazon Basin." Journal of Ethnopharmacology 6 (1982): 31138.
Kennedy, J. G. The Flower of Paradise: The Institutionalized Use of the Drug Qat in North Yemen. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel, 1987.
Lebot, Vincent, Mark Merlin, Lamont Lindstrom. Kava: The Pacific Drug. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Reprinted as Kava: The Pacific Elixir. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press, 1997.
Lewin, Louis. Phantastica: Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs, Their Use and Abuse. Translated by P. H. A. Wirth. New York: Dutton, 1964. Originally published as Die Pfeilgifte; nach eigenen toxikologischen und ethnologischen Untersuchungen. Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1923.
Plowman, Timothy. "The Origin, Evolution, and Diffusion of Coca, Erythroxylum spp., in South and Central America." In Pre-Columbian Plant Migration, edited by Doris Stone, pp. 12563. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1984.
Watson, P. L. The Precious Foliage: A Study of the Aboriginal Psycho-Active Drug Pituri. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: University of Sydney Press, 1983.