Methamphetamine’s Rocky History as a Nazi Drug of Choice

While methamphetamine seems like a fairly recent addition to the roster of addictive, destructive illicit drugs, in actual fact, it’s been making trouble for several decades. The drug itself is more than a hundred years old—it was a lab-created replacement for an herbal extract used as a stimulant in China for thousands of years. This new synthetic substance was called amphetamine. A couple of decades later, stronger, purer, crystallized methamphetamine was created in a Japanese lab. In another couple of decades, methamphetamine would be used to spur Nazi soldiers to superhuman feats of endurance and courage—but at a terrible cost.

Crystal methamphetamine courtesy of the DEA.
Crystal methamphetamine, image courtesy of the DEA.

Both amphetamine and methamphetamine are very strong stimulants. A meth user will usually not eat or sleep while high. If he (or she) has the money, he may continue bingeing on this drug for days until his body shuts down and he sleeps around the clock. It’s common for meth users to lose a lot of weight. Some heavy meth users may get “meth mouth”—intense decaying of all their teeth, requiring extractions—but not all of them do. Meth causes a fast, strong euphoria accompanied by a false sense of well-being, energy and confidence. The user may act agitated and nervous.

Methamphetamine is extremely hard on the user’s body and mind. Continued use can result in:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Stroke
  • Convulsions
  • Damage to the heart.

Was it any wonder, then, that the Nazi’s use of this drug to stimulate their troops and overcome fatigue backfired on them?

The Third Reich’s Attempt to Create Supersoldiers

In 1941, the Third Reich was determined to create a vast army of soldiers who would never get tired, who were courageous enough to follow any order despite the immediate danger. They distributed a drug called Pervitin to soldiers on the front lines. At one point when tank troops were headed into France, thirty-five million Pervitin pills were distributed to the German Army.

Nazi soldiers in Greece, 1941.
Nazi soldiers, 1941.

Eventually, this practice was revealed to be destructive to the German cause. Soldiers became addicted, died of heart disease or could not be controlled because of their paranoia or hallucinations.

But the Nazis weren’t the only military organizations to give stimulants to their soldiers. Many American soldiers were given dextroamphetamine or Benzedrine during World War II and the Vietnam War, and Japanese soldiers were given methamphetamine to keep them alert. In fact, immediately after the war in Japan, there was such a stockpile of meth left over that it was marketed to the public—with further disastrous effects.

Meth – a Habit That Just Won’t Go Away

Methamphetamine use and addiction spread across the United States from West to East in the 1990s. Mexican drug cartels discovered a profitable product to distribute and pounced on the opportunity, working out how to get precursor chemicals from Asia to Mexico or California’s Central Valley. While methamphetamine can kill through overdose and accumulated physical damage, that’s not where the most pervasive harm shows up. The assault on an individuals’ morality, ethics and well-being is overwhelming. Those who are addicted may decide they must prostitute themselves, steal from family and friends and commit other crimes so they can continue to get the meth they feel compelled to consume daily. Meanwhile, the physical deterioration progresses rapidly.

In fact, an Oregon sheriff’s department has been publishing images of this devastation since 2004 in a visual campaign titled Faces of Meth. These images illustrate how quickly meth use ages users and makes them look sick and exhausted.

Counter-efforts like making precursor chemicals harder to get have knocked down the number of users, especially after 2007. But somehow, this drug keeps making its way back. In 2015, medical and law enforcement personnel across the country began to notice that more people were using meth. And with this use came the accompanying rise in destruction to health, morals and mental capacity that can be expected.

Workplace Drug Tests Show the Increases are Continuing in 2017

A recent report from Quest Diagnostics, a nationwide workplace drug-testing company, confirmed what medical and law enforcement personnel were seeing. In their 2017 report on workplace drug test results, they noted that positive tests for meth declined between 2005 and 2008, plateaued after that and then began climbing after 2012. Between 2013 and 2016, positive tests increased 75%.

Meth, heroin and cocaine that was being trafficked from Mexico to Los Angeles.
Meth, heroin and cocaine that was trafficked from Mexico to Los Angeles.

Some people think this increase in methamphetamine use is partially a result of the legalization of marijuana in America. Mexican cartels are pulling out their marijuana crops and turning to other drugs—including methamphetamine—for their profits. Thus there is a higher quantity of low-cost meth flooding into the U.S. It’s up to law enforcement to handle this side of the problem. In the U.S., the challenge is helping those addicted to methamphetamine resume productive, sober lives.

The Narconon program has been enabling those addicted to meth, heroin, alcohol and a long list of other drugs enjoy their sober lives after they graduate and go home. This innovative program goes not substitute one drug for another—it is a fully drug-free program that focuses on healthy detoxification and a thorough education in sober living skills.

If you care for someone addicted to methamphetamine or another drug, call Narconon today to learn how we can help. For fifty years, we have been able to help tens of thousands of individuals return to sobriety. Call us today to learn more.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.