Amphetamine Use and Pregnancy
   By Maria L. Moline, M.S.
       Home> Articles > Amphetamine Use and Pregnancy


Amphetamine is not a naturally-occurring compound but a synthetic molecule first synthesized in Germany in 1887. It is structurally similar to ephedrine, a natural stimulant found in some plants. Like ephedrine, amphetamine dilates the bronchial sacs of the lungs. The medical use of amphetamine began in the 1930s with the introduction of the Benzedrine Inhaler.

Maria L Moline is a certified genetic counselor. If you have any questions regarding this article your are welcomed to contact her at

A more current medicinal use of amphetamine includes treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Beneficial effects for ADHD can include improved impulse control, improved concentration, decreased sensory over-stimulation and decreased irritability. The ADHD medication Adderal is composed of a timed-release combination of four different amphetamine salts. Amphetamines are also a standard treatment for narcolepsy as well as other sleeping disorders. They are generally effective over long periods of time without producing addiction or physical dependence. Amphetamines are sometimes used to augment anti-depressant therapy in treatment-resistant depression. Medical use for weight loss is still approved in some countries, but considered obsolete in the United States.

Amphetamine releases stores of norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin from nerve endings, at the same time that it inhibits the recycling of these products. These combined effects rapidly increases the concentrations of these neurotransmitters in the spaces between nerve cells, promoting nerve impulse transmission.

Short-term physiological effects include decreased appetite, increased stamina and physical energy. Long-term abuse or overdose effects can include tremor, restlessness, changed sleep patterns, and weakened immune system.

Short-term psychological effects can include alertness, euphoria, increased concentration, rapid talking, and increased confidence. Long term psychological effects can include insomnia, mental states resembling schizophrenia, aggressiveness, addiction or dependence with accompanying withdrawal symptoms, irritability, confusion, and panic. (1)


Illicit amphetamine and methamphetamine (an extra methyl group increases the lipid solubility of amphetamine making it better absorbed into the fatty tissue of the brain) use during pregnancy has received relatively little scientific study because of its infrequency compared with cocaine and narcotic use. Estimates vary from 5% to as high as 20%, with no statistical difference between medically indigent patients and patients with private insurance (2).


Currently there is only one state, South Carolina that holds prenatal substance abuse as a criminal act of child abuse and neglect. Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota's health care professionals are required to report prenatal drug exposure. Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah, Virginia and Rhode Island's health care professionals are required to report and test for prenatal exposure. Reporting and testing can be evidence used in child welfare proceedings. Some states consider prenatal substance abuse as part of their child welfare laws. Therefore prenatal drug exposure can provide grounds for terminating parental rights because of child abuse or neglect. These states include: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Some states have policies that enforce admission to an inpatient treatment program for pregnant women who use drugs. These states include: Minnesota, South Carolina and Wisconsin. A 2004 Texas law made it a felony to smoke marijuana while pregnant resulting in a prison sentence of 2-20 years. (3)


Human data do not suggest an increase in the risk for congenital anomalies, beyond the population risk of 2% to 4%. Recent studies have associated amphetamine use in pregnancy with a higher than expected risk for heart defects (4), gastroschisis and small intestinal atresias (5), and cleft lip and palate (6), but none of these studies involve the use of amphetamines alone, but amphetamines and sympathomimetics (cough and cold remedies) (4), “ecstasy” (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and sympathomimetics (5), and multiple drug use (6). A study from 1988 involving the use in pregnancy of only methamphetamines failed to find an increased risk for fetal anomalies in the exposed group (7). It should be noted that this study involved only 52 pregnancies. Because of their anorectic impact, amphetamines may severely affect maternal nutrition prior and during pregnancy. These pregnancies could theoretically be at an increased risk for neural tube defects, and other fetal anomalies associated with poor folate intake. Yet a study conducted in 1986 failed to note an increased risk for neural tube defects for pregnancies exposed to “recreational” drugs, including cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco. (8)

Other concerns when pregnant women use amphetamines involve the possible effects on fetal growth, prematurity, and other perinatal complications. The possibility of the newborn experiencing withdrawal symptoms has also been studied, as well as the possibility that amphetamine use in pregnancy can affect the child’s behavior and ability to learn. Studies are more consistent at showing adverse effects on fetal growth, pregnancy complications, and abnormal newborn behavior in exposed pregnancies. Amphetamine use in pregnancy has been correlated to a reduction in birth weight, prematurity, postpartum hemorrhage, and retained placenta. Babies born to amphetamine users can have an increase in jitteriness, drowsiness, and respiratory distress, suggesting an amphetamine withdrawal syndrome. (7, 9-12)



• National Drug Help Hotline 1-800-662-4357
• National Alcohol and Drug Abuse 1-800-234-1253


1. Physicians Desk Reference 57th ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR; 2004: 3143
2. King JC, Substance abuse in pregnancy. A bigger problem than you think. Postgrad Med.1997;102(3):135-7, 140-5, 149-50.
Accessed 10/26/05
3. Using Illegal Street Drugs During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association
Accesed: 10/26/05
4. Bateman DN, et al. A case control study to examine the pharmacological factors underlying ventricular septal defects in the North of England.Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2004 ;60(9):635-41.PUBMED
5. Werler MM, Sheehan JE, Mitchell AA.Association of vasoconstrictive exposures with risks of gastroschisis and small intestinal atresia.Epidemiology. 2003;14:349-54.PUBMED
6. Thomas DB Cleft palate, mortality and morbidity in infants of substance abusing mothers.J Paediatr Child Health.1995 ;31:457-60.
PMID: 8554869.PUBMED
7. Little BB, Snell LM, Gilstrap LC. Methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy: outcome and fetal effects.Obstet Gynecol.1988 ;72:541-4. PUBMED
8. Shaw GM, Velie EM, Morland KB. Parental recreational drug use and risk for neural tube defects.Am J Epidemiol. 1996;144:1155-60.PUBMED
9. Oro AS, Dixon SD. Perinatal cocaine and methamphetamine exposure: maternal and neonatal correlates. J Pediatr.1987(4);111:571-8.J Pediatr.1987;111(4):571-8.PUBMED
10. Naeye RL Maternal use of dextroamphetamine and growth of the fetus.Pharmacology.1983;26(2):117-20.PUBMED
11. Ramer CM . The case history of an infant born to an amphetamine-addicted mother.Clin Pediatr (Phila).1974;13:596-7. PUBMED
12. Smith L, et al.Effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on fetal growth and drug withdrawal symptoms in infants born at term.J Dev Behav Pediatr.2003 ;24(1):17-23PUBMED

Created: 1/2/2005

Home | About | Disclaimer | Privacy | Contact

Copyright © 2005-2009 by Focus Information Technology. All rights reserved.