Think meth hasn’t been around for too long? Guess again; it’s been around since Nazi Germany
In the grand scheme of things, you’d think that meth is the new kid on the block compared to cocaine, LSD or ecstasy. Or so you’d think. It’s actually been around since Nazi Germany:
Pervitin was the early version of what we know today as crystal meth. And it was fitting that a German soldier would become addicted to the stuff: the drug,Der Spiegel notes, first became popular in Germany, brought to market by the then-Berlin-based drugmaker Temmler Werke. And almost immediately, the German army physiologist Otto Ranke realized its military value: not only could the methamphetamine compound keep fighters (pilots, in particular) alert on little sleep; it could also keep an entire military force feeling euphoric. Meth, Spiegel puts it, “was the ideal war drug.”
And it was, as such, put to wide use. TheWehrmacht, Germany’s World War II army, ended up distributing millions of the Pervitin tablets to soldiers on the front (they called it “Panzerschokolade,” or “tank chocolate”). The air force gave the tablets to its flyers (in this case, it was“pilot’s chocolate” or “pilot’s salt”). Hitler himself was given intravenous injections of methamphetamine by his personal physician, Theodor Morell. The pill, however, was the more common form of the drug. All told, between April and July of 1940, more than 35 million three-milligram doses of Pervitin were manufactured for the German army and air force.
News of meth’s powers, unsurprisingly, spread. British papers began reporting on German soldiers’ use of a “miracle pill.” Soon, Allied bomber pilots were experimenting with the drug. Their tests ended quickly, though; while the soldiers who used pilot’s salt were able to focus on their flying in the short term … they also became agitated, aggressive, and impaired in their judgment over the long.
The Germans would notice the same side effects — the side effects (thanks,Breaking Bad!) we know so well today. Short rest periods, it turned out, weren’t enough to compensate for long stretches of wakefulness. Some soldiers who used the meth died of heart failure; others ended up committing suicide during psychotic phases. Many others simply became addicted to the stimulant, leading to all the familiar symptoms of addiction and withdrawal: sweating, dizziness, hallucination, depression. Leonardo Conti, the Third Reich’s top health official, moved to limit use of the drug among his forces. He was, however, unsuccessful.