While the drug was initially used for medical purposes, as a bronchodilator, early users of the Benzedrine inhaler discovered it had a euphoric stimulant effect, resulting in its being one of the earliest synthetic stimulants to be widely used for recreational (i.e., nonmedical) purposes. Even though this drug was intended for inhalation, some people used Benzedrine recreationally 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. Because of the stimulant side effect, physicians discovered 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 1937, the effects of Benzedrine, and thus stimulant use, was studied in children with behavior and neurological disorders.
In the 1940s and 1950s, reports began to emerge about the recreational use of Benzedrine inhalers, and in 1949, doctors began to move away from prescribing Benzedrine as a bronchodilator and appetite suppressant. In 1959, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it a prescription drug. Benzedrine and derived amphetamines were used as a stimulant for armed forces during World War II and the Vietnam War. Benzedrine was commonly referenced in Beatnik culture and writings; it also cut short the career of the singer Harry "The Hipster" Gibson after he performed the song "Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine". It was referenced in the works of famous Beats, including Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road and Allen Ginsberg's memoir poem "Howl". Benzedrine is also mentioned in several novels by Jacqueline Susann, in particular The Love Machine in which main character Robin Stone treats the drug as a staple of "a well balanced diet" inclusive of red meat and cigarettes. When amphetamine became a controlled substance, it was replaced by propylhexedrine. Propylhexedrine was also manufactured by Smith, Kline and French and was marketed under the name Benzedrex. The Benzedrex inhaler is still available today, but is now manufactured by B.F. Ascher & Company, inc.
In the series of books by Ian Fleming, the character James Bond repeatedly makes use of Benzedrine in times of peak stress and typically during the climax of various books. The character of James Bond's first use of benzedrine is in the form of tablets in the book Live and Let Die (novel) "...He still felt perfectly fresh and the elation and clarity of mind produced by the benzedrine were still with him..." This scene occurs as James Bond is maneuvering through an underwater coral reef toward the island of Surprise off the coast of Jamaica. The next instance of James Bond using benzedrine is in Moonraker (novel) where early in the book he uses a champagne and benzedrine mixed drink (to which he says "Never Again.") to stay alert to beat the villain Hugo Drax at a game of high stakes contract bridge.
^Cullen, Pamela V. A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams, London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9. Suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams was using it thus in the 1950s.