CRANK: AMERICANA’S VICIOUS PIECE OF APPLE PIE
BY LOU FORD
I was awake, doing schoolwork and I was a bit panicked. I had a project that was due that week, and my ADHD was in full swing. It was already 2:30 in the morning, and I had to drop my daughter off at school by 9 and be at work by 9:30. I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night. Scrambling, even though I had taken my Ritalin, my mind was flooded with mystifying indecision. It was time for a break. So I turned to NETFLIX.
I searched around for anything that would take my mind away the anxiety, so I dredged all the genres like a bloodhound hunting down an escape convict. Frustrated and ready to give up the search I came across a documentary directed by Alison Klayman titled Take Your Pills. I’m not really sure why it caught my eye. Maybe it was the pop art that was on the screen. The 1950s pop art style image. Maybe it was the fact that I thought it was about the opioid epidemic which is an issue I have worked on, made videos and wrote about for quite some time. Either way I watched the film.
Now before I go any further, this not a film review. No, I’m bring up the fact that I watch this film to introduce, as well present the very sad fact that this is not a health crisis that people really seem to care about. It also to illustrate the fact that amphetamines and their diversities are truly as American as apply pie, or Elvis.
Take Your Pills is a documentary about the overprescribing of ADHD medications, their silence prevalence in our society and the damage they are causing. It offers a comprehensive history into the journey those substances took to become a staple part of the American diet. It is a history that once you learn will (at least it did for me) make you question many aspects of the medical field once the amount of greed and corruption is understood. Many would say that is depressingly astounding, and ever heartbreaking.
See, when amphetamines were first synthesized they were by many seen as being extremely beneficial to all of humanity. One of the first chemists to really test their potential was Gordon Allies. He injected what he though was a safe amount (it was actually five times more than the recommended dose) in an effort to see if would be more effective on ailments like asthma, and allergies. While it had no effect on some of those symptoms it got him high (tweaked out of hhis damn mind), made him believe he was witty and outgoing despite the later side effects of restlessness and mind racing thoughts. Still the drug helped with breathing problems, and allergies to an extent. Because of that a Philadelphia pharmaceutical company took it and made the Benzedrine inhaler. That quickly transformed into an epidemic if you will, of abuse. That happened quite simply because while the inhalers work, they also got you high. ”Junkies” realized that and they learned that if they cracked open that inhalers they could either swallow the amphetamine soak cotton strip or ring it out and inject the drug. The horrifically hilarious thing about that was that everyone knew about that practice, films we’re made about it, and it appeared in police dramas yet nothing was done. Speed was still seen as a wonder drug for all. Two examples of that are the development of two drugs that would later be used heavily for treating ADD and ADHD. Those two drugs are Ritalin and Adderall.
Ritalin (chemically methylphenidate) isn’t actually an amphetamine; it is an offshoot of the drug (https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/sites/www.pharma.us.novartis.com/files/ritalin_ritalin-sr.pdf). More specifically it is in the class of central nervous system stimulants known as phenethylamine. The drug was developed by Leandro Panizzon, a chemist who worked for the pharmaceutical company Ciba (now known as Novartis). He synthesized it specifically for his wife who was nicknamed Rita so she could be perkier, loose weight, and become better at tennis. He named the drug in honor of her. Now when the drug was put out on the market the pharmaceutical companies decided to change the name a little for branding sake and they called it Ritalin. It was memorable, and even catchy and it didn’t necessarily carry any kind of negative connotations. It wasn’t happy go lucky, but you couldn’t say that it was on the up and up either. That was just one example of how greed, and ”cult of me” had come to allow, accept and promote (in a mean manner) the belief in instant gratification. It was that demand for a cure-all that let that fly. Adderall is another perfect example of that.
The story of the drug Adderall is actually not quiet as long-winded. The question of how that medication which is a combination of two amphetamine salts got its name is simple. What are the first three letters of the word? ADD. It is the name of the actual disorder that the drug is meant to treat. The rest of the name is actually a play on the words; it was originally called ADD for all, but again for marketing the name was switched up slightly to make it not quiet as obvious or offensive (https://galoremag.com/adderall-is-literally-named-after-add-for-all/). As with Ritalin, it was another example of how greed lead the way for this drug to become an active part of medical treatment.
The thing that happened next, though, was both a godsend and a curse. At that time, just like now, ADHD was very prevalent. The only difference was due to the lack of medical understanding those afflicted by the disorder were thought to be defective because of things ranging from birth defects to childhood diseases, and because of that the medical community called that disorder "minimal brain dysfunction, “ and ”hyperkinetic reaction of childhood”. With that perspective society treated those who were diagnosed with this neurological disorder like as retreads. They were seen as people with very little future, and even the possibility of becoming career criminals. The consequence was sad by being painted by that broad brush, and having no recourse many did go along with those expectations. That did change when in 1936 psychiatrist Charles Bradley performed experiments on learning-disabled boys and discovered that in controlled small amounts, stimulants actually had the opposite effect. It made them more focused (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3064242/). What that did is obvious, it helped those who suffered from debilitating learning disorders perform and focus, but at the same time it furthered the reputation of those drugs from not just being pep pills to help the cult of me compete, or a motivator for the depressed house wife who was expected to be Donna Reed, or cure for troubled children, but also another remedy to a list of never ending ailments. While those who suffered under the stigma of being lost, disturbed, and untreatable finally had some sort of option to help them beat the odds and succeed it also normalized the substance even more. That discover only furthered the curse; it made methamphetamines and amphetamines that much more embedded into the American idea of endless possibilities, and the need to do it at any cost. It truly furthered its development of that drug becoming the chicken feed of the culture of me.
Crank is Americana.
In the next piece, I will be discussing how amphetamines came to first be favored by the public, it’s future backlash, and yet America’s continued craven desire for its ability to give people an edge over the competition.
Copyright © Andrew Bruce 2018