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How Drugs Were Used in World War 2

Updated on April 23, 2012
Drugs During World War 2
Drugs During World War 2

Drug use in world war 2

Something that can keep soldiers alert, reduce pain and remove the feeling of hunger is invaluable to an army. In the beginning of World War II the interest for amphetamines increased in Germany and the Allies soon followed.

Performance-enhancing amphetamines were used the armed forces of several countries' during World War II. The rumors of preparations is much more widespread than the knowledge of it.

The History of Amphetamine

Amphetamine was synthesized already in 1887, but it was not until the 1920s that the pharmaceutical industry was interested in it. The first amphetamine-based drug was launched in the early 1930s in the form of an asthma medication with the trade name Benzedrine. Through research, use and abuse people became aware of the amphetamines stimulant effect: increases alertness, as well as focusing ability, while hunger is attenuated and pain and lead will be easier to bear. For this reason, various amphetamines came to be explored and marketed to treat narcolepsy, among other things, depression and obesity. The drug culture that we now associate with amphetamine were well into the future.

A modified form of amphetamine, methamphetamine, was launched by Temmler-Werke in Berlin in 1938 and sold freely in the German pharmacy market under the name pervitin.

The Military Sees The Possibilities

The military became interested and tests were carried out, but before they had time to control pervetin began to be used on the troops during the invasion of Poland in autumn 1939. The practical experience showed that it was especially pilots, tank drivers and truck drivers who could benefit from pervitin to withstand lack of sleep and keep going, even though they crossed the border on mental and physical exhaustion.

Now, the German rulers took a firmer grip on the pervitin in Germany. It was no longer prescription free in the civilian market, but huge amounts was produced for military purposes: 35 million tablets of pervitin and other similar tablets was distributed to the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe during the Blitzkrieg in 1940.

Addiction Problems Starting to Appear

In parallel, the military began to see problems with addiction. Primarily, it was personnel who had access to the tablets that began nibbling in a careless manner. The skepticism grew, and soon the authorities made an abrupt turn: pervitin was classified as a drug in spring 1941, and then used much more conservative in the military.

But they were still used on the eastern front. In January 1942, 500 German soldiers was surrounded by the Red Army and tried to break out by a night march. The following is a summary of a field doctor's report:

“The snow lay deep and the temperature was down to minus thirty. After six hours' march, many of the soldiers were about to give up, the physical exhaustion was complete and the morale was low. Some of them lay down in the snow, prepared to die. They took to pervitin pills and after half an hour they began to feel much better. They regained focus and determination, and could now drag their bodys forward. The doctor noted that a soldier who received a double dose did not appear to be more alert then the others.”


The allies gets interested in amphetamine

It was about now that the allies seriously caught the interest of amphetamines. As in Germany, it was already many who used such drugs on their own. A series of military research projects conducted by the British army, but although the results were not very convincing they began to distribute “wake up”-pills to certain soldiers.

First up was the 1941 the staff on long flights, such as submarine spotters who need to stay sharp for hours. In 1942 the drugs began to be used more regularly by the staff of the strategic bombers - not only to combat fatigue, but also to increase the focus and motivation. On the whole, the interest among the British was huge when it came to the effects of amphetamine on the fighting spirit and morale.

Even within the British Army they aware about the opportunities of amphetamine, including Bernard Montgomery that ordered large quantities for the settlement of El Alamein. The instructions in November 1942 from the British commander in the Middle East allowed the staff to take up to 20 milligrams per day for five days, which is a relatively high dose. There were at least one friendly fire incident from the battle in which the question was put if the usage of amphetamine affected the soldier that was involved.

A brochure about the fatigue from the British Air Ministry printed in 1943 revealed, however, that there was knowledge about the cons of amphetamine:

“Anyone who takes amphetamine feel that he has full control over the situation and that he can continue to perform his duties without rest, he finds that he can perform well, when in fact he makes all kinds of mistakes.”

Still in use

The Americans also conducted research on the effects of amphetamine. At first there was skepticism about whether it had any advantage over caffeine, but the same thing happened here as with Germans and Britons: they did not wait for the research results, and the usage of amphetamine pills was leaking into the organization. In February 1943 the Army Supply Service announced that Benzedrine pills of 5 milligrams were available. Eisenhower ordered without delay half a million pills to the troops in North Africa. Benzedrine then was used throughout the war by the army, aviation and marine corps.

The view of amphetamines was relatively unchanged during the first decades after World War II. Since then, the legal use became significantly more restricted, but they still use amphetamine-based “wake up”-pills - under strict medical supervision - in the U.S. armed forces, for example Trans-Atlantic flights.


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    • profile image 

      3 years ago

      Was watching history channel and they talked about the uses and abuses but you added more details thx

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      .... cos they're finished :)

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Why does an article on German use of drugs have a picture of Finnish soldiers?

    • profile image

      Antti Rossi 

      5 years ago

      Those guys in the picture with skulls and bones in their helmets are Finnish soldiers, not Germans.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Those are ecstasy tablets not amphetamines in picture.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Can anyone recommend other articles or documentaries on the use of drugs in conflict zones?

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ Long 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      lejonkung, interesting Hub about a little known fact of WWII! Thanks so much for taking the time to write about it! :o)

    • lejonkung profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      I recently saw à documentary About it and have Alsing read a few articles a few years


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Where did you get your information from? :)

    • Felixedet2000 profile image


      7 years ago from The Universe

      very interesting, quite revealing, thanks for this piece.

      voted up and shared

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      matei, probably because they make even more money from war than they spend on it? Its all about money at the end of the day. Look at the histrory of each war and check the economic figures at the same time. You will find that preceding any war, the economy was doing crap. Nothing a little war couldn't handle though.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very interesting. Drugs go back much further I know.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You Fing hippies! If was is not important at all why does every governmet pay huge amonts of money for the "Defense" ministry? ( witch was called war ministry at the begining of the 20th century)

    • daryl2007 profile image


      8 years ago

      this is amazing!

    • lejonkung profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      I agree with you Alma! A war never leads to anything good!

      Maybe that is why so many people are interested in historic wars? to understand the motives behind them.

    • Alma Cabase profile image

      Alma Cabase 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      This is only one of the many reasons why war is never an option. Make love not war. XD....In every war, no one would lose nor win which makes it very pointless.

      Good hub! Keep it up!




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