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What Is Benzedrex, and How Is It Abused? 

Benzedrex inhalers are nonprescription decongestants. The inhalers contain the drug propylhexedrine and are sold over the counter to provide individuals with relief of nasal congestion.


Benzedrex inhalers are designed to treat nasal congestion that can occur from allergies or the common cold. Propylhexedrine was originally developed as a substitute drug for amphetamine, which was once the active drug use in Benzedrex inhalers; however, amphetamine is a highly addictive drug and carries the risk of abuse and potential overdose. In 1949, propylhexedrine replaced amphetamine in the inhalers, as it had been structurally modified to be less dangerous than amphetamine.

Propylhexedrine, the main active ingredient in Benzedrex inhalers, is a mild stimulant. The drug results in the release of neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the central nervous system, which accounts for its stimulant effects, and these effects closely resemble the flight response that occurs in people and animals when they are anxious. The immediate effects include vasoconstriction (tightening of the arterial walls), increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased breathing, and increased blood sugar levels in the body. The vasoconstriction properties of the drug are responsible for its effectiveness as a nasal decongestant.

Although not as potent a stimulant as amphetamine, propylhexedrine is recognized for its stimulant properties. It is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, indicating that athletes engaging in international competition testing positive for the drug are sanctioned. Benzedrex inhalers are difficult to obtain in America and are more common in other countries, such as those in Europe.

Propylhexedrine Abuse

The typical Benzedrex inhaler contains a hollow tube with a cotton wick that is saturated with propylhexedrine. Individuals who abuse the drug generally do so by continually using the inhaler. Others take the propylhexedrine out of the inhaler to use orally, and some individuals use an elaborate method to separate the drug from the cotton and then consume it in a number of ways (such as smoking or injecting it). Some individuals just eat the cotton.

Intravenous abuse and smoking propylhexedrine can be particularly dangerous, and there have been a number of deaths associated with abusing the drug in this manner. The effects of taking propylhexedrine have been described as being very similar to the effects of stimulant prescription medications like Adderall, and it appears that some individuals with methamphetamine addictions may abuse propylhexedrine when they are unable to get methamphetamine.

The Effects of Benzedrex Abuse

When taken as recommended, Benzedrex is not a dangerous drug. Some individuals experience side effects, such as sneezing, burning nasal passages, and running nose, but when the drug is inhaled as directed, it generally does not produce deleterious effects. When used correctly, the fumes from the drug act on the nasal passages, and there is very little stimulant effect.

When people abuse the drug and take it in much higher doses and in a more direct manner than it was designed to be used, a number of significant negative effects can occur. According to the Handbook of the Medical Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, large doses of propylhexedrine have been known to produce the following symptoms:

  • Intoxication similar to methamphetamine or prescription stimulants
  • Heart palpitations, tachycardia, increased blood pressure, sweating, dry mouth, teeth grinding, dizziness, and, in rare cases, heart failure or serious cardiovascular issues
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and reduced appetite
  • Confusion, disorientation, mood swings, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and suicidal thoughts
  • Headache, slurred speech, increased risk for stroke, and, in rare cases, seizures, potential brain damage, and coma

Individuals who inject or swallow large amounts of propylhexedrine are at higher risk of developing more serious effects. Chronic use of Benzedrex can result in issues with high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. In addition, individuals abusing propylhexedrine are at a significant risk to become dehydrated, develop heatstroke, and may experience lung complications as a result of chronically increased high blood pressure.

The propylhexedrine in Benzedrex inhalers is also treated with a number of other substances, including lavender oil, camphor, etc., to make it more “appetizing” as an inhaler. Individuals who abuse the propylhexedrine in Benzedrex inhalers also take all of these other substances in, and this results in a number of unpleasant side effects, such as unpleasant taste and smells. There may also be issues with taking these substances in large amounts.

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Signs of Benzedrex or Propylhexedrine Abuse

Even though Benzedrex is not readily available United States, it can still be procured by individuals, particularly since those who chronically abuse drugs tend to be very resourceful in getting their substances of abuse. It is also known that stimulant abuse often occurs in concert with alcohol abuse and abuse of other drugs, and this can complicate both the effects of the drugs and the syndrome of abuse.

Individuals abusing drugs like propylhexedrine may experience:

  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Insomnia and increased periods of energy that occur due to the stimulant effects of the drug
  • Mood swings due to the cycle of ups (highs) and downs (lows) that occur with stimulant abuse
  • Social isolation
  • Secretive behavior, such as sneaking out, going to places that are prohibited, and doing things that the individual typically would not do
  • A failure to meet personal obligations, such as those related to work, school, friends and family, etc.
  • Sudden periods of defensiveness, aggressiveness, and anger
  • Money issues as a result of spending a good deal of money on drugs

In addition, those who abuse the drug may leave broken Benzedrex inhalers, Benzedrex packaging, bits of cotton, etc., in their room or in their clothing.

Any type of substance use disorder is a serious issue and represents a severe form of psychological impairment in the individual. Individuals abuse drugs for a number of different reasons, and it is extremely important that they get targeted professional assistance to help them understand the reasons that drove their substance use, learn positive coping and living skills that do not involve substance use, and develop a long-term plan of recovery in order to address the inevitable issues that occur with potential relapse.

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