Amphetamine was first synthesized in Germany in 1887. No medicinal use was found for it until the late 1920s, when it was discovered that amphetamine dilates the bronchial sacs of the lungs. During the 20s and 30s, amphetamine was used to treat asthma, hay fever, and the common cold. In 1932, the Benzedrine Inhaler was introduced to the market, and was a huge over-the-counter success.
Amphetamine was soon available in pill form too. "Pep pills" were sold over the counter for depression, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, motion sickness, night-blindness, hyperactive disorders of children, obesity, narcolepsy, impotence, and apathy.
During World War II, over 72 million amphetamine tablets were given to soldiers on both sides of the conflict to keep them alert and awake. The amphetamines also caused psychosis-like aggression in some soldiers. Hitler was also known to have taken amphetamines daily, by injection, which probably increased his psychotic aggressiveness, as well.
After the war, medical and non-medical use of amphetamines skyrocketed. Tablets were readily available and very cheap. People looking for extended wakefulness, like truck drivers and college students, and people looking for bursts of energy, like athletes, began abusing amphetamines. In addition, many cocaine users switched to the legal amphetamines from illegal cocaine because the effects of the two drugs are very similar.
In 1965, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration passed a group of amendments that cracked down on the overuse of amphetamines, among other drugs. While amphetamines continued to be over-prescribed into the 70s, newer drugs with fewer side effects replaced them for most medical uses.
Today, amphetamines are used almost exclusively to treat the sleeping disorder narcolepsy and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder. Many people with ADHD have a paradoxical response to amphetamines; rather than making them more jumpy and hyperactive, as amphetamines do to most people, amphetamines induce calm in ADHD patients.