Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed premieres Tuesday, June 25 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN

It has long been known that German soldiers used a meth-amphetamine called Pervitin in World War II. But tales of Nazis on speed obscured the other side of the story: the massive use of stimulants by British and American troops.

Join military historian James Holland on a quest to unearth the truth behind the world’s first pharmacological arms race in Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed, premiering June 25 on THIRTEEN.

Holland’s most recent book is Normandy ‘44: D-Day and the Battle for France (2019).

Drug Use in the Military


Package of six Pervitin (methamphetamine hydrochloride) vials from Germany.

A compelling journey in the film takes Holland to aviation and pharmacological museums in Europe, where he speaks with experts about Pervitin use in Nazi Germany, and also reveals how the Allied forces conducted drug research.

By 1941, when rumors of Nazi soldiers using a “super-drug” identified as meth-amphetamine were confirmed, British commanders launched their own classified program to find the perfect war-fighting drug. They hoped Benzedrine would help defeat the need for sleep, as well as the anxiety and fear associated with shell shock – or as it is known today, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Indelible lessons about the ravaging effects of combat stress are conveyed through visits to a modern British military demolitions range and within the belly of a restored Sherman tank.

By World War II’s end, America alone dispensed as many as 500 million tablets of amphetamines to U.S. servicemen. By the 1950s, amphetamines were marketed as diet pills and mood enhancers to the general public. Celebrities ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Jack Kerouac were avid users.

How this drug affected the course of World War II is an ongoing controversy. Holland thought its widespread use in the military was scandalous – until he viewed the situation from an historical perspective.

“World War II is taking place over six years, and a lot is being expected of the young men of the major combatant nations,” he says in the film. “Is it any wonder in this life-and-death struggle for the future of the world that people are looking at drugs that can keep people awake and improve morale? It’s absolutely no wonder at all.”

World War Speed will be available to stream beginning June 25 via the Secrets of the Dead website and the THIRTEEN Explore app. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #SecretsDeadPBS.


American mortar crew in action near the Rhine, 1945

Drug policy of Nazi Germany

The generally tolerant official drug policy in the Third Reich, the period of Nazi control of Germany from the 1933 Machtergreifung to Germany's 1945 defeat in World War II, was inherited from the Weimar government which was installed in 1919 following the dissolution of the German monarchy at the end of World War I.[1]

Historical background

Before the First World War, the collaborative research efforts of the German university system and German corporations enabled the German corporate sector as a whole to obtain a virtual worldwide monopoly on drugs whose production required chemical expertise and industrial capacity.

This research was fueled by revenues from the sale of morphine, an alkaloid found in opium, first identified by a German chemist in the early 19th century and patented by Merck soon afterward.

German pharmaceutical companies' work with morphine and its derivatives found particular success in using them as pain relievers and cough suppressants, with Bayer eventually recognizing the potency of heroin, which was legal in Germany at the time (and until the 1950s, before which it was banned only in Asia and the United States).

[1] During the era of the German Empire, consolidated in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the German government's militaristic inclinations prompted it to add financial support to research in sectors including pharmaceuticals and optimization of industrial processes.[1]

The unprecedented casualties of World War I brought the need for treatment of acute and chronic pain, the means of treating that pain, and the side effects of that treatment, including opioid dependence, to the forefront of public consciousness.[citation needed]

Civilian-sector drug policy in Nazi Germany

The German populace's experience during and after the First World War inspired the Weimar and Nazi governments to adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the use of drugs to relieve pain, increase performance, and avoid withdrawal. Most drugs were permitted either universally or for individuals with a medical prescription.

Many of the drug addicts in 1920s and 1930s Germany were First World War veterans who required addictive drugs for pain relief and/or medical personnel who had access to such drugs. During the Weimar era, addiction was seen as a curable disease. Following the advent of Nazism, addiction continued to be viewed as curable for all.

[clarification needed] Among members of such groups, symptoms of drug addiction were often attributed to other conditions, which themselves were often pseudoscientifically diagnosed; even when addiction was recognized as such, Nazi physicians often viewed it as incurable in light of what they believed to be an inherent predisposition or weakness[1]

Drug policy and use within the Wehrmacht

Drug use in the German military during World War II was actively encouraged and widespread, especially during the war's later stages as the Wehrmacht became depleted and increasingly dependent on youth as opposed to experience.[2]


In an effort to make its front-line soldiers and fighter pilots fight longer, harder, and with less concern for individual safety, the German army ordered them to take military-issue pills made from methamphetamine and a primarily cocaine-based stimulant.

After Pervitin, a methamphetamine drug newly developed by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company, first entered the civilian market in 1938, it quickly became a top seller among the German population.

The drug was brought to the attention of Otto Friedrich Ranke, a military doctor and director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin's Academy of Military Medicine.[3] The effects of amphetamines are similar to those of the adrenaline produced by the body, triggering a heightened state of alertness.

In most people, the substance increases self-confidence, concentration, and willingness to take risks while at the same time reducing sensitivity to pain, hunger, and the need for sleep. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on 90 university students and concluded that Pervitin could help the Wehrmacht win the war.

Cocaine, whose effects substantially overlap with those of amphetamine but feature greater euphoria, was later added to the formulation to increase its potency through the multiplicative effects of drug interaction and to reinforce its use by individuals.

Medical authorities described this plan, under which the distributed pills numbered in the millions, as having the negative consequence that many soldiers became addicted to drugs and useless in any military capacity, whether combat or supporting.[4]


At the start of World War II, alcohol consumption was widespread among members of the Wehrmacht.

At first, high-ranking officials encouraged its use as a means of relaxation and a crude method of mitigating the psychological effects of combat, in the latter case through what later scientific developments would describe as blocking the consolidation of traumatic memories.

After the Fall of France, however, Wehrmacht commanders observed that their soldiers' behavior was deteriorating, with ‚fights, accidents, mistreatment of subordinates, violence against superior officers and 'crimes involving unnatural sexual acts'‘ becoming more frequent.

[3] The Commander-in-Chief of the German military, General Walther von Brauchitsch, concluded that his troops were committing ‚most serious infractions‘ of morality and discipline, and that the culprit was alcohol abuse.

In response, Hitler attempted to curb the reckless use of alcohol in the military, promising severe punishment for soldiers who exhibited public drunkenness or otherwise ‚allow[ed] themselves to be tempted to engage in criminal acts as a result of alcohol abuse.‘ Serious offenders could expect ‚a humiliating death.'[3] This revised policy accompanied an increase in Nazi Party disapproval of alcohol use in the civilian sector, reflecting an extension to alcohol of the longstanding Nazi condemnation of tobacco consumption as diminishing the strength and purity of the ‚Aryan race.'[1][3][5][6]

Budete mít zájem:  Angína: příznaky, léčba a inkubační doba

Drug use inside the Nazi Party

Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich's head of state and government until his suicide shortly before the war's end, is believed[citation needed] to have been addicted to drugs that were initially prescribed to treat his chronic medical conditions.

After Doctor Theodor Morell prescribed cultures of live bacteria, Hitler's digestive ailments eased, and Hitler made him his primary physician. Dr Morell's popularity[clarification needed] skyrocketed, and he was sarcastically dubbed by Göring ‚The Reichsmaster of the Injections.‘ Dr.

Morell went on to prescribe powder cocaine to soothe Hitler's throat and clear his sinuses.[7][8]

According to Norman Ohler in his 2016 book Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, when Hitler's drug supplies ran out by the end of the war, he suffered severe withdrawal from serotonin and dopamine, paranoia, psychosis, rotting teeth, extreme shaking, kidney failure and delusion.[9]

Hermann Göring, Hitler's closest aide, had served in the Luftstreitkräfte during World War I and suffered a severe hip injury during combat.

He became seriously addicted to the morphine that was prescribed to him in order to relieve the pain which resulted from this injury and the gunshot wound, variously described as a thigh or groin injury, that he sustained while taking part in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

In 1925, after consulting his wife, he entered a Swedish mental hospital for detoxification and treatment.[5][10] When Göring was captured near the end of the war, he was found to be addicted to dihydrocodeine and was subsequently weaned off it.


After the war, Pervitin remained easily accessible, both on the black market and as a prescription drug.

Doctors prescribed it to patients as an appetite suppressant or they prescribed it in order to improve the moods of patients who were struggling with depression.

Students, especially medical students, turned to the stimulant because it enabled them to cram through the night and finish their studies faster.

[11] The drug was removed from the medical supplies of East and West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, and following German reunification it was deemed illegal in the entire country. Today, a different form of the drug, crystal methamphetamine, has become popular throughout Europe and the United States despite governmental prohibition and eradication efforts.

See also

  • Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany


  1. a b c d e Jonathan Lewy: The Drug Policy of the Third Reich, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Volume 22, No 2, 2008
  2. Bennett-Smith, Meredith (June 4, 2013).

    ‚Nazis Took 'Meth' Pills To Stay Alert, Boost Endurance During World War II, Letters Reveal‘. Huffington Post.

  3. a b c d Ulrich, Andreas (May 6, 2005). ‚The Nazi Death Machine: Hitler's Drugged Soldiers‘. Der Spiegel.
  4. Andreas Ulrich, ed.

    (May 6, 2005). ‚The Nazi Death Machine Hitler's Drugged Soldiers‘. SPIEGEL ONLINE.

  5. a b Methamphetamine use during world war 2, Indian defence forum
  6. McNugent: Drug Policy of the Third Reich
  7. Porter, Tom (August 24, 2013).

    ‚Adolf Hitler 'Took Cocktail of Drugs' Reveal New Documents‘. International Business Times.

  8. See also ‚Nazi Underworld: Hitler's Drug Use Revealed‘ (television documentary produced by National Geographic TV), featuring a collection of medical reports commissioned by the United States military and including interviews with six doctors who treated the Nazi dictator.

  9. McCarthy, Barbara (November 25, 2016). ‚A brief history of war and drugs: From Vikings to Nazis‘. Al Jazeera. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  10. Hitlers knarkande hantlangare: Bosse Schön: Hermann Göring intagen på svenskt sinnessjukhus, 2010, A book in Swedish
  11. Hurst, Fabienne (May 30, 2013). ‚WWII Drug: The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth‘. Der Spiegel.

Further reading

  • Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (2016), ISBN 0241256992

Retrieved from ‚‘

High Times with Narcotic Nazi Warfare

  • Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (Allen Lane, 2016)
  • What do Ukrainian combatants in the ongoing conflict with Russia, ISIL fighters, American pilots during Operation Iraqi Freedom, child soldiers in Sierra Leone and Liberia, American servicemen fighting in Vietnam and Korea, and soldiers on every side of World War II all have in common?
  • Speed.

They were all boosted for combat with amphetamines or amphetamine-type stimulants. Speed is running through the veins of Ukrainian fighters. Jihadists in Syria have been buzzing on Captagon — fenethylline, which metabolizes in the body into amphetamine and theophylline. American pilots have access to dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). Juvenile soldiers were given amphetamine, known locally as “bubbles.” U.S. military personnel in Vietnam were liberally prescribed dextroamphetamine. During the Korean War, American servicemen were also supplied with methamphetamine. In World War II, British and American soldiers were issued amphetamine (Benzedrine), whereas German and Japanese troops were distributed methamphetamine (mainly Pervitin and Philopon). And what of the Finns?

It is a little known fact that during the Continuation War (June 1941 to September 1944) against the Soviets, the Finnish military also used meth. On becoming a co-belligerent of the Third Reich, Finland got access to Pervitin, the German cutting-edge “assault pill.

” In 1941, the Finns had at their disposal 850,000 tablets of a crystal meth-style drug that was mass-manufactured by the Berlin-based Temmler-Werke pharmaceutical company, with more supplies on the way.

This potent stimulant was issued mainly to special commando units on their demanding, long distance raids in deep snow and later also to regular troops.

Yet, meth was but an addition to the vast pharmacological ordnance stockpiled by 1940 by the Finnish Defence Forces’ Medical Department of the General Staff for the Winter War (November 1939 to March 1940). The chemical arsenal included cocaine, heroin, morphine, and opium.

The extent of the army’s use of intoxicants may be shocking, but as Mikko Ylikangas argues in his book on the modern history of drugs in Finland (Unileipää, kuolonvettä, spiidiä. Huumeet Suomessa 1800–1950), it mirrored their rampant medicinal consumption in the society. The Continuation War was, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, the continuation of the Winter War by pharmacological means.

While at the beginning the Finns employed these means for purely medical purposes, their Pervitin supplier — Nazi Germany — turned uppers into an integral part of its military effort. Total war required the full commitment of the nation’s assets, thus demanding that humans  go beyond their usual limits.

Pervitin, the “people’s drug,” matched the purposes of boosting the fighting spirit among soldiers and improving the productivity of workers. In his book Art of War, Sun Tzu writes that “Speed is the essence of war”. This could not be more accurate a remark to describe the speedy war of Blitzkrieg, for which German forces were primed by chemical speed.

Between April and December 1939, the Temmler company supplied the German military with 29 million Pervitin pills, many of which were used experimentally during the campaign against Poland in September 1939. At the peak of the Blitzkrieg in the spring of 1940, troops were issued some 35 million tablets.

The Wehrmacht’s amazingly rapid advances appear less incredible given that in some units many soldiers took up to four Pervitin pills a day for weeks on end.

It is precisely this extentsive use of psychopharmaceutical performance enhancement in the Third Reich that is the subject of Norman Ohler’s fascinating and eye-opening book.

Though by no means the first work on the synergy between drugs and war under National Socialism, Blitzed is by far the most comprehensive account in English of the remarkable ways in which intoxicants fuelled the Nazi war machine.

The large-scale use of uppers has barely been recognized in the dominant narratives of World War II, military performance, and decision-making. Now, here comes Blitzed, aspiring to fill the gap in “the pharmacological story” of state-society and government-military relations in the Third Reich, providing what historiography has thus far lacked.

Ohler is original and enlightening in his unearthing of some previously unknown facts. Three of these seem especially revealatory. First, after exploring the records of Hitler’s personal physician Theodor Morell on his medical treatment of the Führer, he challenges the commonly held belief that “Patient A” abused methamphetamine.

Instead, we learn that from July 1943 to January 1945, Hitler received regular injections of Eukodal, a painkiller and cough medicine, with doses reaching 20 milligrams in 1944. Consisting of an opioid called oxycodon, Eukodal is a near-cousin of heroin. While methamphetamine works as a potent central nervous system stimulant, Eukodal’s effects are narcotic and euphoric.

Thus, argues Ohler, Hitler felt invulnerable and enhilarated even when the strategic situation became grave because his medication made him increasingly detached from reality. Following the unsuccessful assasination attempt of June 1944, Hitler was also administered a 10 percent cocaine solution by a laryngologist Dr. Erwin Giesing for 75 days.

So from July to October 1944, Hitler was high on a powerful “speedball” of opioid and cocaine. These were, however, but two of the potent ingredients of Hitler’s narcotics cocktail. For, as we already knew, during the war the Führer received a dizzying weekly array of dozens of varieties of drugs, amounting to 120 to150 tablets and eight to 10 injections every week.

All of this may help us understand some of his stunning decisions and irrational planning, such as those that led to the outcome of the Battle of the Ardennes.

Second, the attempt by Reich Health Führer Leonardo Conti to curtail the general abuse of Pervitin by subjecting it to the opium law in June 1941 did not, as was previously assumed, result in a substantial reduction or more cautious military use of meth.

Not only did civilians not take “any notice of the rigorous prohibition, let alone observe it” but also, as Ohler tells us, the Wehrmacht continued to recognize Pervitin as “decisive for the outcome of the war,” especially on the eve of the invasion on the Soviet Union.

How Methamphetamine Became a Key Part of Nazi Military Strategy

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that speed is “the essence of war.” While he of course did not have amphetamines in mind, he would no doubt have been impressed by their powerful war-facilitating psychoactive effects.

Amphetamines—often called “pep pills,” “go pills,” “uppers” or “speed”—are a group of synthetic drugs that stimulate the central nervous system, reducing fatigue and appetite and increasing wakefulness and a sense of well-being.

The quintessential drug of the modern industrial age, amphetamines arrived relatively late in the history of mind-altering substances—commercialized just in time for mass consumption during World War II by the leading industrial powers.

That war was not only the most destructive war in human history but also the most pharmacologically enhanced. It was literally sped up by speed.

Few drugs have received a bigger stimulus from war. As Lester Grinspoon and Peter Hedblom wrote in their classic 1975 study The Speed Culture, “World War II probably gave the greatest impetus to date to legal medically authorized as well as illicit black market abuse of these pills on a worldwide scale.”

Japanese, American and British forces consumed large amounts of amphetamines, but the Germans were the most enthusiastic early adopters, pioneering pill-popping on the battlefield during the initial phases of the war.

Nazi ideology was fundamentalist in its antidrug stance. Social use of drugs was considered both a sign of personal weakness and a symbol of the country’s moral decay in the wake of a traumatic and humiliating defeat in World War I.

But as Norman Ohler shows in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, methamphetamine was the privileged exception. While other drugs were banned or discouraged, methamphetamine was touted as a miracle product when it appeared on the market in the late 1930s.

Indeed, the little pill was the perfect Nazi drug: “Germany, awake!” the Nazis had commanded. Energizing and confidence boosting, methamphetamine played into the Third Reich’s obsession with physical and mental superiority. In sharp contrast to drugs such as heroin or alcohol, methamphetamines were not about escapist pleasure.

Rather, they were taken for hyper-alertness and vigilance. Aryans, who were the embodiment of human perfection in Nazi ideology, could now even aspire to be superhuman—and such superhumans could be turned into supersoldiers.

“We don’t need weak people,” Hitler declared, “we want only the strong!” Weak people took drugs such as opium to escape; strong people took methamphetamine to feel even stronger.

The German chemist Friedrich Hauschild had been aware of the American amphetamine Benzedrine ever since the drug has been used as a doping product in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. The following year he managed to synthesize methamphetamine, a close cousin of amphetamine, while working for Temmler-Werke, a Berlin-based pharmaceutical company.

Temmler-Werke began selling methamphetamine under the brand name Pervitin in the winter of 1937. Partly thanks to the company’s aggressive advertising campaign, Pervitin became well known within a few months. The tablets were wildly popular and could be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies. One could even buy boxed chocolates spiked with methamphetamine.

But the drug’s most important use was yet to come.

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Dr. Otto F. Ranke, director of the Research Institute of Defense Physiology, had high hopes that Pervitin would prove advantageous on the battlefield.

His goal was to defeat the enemy with chemically enhanced soldiers, soldiers who could give Germany a military edge by fighting harder and longer than their opponents.

After testing the drug on a group of medical officers, Ranke believed the Pervitin would be “an excellent substance for rousing a weary squad…We may grasp what far-reaching military significance it would have if we managed to remove the natural tiredness using medical methods.”

Ranke himself was a daily user, as detailed in his wartime medical diary and letters: “With Pervitin you can go on working for 36 to 50 hours without feeling any noticeable fatigue.” This allowed Ranke to work days at a time with no sleep. And his correspondence indicated that a growing number of officers were doing the same thing—popping pills to manage the demands of their jobs.

Wehrmacht medical officers administered Pervitin to soldiers of the Third Tank Division during the occupation of Czecholslovakia in 1938. But the invasion of Poland in September 1939 served as the first real military test of the drug in the field.

Germany overran its eastern neighbor by October, with 100,000 Polish soldiers killed in the attack. The invasion introduced a new form of industrialized warfare, Blitzkrieg. This “lightning war” emphasized speed and surprise, catching the enemy off guard by the unprecedented quickness of the mechanized attack and advance.

The weak link in the Blitzkrieg strategy was the soldiers, who were humans rather than machines and as such suffered from fatigue. They required regular rest and sleep, which, of course, slowed down the military advance. That is where Pervitin came in—part of the speed of the Blitzkrieg literally came from speed.

As medical historian Peter Steinkamp puts it, “Blitzkrieg was guided by methamphetamine. If not to say that Blitzkrieg was founded on methamphetamine.”

In late 1939 and early 1940, Leo Conti, the “Reich Health Führer,” and others sounded the alarm bells about the risk of Pervitin, resulting in the drug being made available by prescription only. But these warnings largely fell on deaf ears, and the new regulations were widely ignored. Use of the drug continued to grow.

At the Temmler-Werke factory, production revved into overdrive, pressing as many as 833,000 tablets per day. Between April and July 1940, German servicemen received more than 35 million methamphetamine tablets.

The drug was even dispensed to pilots and tank crews in the form of chocolate bars known as Fliegerschokolade (flyer’s chocolate) and Panzerschokolade (tanker’s chocolate).

Armies had long consumed various psychoactive substances, but this was the first large-scale use of a synthetic performance-enhancing drug. Historian Shelby Stanton comments: “They dispensed it to the line troops.

Ninety percent of their army had to march on foot, day and night. It was more important for them to keep punching during the Blitzkrieg than to get a good night’s sleep. The whole damn army was hopped up.

It was one of the secrets of Blitzkrieg.”

The Blitzkreig depended on speed, relentlessly pushing ahead with tank troops, day and night. In April 1940, it quickly led to the fall of Denmark and Norway. The next month, the troops moved on to Holland, Belgium, and finally France.

German tanks covered 240 miles of challenging terrain, including the Ardennes Forest, in 11 days, bypassing the entrenched British and French forced who had mistakenly assumed the Ardennes was impassable.

Paratroopers sometimes landed ahead of the advance, causing chaos behind enemy lines; the British press described these soldiers as “heavily drugged, fearless and berserk.”

General Heinz Guderian, an expert in tank warfare and leader of the invasion, gave the order to speed ahead to the French border: “I demand that you go sleepless for at least three nights if that should be necessary.” When they crossed into France, French reinforcements had yet to arrive, and their defenses were overwhelmed by the German attack.

Crystal Meth Origins Link Back to Nazi Germany and World War II – DER SPIEGEL – International

‚Alertness aid‘ read the packaging, to be taken ‚to maintain wakefulness.‘ But ‚only from time to time,‘ it warned, followed by a large exclamation point.

The young soldier, though, needed more of the drug, much more. He was exhausted by the war, becoming ‚cold and apathetic, completely without interests,‘ as he himself observed. In letters sent home by the army postal service, he asked his family to send more.

On May 20, 1940, for example, he wrote: ‚Perhaps you could obtain some more Pervitin for my supplies?‘ He found just one pill was as effective for staying alert as liters of strong coffee. And — even better — when he took the drug, all his worries seemed to disappear.

For a couple of hours, he felt happy.

This 22-year-old, who wrote numerous letters home begging for more Pervitin, was not just any soldier — he was Heinrich Böll, who would go on to become one of Germany's leading postwar writers and win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. And the drug he asked for is now illegal, notoriously so. We now know it as crystal meth.

Many TV fans are familiar with the drug primarily from the hit American series ‚Breaking Bad,‘ in which a chemistry teacher with financial troubles teams up with a former student to produce meth by the pound, while drug enforcement agents chase drug rings in the oppressive New Mexico heat.

Meth use is also on the rise in real-life Germany. According to the latest official reports, the country saw more first-time users over the last year than ever before.

In fact, the number of known cases skyrocketed from 1,693 to 2,556 within a single year.

Use of the addictive drug has been increasing in Germany since the mid-1990s, with most of it coming into the country from the neighboring Czech Republic.

German Miracle Pill

It was in Germany, though, that the drug first became popular.

When the then-Berlin-based drug maker Temmler Werke launched its methamphetamine compound onto the market in 1938, high-ranking army physiologist Otto Ranke saw in it a true miracle drug that could keep tired pilots alert and an entire army euphoric. It was the ideal war drug. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on university students, who were suddenly capable of impressive productivity despite being short on sleep.

From that point on, the Wehrmacht, Germany's World War II army, distributed millions of the tablets to soldiers on the front, who soon dubbed the stimulant ‚Panzerschokolade‘ (‚tank chocolate‘). British newspapers reported that German soldiers were using a ‚miracle pill.‘ But for many soldiers, the miracle became a nightmare.

As enticing as the drug was, its long-term effects on the human body were just as devastating. Short rest periods weren't enough to make up for long stretches of wakefulness, and the soldiers quickly became addicted to the stimulant. And with addiction came sweating, dizziness, depression and hallucinations.

There were soldiers who died of heart failure and others who shot themselves during psychotic phases. Some doctors took a skeptical view of the drug in light of these side effects. Even Leonardo Conti, the Third Reich's top health official, wanted to limit use of the drug, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Students, Athletes and Medics

Pervitin remained easy to obtain even after the war, on the black market or as a prescription drug from pharmacies. Doctors didn't hesitate to prescribe it to patients as an appetite suppressant or to improve the mood of those struggling with depression. Students, especially medical students, turned to the stimulant to help them cram through the night and finish their studies faster.

Numerous athletes found Pervitin decreased their sensitivity to pain, while simultaneously increasing performance and endurance.

In 1968, boxer Joseph ‚Jupp‘ Elze, 28, failed to wake again after a knockout in the ring following some 150 blows to the head. Without methamphetamine, he would have collapsed much sooner and might not have died.

Elze became Germany's first known victim of doping. Yet the drug remained on the market.

In the 1960s, the Temmler Werke supplied the armies of both East and West Germany with the stimulant pills.

Not until the 1970s did West Germany's postwar army, the Bundeswehr, remove the drug from its medical supplies, with East Germany's National People's Army following in 1988.

Pervitin was ultimately banned in all of Germany, but its meteoric rise as an illegally produced drug had only just begun.

Dangerous Crystals

The drug's new career came thanks to an American cookbook. In the United States, where meth use is widespread today, illegal methamphetamine was initially more an exception than the rule.

Then, starting in the late 1970s, motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels discovered crystal meth as a source of income and began setting up large-scale drug labs.

But since they targeted mainly the California cities of San Francisco and San Diego as their market for the drug, the problem remained limited mainly to the West Coast.

Methamphetamine was no longer a powder compressed into tablets, but instead sold in crystal form, and few people knew how to produce these crystals. That changed when a mad-scientist type named Steve Preisler, alias ‚Uncle Fester,‘ a chemist in Wisconsin in the mid-1980s, published a drug ‚cookbook‘ entitled ‚Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture.‘

In this controversial book, now in its eighth edition, Preisler presented six different recipes for preparing the drug.

All called for only legal ingredients, using a simple chemical reaction to extract the drug's principal component from cough medicine, then combining it with liquids that increased its effectiveness, such as commercially available drain cleaner, battery acid or antifreeze.

More and more illegal meth labs began to spring up, producing the drug in normal apartments, isolated cabins or hotel rooms.

Meth production creates highly toxic, explosive substances, and it's not uncommon for improvised drug labs to explode or for drug-addicted mothers to store the drug's dangerous components in the refrigerator next to baby food and end up poisoning their children.


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