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This article is about the socio-cultural aspects and history of the first amphetamine pharmaceutical. It is not to be confused with Benzedrex, Benzedrone, or Benzphetamine.
Benzedrine inhaler

Benzedrine is the trade name of the racemic mixture of amphetamine (dl-amphetamine). The drug was often referred to as "bennies" by users and in literature. It was marketed under this brand name in the USA by Smith, Kline & French in the form of inhalers, starting in 1933.[1] Benzedrine was used medically to enlarge nasal and bronchial passages until it was discontinued and replaced with compounds with weaker psychoactive properties (e.g., ephedrine, levomethamphetamine, and propylhexedrine).

History and culture[edit]

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.[2]

In 1937, the effects of Benzedrine, and thus stimulant use, was studied in children with behavior and neurological disorders.[3]

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.[4][5] 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, William S. Burroughs's novel Junky, 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.[6]

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.[7] In certain countries (e.g., the United States), levomethamphetamine is used as the active ingredient in certain brands of inhalers, such as Vicks VapoInhaler, which are sold over-the-counter.

References in literature[edit]

Ian Fleming's James Bond references[edit]

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. Actually, Ian Fleming first makes reference to Benzedrine in his first book Casino Royale written in 1953. Le Chiffre, is the paymaster of the "Syndicat des Ouvriers d'Alsace" (French for "Alsatian Workmen's Union"), a SMERSH-controlled trade union. In the very early scenes, Le Chiffre is noted to make use of a Benzedrine inhaler as he plays baccarat. This detail is not lost in the 2006 film remake of the same name with 'Le Chiffre' played by Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, also uses an inhaler. Benzedrine, however, was now considered to be too 'druggy' so a platinum cased Salbutamol inhaler makes do instead. The character of James Bond's first use of Benzedrine is in the form of tablets in the book Live and Let Die [8] "...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 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. Additionally, when James Bond is about to deal with two gangsters in The Spy Who Loved Me over a long night at the "Dreamy Pines Motor Court motel "...He took out two and when I gave him the coffee he swallowed them down. 'Benzedrine.' That'll keep me awake for tonight." says Bond.[9]

References in music[edit]

You Were Never Lovelier[edit]

Written by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer for Fred Astaire in the film You Were Never Lovelier, 1942, but not used for release,[10] the song "On the Beam" contains the lyrics, "I'm like the B-19/ Loaded with benzedrine/ When I come on the scene/ I bust a hole in the sky."[11]

Fall Out Boy[edit]

American rock band Fall Out Boy's fourth studio album Folie à Deux contains a song called "20 Dollar Nose Bleed" which is about the recreational use of benzedrine. The song's chorus contains the lyrics "give me a pen / call me Mr. Benzedrine / but don't let the doctor in / I wanna blow off steam." Benzedrine is referenced once again in the music video of the album's second single, "America's Suitehearts." Each of the band members is given a name referencing one of the album's songs, and lead singer Patrick Stump's is Dr. Benzedrine.


The American band R.E.M. also referred to the drug in their song, "What's the Frequency Kenneth". The first line of the song's lyrics is """What's the frequency ,Kenneth?", is your Benzedrine, uh-huh". This line is repeated again midway through the song.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen[edit]

The drug is referred to by the slang name "Benny" in the 1972 song, "I Took Three Bennies and My Semi Truck Won't Start", by the American country-rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. The song makes reference to the alleged tendency for long-distance truck drivers to use amphetamines and other stimulants to make long-distance deliveries on a tight schedule. [12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Benzedrine". 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Bradley, Charles (November 1937). "The Behavior of Children Receiving Benzedrine". American Psychiatric Association: 577–585. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.94.3.577. 
  4. ^ Robson, Steve (1 June 2013). "Nazis on narcotics: How Hitler's henchmen stayed alert during war by taking CRYSTAL METH". Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  5. ^ Freye, Enno (2009). Pharmacology and Abuse of Cocaine, Amphetamines, Ecstasy and Related Designer Drugs. University Düsseldorf, Germany: Springer. p. 110. ISBN 978-90-481-2447-3. 
  6. ^ Susann, Jacqueline (1969). The Love Machine. New York: Grove. ISBN 0802135447. 
  7. ^ "Benzedrex". B.F. Ascher & Company, inc. 
  8. ^ Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 191. ISBN 9781612185446. 
  9. ^ Fleming, Ian (1962). The Spy Who Loved Me. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 111. ISBN 9781612185538. 
  10. ^ On the Beam – Georgia State University Johnny Mercer Song Database
  11. ^ "On the Beam - Lyrics". Lyrics Playground (after original song recording). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  12. ^,9171,862163,00.html