Nazis Used Meth? 5 Things to Know About One of the World's Favorite Stimulants
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As one who writes in defense of recreational “hard” drug users, I am frequently irked by the anti-drug sensationalism presented in supposedly objective news articles. An example is the recent front-page article in the Huffington Post, “ Nazis Took ‘Meth’ Pills to Stay Alert, Boost Endurance During World War II, Letters Reveal."
Pairing methamphetamine with the Nazis is a double-the-evil masterstroke of front-page flair. It comes from a journalistic tradition that has similarly paired crack with black welfare queens in the mythic crack-baby epidemic, and cannibals and mephedrone in the nonsensical bath-salts cannibalism phenomenon. (Both the crack-baby and the bath-salts cannibalism stories have been debunked; see here and here.)
The basis of the Huffington Post article is that the Nazis gave their troops the drug Pervitin (pharmaceutical methamphetamine), in World War II. This is true, but the rest of the article is a lesson in spin.
1. Nothing New Here
First, the letters did not reveal anything new. Nazi use of Pervitin has been widely known for over seventy years. The letters themselves were old news as well. The only thing new was someone at the Huffington Post read Der Spiegel and realized Nazis plus meth equals web gold.
2. American Kids Are Prescribed Almost the Same Thing
Methamphetamine is a type of amphetamine that has essentially the same effect on the central nervous system as dextroamphetamine. Dextroamphetamine is in Adderall. The substantial difference between street methamphetamine and Adderall is not from their pharmacology but from dosage and administration. Adderall users take small doses by the ingestion of pills. Street users inject or smoke large doses. Injecting and smoking provides a shorter, but more intense, reaction to a drug. The Nazis distributed small doses in pill form, just as American doctors do today to our nation’s youth—with negligible addiction risk.
3. Allied Forces Did and Still Do Almost the Same Thing
During World War II over 72 million “energy tablets” were dispersed to the British military, and an even larger amount went to US forces. Amphetamines assisted in stopping Erwin “Desert Fox” Rommel and the German army in Northern Africa at the Second Battle of El Alamein where the British 24th Armoured Brigade fought without sleep for four straight days while losing heavy casualties.
Ironically, the American military went with amphetamines instead of methamphetamines because the former provided a better “subjective lift in mood.” In lay terms, the US chose amphetamine because it gave a better high, and they continued to use it. Decades later the US military’s usage of amphetamines per soldier in Vietnam dwarfed the usage of both the Germans and the Allies in World War II.
The amphetamine Dexedrine is still used by Air Force pilots today. In 2003, Colonel Peter Demitry, chief of the US Air Force surgeon-general’s science and technology division, said that Dexedrine, “has never been associated with a proven adverse outcome in a military operation. This is a common, legal, ethical, moral and correct application.” If the distribution of amphetamines caused significant troop addiction, it is doubtful the military would continue to use it.
4. Everyone Already Knows That Meth Is Bad
The requisite morality message that methamphetamine is bad is delivered in the article by saying its usage leads to the symptoms exhibited by extreme cases. Most people who try methamphetamine do not continue to use it regularly, much less become horribly addicted, and as someone who has spent time with middle-class methamphetamine users I can assure you meth mouth is as foreign to them as it is to diet-soda drinkers. (See meth/diet-soda mouth here.)