It’s not surprising that Hitler was being shot up with drugs – have you ever seen a video of his speeches? He was definitely on something. But did you know that German soldiers were rationed Pervitin, a form of methamphetamine?
Army doctor Otto Ranke tested his new medicine to increase alertness on university students in 1939. After taking this new pill, students were able to perform well on assignments and exams with very little sleep. Ranks believed it would be great to give to German pilots and soldiers, who needed to function on little sleep.
Pervitin was available over-the-counter as a alertness pill and to counter depression.
The Wehrmacht (German) authorities provided Pervitin to their soldiers. They believed that with the pill enabling soldiers to function without sleep for days at a time and march for miles without rest, they could easily win World War II. In 1940, Germany sent more than 35 million tablets of Pervitin and a similar drug called Isophan to the front lines.
Commanders loved their soldiers on meth, I mean Pervitin: “Everyone fresh and cheerful, excellent discipline. Slight euphoria and increased thirst for action. Mental encouragement, very stimulated. No accidents. Long-lasting effect. After taking four tablets, double vision and seeing colors.”
Meth fueled the insanely fast Blitzkrieg invasion of France through the Ardennes mountains. The Germans were able to make it through a grueling march through mountains and then immediately attack and defeat French forces.
In addition to be able to function without sleep, the drug also reduced feelings of fear in German soldiers. They would go berserker, and charge machine gun nests. This intimidated their enemies, who began to view them as inhuman “super soldiers.”
Hitler himself may not have taken Pervitin, but he was directly injected with Eukodal, oxycodone with cocaine, to keep him peppy. He regularly received injections of several types of drugs, including barbiturates, bull semen, testosterone, opiates, and other stimulants.
However, all good (or bad?) things must come to an end. With their supplies cut off, the magic “tank chocolate” drug became unavailable. By this time, soldiers had become highly addicted. They wrote home, begging their families for any Pervitin they could send. They suffered from horrendous withdrawals on the front. Who doesn’t love depression, exhaustion, chills, hallucinations, sweating, and vomiting while marching and being shot at?
Even before the drugs ran out, there were consequences to taking meth. Pervitin was marketed to take only every once in a while but the soldiers were taking them daily. The soldiers suffered from a lack of emotion, depression, and psychosis. Many dropped dead from heart failure. Have you ever drank too much coffee and felt like your heart was going to explode out of your chest? That feeling times a million. Those who didn’t suffer heart failure were at risk for literally losing their minds. Some shot themselves during these episodes of insanity.
Nazis Weren’t the Only Ones Doping
It should be noted that Germans were not alone in their use of performance-enhancing drugs during World War II. Allied soldiers were known to use amphetamines (speed) in the form of Benzedrine in order to battle combat fatigue. Today, some armies in Africa give their soldiers a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder.
For further reading, Norman Ohler’s book, Blitzed covers the development and usage of drugs in Germany during World War II. It’s a fascinating read and is available as an audiobook if you need help getting through your workday.
I in no way support Nazis, F those guys. I had a coworker make a pretty good point: if they were the master race, why did they need these drugs to win?
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