The Journey of Amphetamines

While researching at Berlin University, the Romanian doctoral student Lazar Edeleanu published a thesis involving phenyl-isobutyric acid. His original research detailed the discovery of several novel molecules, including one that would revolutionize medicine. Thought originally to be worthless, he named the molecule phenyl-isopropylamine and moved his research in a different direction.


Edeleanu’s new discovery soon became a distant memory as nearly 40 years sped by until the molecule resurfaced in a Los Angeles laboratory. While studying asthma, the American pharmacologist Gordon Alles researched ephedrine in hopes of minimizing its side effect profile.

An asthma attack involves narrowing of the airways (bronchioles). Ephedrine’s utility in asthma treatment is as a nasal decongestant and bronchodilator, due to its interaction with ∝ and 𝛽 adrenergic receptors. However, ∝ and 𝛽 adrenergic receptors have many other physiological functions that result in unwanted systemic side effects.

Alles soon shifted focus from ephedrine and concentrated on a new molecule that he called “beta-phenyl-isopropylamine.” He was unaware that this and Edeleanu’s  decade-old discovery were one in the same.

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