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April 15, 2005 4:38 AM   Subscribe

Why is it that Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine) seems to make me more alert and improves my ability to concentrate? Am I getting some kind of "speed" effect?
posted by punkfloyd to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That's exactly what you're getting. Crystal Meth is made from Sudafed, or similar, going through an extraction process to get to the potent, finished product. That's the reason that there is legislation in the pipe right now to move it behind the counter at pharmacies, and the quantity you can buy at one place is restricted.
posted by white_devil at 5:02 AM on April 15, 2005

...well, yes. Pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are stimulants along the lines of amphetamines. Atheletes sometimes use pseudoephedrine because it's easily found in OTC drugs. Pseudoephedrine is structurally similar to amphetamines, and can even be used in methamphetamine synthesis [again, popular due to the amount of OTC drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.] The relatively low amounts of pseudoephedrine in most cold medicines make the speed-like effects harder to notice, but as the list of side-effects on the Wikipedia page states, things like restlessness, insomnia, and nervousness are all side-effects - rather like the side effects of a low dose of an actual amphetamine.
posted by ubersturm at 5:04 AM on April 15, 2005

I find I get none of the alertness, and mostly an anxious physical feeling. I don't get the physical AND mental stimulation that I do with coffee.
posted by rolypolyman at 5:27 AM on April 15, 2005

It's interesting to look at the molecular diagrams for ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. They are exactly the same except for the type of line between two of the atoms. Maybe someone who understands chemistry can explain that.

To the extent that Sudafed resembles ephedrine, I, the unlearned, can comfortably say, yeah, that's a "speed" effect.

Also, check out the phenethylamine family, to which pseudoephedrine belongs. Meet cousin MDA, MDMA, mescaline, methcathinone (we call her Cat), the amphetamine twins, phentermine, dopamine, and adrenaline. Movers and shakers, each one.
posted by airguitar at 5:53 AM on April 15, 2005

This is interesting news given that as a child my parents used to feed me sudafed like candy. You know how Chris Rock has that bit about 'tussin being the cure all in the ghetto? Well, Sudafed was the cure all at my house.
posted by spicynuts at 6:39 AM on April 15, 2005

Some fraction of ADD / ADHD patients respond to pseudoephedrine.
posted by curtm at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2005

I have to avoid it as it gives me heart palpitations. Unpleasant. Unfortunately, it's sometimes difficult to find cold and flu OTC meds that don't include pseudoephedrine.

Ephedra was seemingly causing major problems (and deaths) some years ago. Pseudoephedrine is related but profitable to Big Pharma and has been getting a pass, IMO.
posted by Morrigan at 6:50 AM on April 15, 2005

Technical answer: The amphetamines cause norepinephrine to leak out of nerve terminals; the norepinephrine then is thought to bind alpha1 receptors, which cause vasoconstriction, increasing your blood pressure.

Short answer: there's probably some level of central nervous system activity, as well as your higher blood pressure that may make you feel more alert.

on preview to Morrigan: pseudoephedrine has been generic and over the counter for years. I'd worry much more about clarinex and nexium than sudafed for Big Pharma profits. Also, I haven't heard much of anything about deaths linked to pseudoephedrine, correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by gramcracker at 7:24 AM on April 15, 2005

Gramcracker, I was really referring more to the ephedra deaths. I'm sure you're right that pseudoephedrine is safe for the majority of consumers. My personal adverse reaction makes me distrust it, no doubt out of proportion with actual adverse reaction rates.
posted by Morrigan at 7:45 AM on April 15, 2005

Sudafed and related drugs definitely have an effect on raising blood pressure.

Parnate is the "speed" of anti-depressants. It actually blocks the chemical in your body that acts as a safety mechanism for spikes in blood pressure. Patients on Parnate are warned away from ingesting any antihistamines as the combination can cause severe hypertension and (sometimes...rarely) death.

Parnate patients are also warned away from foods containing high amounts of tyramine...aged foods (hard cheeses, aged meats, tofu), gingseng, sauerkraut, herring, and so on. Cautionary foods (contain smaller amounts of tyramine unless stored incorrectly) include "real" chocolate, raspberries, soy sauce, alcoholic beverages, avocados and so on.

I experienced some crazy weight loss on Parnate (which is unusual for an AD) and actually lost my cravings for carbohydrates and most of the foods above! Which makes you wonder about the chemicals in food, OTC drugs and your body affecting your emotional and physical state in a way that physicians and drug companies rarely discuss.
posted by jeanmari at 8:05 AM on April 15, 2005

My roommates and I used to take pretty big doses of pseudoephedrine in college to stay awake, in the form of diet pills (that were 100% pseudoephedrine) you could by at the 7 that were commonly known as 'trucker speed.' I'm very sure that this is/was a pretty common use for these.
posted by drobot at 8:13 AM on April 15, 2005

airguitar - ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are diastereomers [that is, "not mirror images but otherwise the same." Note how in pseudoephedrine, the lines to the OH and the first CH3 are of the same sort. That means that they're oriented the same way in space - sort of pointing the same direction. In ephedrine, they're pointing opposite directions. This structural difference causes the two molecules' intereactions with the body's postsynaptic adrenergic receptors to have slightly different effects, although they both bind to the same receptors and displace the same thing [noradrenaline.]

And yeah, if you've read any of Shulgin's work [or some of the stuff on Erowid, for that matter], there are two main classes of hallucinogenic drugs - phenethylamines [based on mescaline] and tryptamines [based on LSD]. The former are all built along the same basic chemical lines as amphetamines, with slightly different substitutions [e.g., most of the hallucinogens listed there have -OCH3 groups at the R2 and R5 sites. The only drugs that don't have either are MDA and MDMA... neither of which is really a hallucinogen.] Along with their other, stranger properties, all have the physical effects of stimulants.

< / chemistry stuff>

Oh, and Morrigan: the problem was more that people were taking ephedra as a dietary supplement, not that ephedrine in medicine was killing people. It wasn't regulated, dosages weren't controlled at all, that sort of thing. While it's not used much in cold medicine any more, it's still used for a few other purposes.
posted by ubersturm at 9:19 AM on April 15, 2005

airguitar: Look at the systematic names of the two molecules.


The difference in the type of line is denoted by 1R versus 1S. The two molecules are diastereomers of each other—same structure, but the handedness of one of the bonds is different.

A dashed line means a moiety is above the plane of the rest of the molecule. A solid line means it is below the plane.
posted by grouse at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2005

Imagine both molecules laid out flat on a surface. The hydroxy (OH) group on Ephedrine is coming off the plane towards you (shown as solid triangle) while the same OH group on Pseudoephedrine is breaking the plane but away from you (shown as dashed triangle).

Think of diastereomers as left-hand and right-hand versions - your hands aren't mirror images of each other because you can't superimpose them on each other.

On preview, everything grouse said.
posted by junesix at 10:45 AM on April 15, 2005

junesix: I would think of my hands more as enantiomers than diastereomers. They are mirror images of each other (well, excluding little differences in fingerprints, etc).
posted by grouse at 12:33 PM on April 15, 2005

Very interesting. . . the first day I take sudafed, I feel great - alert, focused, slightly stimulated but not jittery the way I get with too much coffee. Second day, pretty good. Third day, flipping out anxious paranoia and sleeplessness. Can anyone explain this? Does the fact that I focus better on the stuff (which I'm not taking for that purpose, just to relieve congestion) mean I have ADD?
posted by mai at 1:10 PM on April 15, 2005

mai: Here's a statistically valid screener for ADHD.

ubersturm : "there are two main classes of hallucinogenic drugs - phenethylamines [based on mescaline] and tryptamines [based on LSD]"

This wording is somewhat confusing. PEAs aren't based on mescaline, and neither are tryptamines based on LSD. More like an example of each class.
posted by Gyan at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2005

There's a reason why it's called 'trucker speed'
posted by angry modem at 4:53 PM on April 15, 2005

Yep, pseudoephedrine is a CNS stimulant. So's ephedrine. "Ephedra" is actually a plant genus that's rich in this and other related compounds; the monoamines are a generic class of compounds that include dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, and ephedrine mimics these effects. People have varying reactions to pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine-related deaths are probably from hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias at high doses; often the person took such high doses because he thought they'd be "performance-enhancing." Bad idea.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:22 AM on April 18, 2005

Sorry about the wording, Gyan. A better way of putting it: those were pretty much the first hallucinogens known in each class; further exploration of, say, phenethylamines didn't start with the phenethlamine compound, it started with modification of mescaline's structure and went on from there to other phenethylamines. It's the study of tryptamines and phethylamines that was based on LSD and mescaline, rather than the subsequent new compounds themselves.
posted by ubersturm at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2005

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