Drugs in war. From ancient Roman opium to Hitler's cocaine - History Key

Drugs in war. From ancient Roman opium to Hitler’s cocaine


This time History Key unlocks for you a ”War background story”. It seems that every war had its drugs. During the Third Reich, the usage of drugs was widely embraced, cocaine and crystal meth were used by anyone, from soldier to housewives. Hitler was a cocaine and amphetamine addict, Herman Goering was also a morphine addict, so the blessing for that was coming from the leadership.

Hitler, whose mental and physical health has been the source of much speculation, relied on daily injections of the “wonder drug” Eukodol, which puts the user in a state of euphoria – and often renders them incapable of making sound judgments – and cocaine, which he started taking regularly from 1941 onwards to combat ailments including chronic stomach spasms, high blood pressure and a ruptured ear drum. ” (‘Blitzed, Norman Ohler)

Hitler drug - Pervitin Tablets
Pilot’s Salt/Hitler drug Pervitin Tablets © Der Spiegel/Image Source: The Atlantic

If during WW1 the most common and used drug was alcohol, during WW2 the drug of choice for the German soldier was the Pervitin, a stimulant that could keep people awake and enhance their performance, while making them feel euphoric.

Benzedrine Tabllets
Benzedrine Tablets © Image Source: Deep Dot Web

In July 1940, more than 35 million doses (3mg) of Pervitin from the Temmler factory in Berlin were shipped to the German army and Luftwaffe during the invasion of France. Not always to blame the Germans, we remember how also the allied bomber pilots were using amphetamines, most commonly Benzedrine.

A soldier with a drug addiction
A soldier with a drug addiction in Vietnam © Image Source: Pinterest


During the Vietnam War, the American troops were taking all sorts of drugs from the locals, from grass to heroin or speed, or even steroids, which they considered helpful in order to cope with long periods in combat. “Vietnam was known as the first pharmacological war, so called because the level of consumption of psychoactive substances by military personnel was unprecedented in American history.”


Viking Berserkers
Viking Berserkers © Image Source: Message To Eagle

Even in ancient times, use of drugs is depicted or reported in many ways. In 1200 BC, pre-Inca Chavin priests in Peru gave their subjects psychoactive drugs to gain power over them, while the Romans cultivated opium, to which Emperor Marcus Aurelius was famously addicted. Viking “berserkers”, who were named after “bear coats” in Old Norse, famously fought in a trance-like state, possibly as a result of taking agaric “magic” mushrooms and bog myrtle. Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Stuluson (AD 1179 to 1241) described them “as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen”.

Nowadays, in the Syrian war, the use of narcotics is widely practiced.

(Article written including extras from JAMA Psychiatry, Al Jazeera, Norman Ohler)

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