Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Peter Holley published a feature on Captagon, a “highly addictive [amphetamine tablet] produced in Syria” that is not only sold across the Middle East to fund ISIS and other militant groups, but also used by the fighters themselves “to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon.”
As a drug control officer in Syria put it:
“We would beat [militants using the drug], and they wouldn’t feel the pain. Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows,” he said. “We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier.”
Sounds horrifying. However, according to Reason’s Jacob Sullum, Captagon’s almost mystical power to turn common militants into remorseless killing machines is greatly overblown.
“Captagon captures the imaginations of yellow journalists,” Sullum wrote in a piece published earlier today, noting that the use of amphetamines in battle has been around since at least World War II.
Contrary to the impression left by Holley’s breathless report, there is nothing especially magical about Captagon, a.k.a. fenethylline, which is a combination of dextroamphetamine, the main ingredient in Adderall, and theophylline, a stimulant in the same class as caffeine that can be found in tea and chocolate.
According to Sullum, that fact that the drug isn’t widely used in the U.S. is the main reason it’s being touted as a wonder weapon for soldiers. After all, the fact that soldiers are probably abusing regular ADHD medication for the same purpose doesn’t seen to concern anyone.
If Holley had claimed Adderall or Vyvanse was turning Syrian fighters into fearless, remorseless, relentless, pain-impervious killers, his report probably would have elicited more skepticism from his editors and readers.
So while it’s easy to attribute “superhuman” qualities to an enemy half-a-world away, it’s probably more prudent to acknowledge what these guys real are: violent assholes who are hopped up on meth.