Central Nervous System Stimulants

Citation metadata

Editor: Jacqueline L. Longe
Date: 2018
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Disease/Disorder overview
Length: 531 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 754

Central Nervous System Stimulants


Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are medicines that speed up physical and mental processes.


Central nervous system stimulants are used to treat conditions characterized by lack of adrenergic stimulation, including narcolepsy and neonatal apnea. Additionally, methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine sulfate (Dexedrine) are used for their paradoxical effect in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The anerexiants, benzphetamine (Didrex), diethylpropion (Tenuate), phendimetrazine (Bontril, Plegine), phentermine (Fastin, Ionamine), and sibutramine (Meridia) are CNS stimulants used for appetite reduction in severe obesity. Although these drugs are structurally similar to amphetamine, they cause less sensation of stimulation, and are less suited for use in conditions characterized by lack of adrenergic stimulation.

Phenylpropanolamine and ephedrine have been used both as diet aids and as vasoconstrictors.


The majority of CNS stimulants are chemically similar to the neurohormone norepinephrine, and simulate the traditional “fight or flight” syndrome associated with sympathetic nervous system arousal. Caffeine is more closely related to the xanthines, such as theophylline. A small number of additional members of the CNS stimulant class do not fall into specific chemical groups.


Amphetamines have a high potential for abuse. They should be used in weight reduction programs only when alternative therapies have been ineffective. Administration for prolonged periods may lead to drug dependence. These drugs are classified as schedule II under federal drug control regulations.

The amphetamines and their cogeners are contraindicated in advanced arteriosclerosis, symptomatic cardiovascular disease, and moderate to severe hypertension and hyperthyroidism. They should not be used to treat patients with hypersensitivity or idiosyncrasy to the sympathomimetic amines, or with glaucoma, a history of agitated states, a history of drug abuse, or during the 14 days following administration of monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.

Sidebar: HideShow

An acute febrilecondition marked by severe depression of the granulocyte-producing bone marrow, and by prostration, chills, swollen neck, and sore throat sometimes with local ulceration.
A drug that suppresses appetite.
Worry or tension in response to real or imagined stress, danger, or dreaded situations. Physical reactions, such as fast pulse, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and weakness may accompany anxiety.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—
A condition in which a person (usually a child) has an unusually high activity level and a short attention span. People with the disorder may act impulsively and may have learning and behavioral problems.
Central nervous system—
The brain and spinal cord.
A mental condition in which people feel extremely sad and lose interest in life. People with depression may also have sleep problems and loss of appetite, and may have trouble in concentrating and carrying out everyday activities.
A condition in which the number of leukocytes circulating in the blood is abnormally low and which is most commonly due to a decreased production of new cells in conjunction with various infectious diseases, as a reaction to various drugs or other chemicals.
Pregnancy category—
A system of classifying drugs according to their established risks for use during pregnancy. Category A: Controlled human studies have demonstrated no fetal risk. Category B: Animal studies indicate no fetal risk, but no human studies, or adverse effects in animals, but not in wellcontrolled human studies. Category C: No adequate human or animal studies, or adverse fetal effects in animal studies, but no available human data. Category D: Evidence of fetal risk, but benefits outweigh risks. Category X: Evidence of fetal risk. Risks outweigh any benefits.
Withdrawal symptoms—
A group of physical or mental symptoms that may occur when a person suddenly stops using a drug on which he or she has become dependent.

Methylphenidate may lower the seizure threshold.

Benzphetamine is category X during pregnancy. Diethylpropion is category B. Other anorexiants have not been rated; however their use during pregnancy does not Page 755  |  Top of Articleappear to be advisable. Safety for use of anorexiants has not been evaluated.

Amphetamines are all category C during pregnancy. Breastfeeding while receiving amphetamines is not recommended because the infant may experience withdrawal symptoms.

There have been reports that when used in children, methylphenidate and amphetamines may retard growth. Although these reports have been questioned, it may be suggested that the drugs not be administered outside of school hours(becausemostchildren have behavior problems in school), in order to permit full stature to be attained.

The most common adverse effects of CNS stimulants are associated with their primary action. Typical responses include overstimulation, dizziness, restlessness, and similar reactions. Rarely, hematologic reactions, including leukopenia, agranulocytosis, and bone marrow depression have been reported. Lowering of the seizure threshold has been noted with most drugs in this class.

Withdrawal syndrome

Abrupt discontinuation following prolonged high dosage results in extreme fatigue, mental depression and changes on the sleep EEG. This response is most evident with amphetamines, but may be observed with all CNS stimulants taken over a prolonged period of time.



Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Pamphlet. National Institute of Mental Health, 1994.

Facts about Childhood Hyperactivity. Pamphlet. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 1990.


Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders (CHADD). 499 NW 70th Avenue, Suite 109, Plantation, FL 33317. (305) 587-3700.

Full Text: 

Nancy Ross-Flanigan
Samuel Uretsky, PharmD

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Ross-Flanigan, Nancy, and Samuel Uretsky, PharmD. "Central Nervous System Stimulants." The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, edited by Jacqueline L. Longe, 4th ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2018, pp. 754-755. Gale Health and Wellness, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3662600222%2FHWRC%3Fu%3Dmnkanokahs%26sid%3DHWRC%26xid%3Dfdbdcbcd. Accessed 13 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3662600222