Minty Book Review: Drugs in war times

Did you know that methamphetamine was one of the drugs used to enhance the performance of the Nazi troops and their leader Hitler in World War II? Even history lovers will be surprised by how extreme the use of mind poisons was, as described in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler.  

Before World War II, opiates were widely used in Germany. Initially, the Nazis planned to eliminate all drug and alcohol use, as the best race on earth should be clear of all substances that impact the mind and body and make the nation overall weak. However, the situation ended up to be the exact opposite as, at that time, Germany was the country for drug development. Heroin was developed and marketed as a solution for headache. Soon after that, methamphetamine (marketing name Pervitin) was developed to be used as a source of energy and for increased self-confidence. At one point ‘meth’ was even put into chocolates and the regular ‘dose’ was two to three candies to make you a better housewife and help get on with everyday tasks of a housewife. In addition to being really quick with your chores, it also helped to lose weight.

Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant drug that can be taken by mouth, injected or smoked. It was first discovered in 1919 and as stated previously marketed and used in 1938 (Pervitin). After taking the drug one will feel alert, more active and extremely happy, with the addition of increased heart rate and body temperature. However, it may lead to delusions, paranoia, depression, severe anxiety and of course addiction.

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A review of Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler

Pervitin was widely used by German troops, and Ohler suggests that this may have easily been the reason why Germans had great success in the beginning of World War II, as soldiers were able to fight night and day without any trace of fatigue. Nowadays, there have been reports of drug use among ISIS ‘troops’, specifically of the drug called Captagon, which is actually not that different from Pervitin as it consists of amphetamine and theophylline. Yet again, drug use makes the fighters fearless. On the other hand, the exact composition and dosing of Captagon is not known and the use might be an exaggeration of the media.

The majority of the book describes Hitler’s addiction to several drugs and the subsequent deterioration of his health, which in Ohler’s opinion may explain the pattern of mysterious and often appalling decisions made by the dictator. His personal doctor, Morell, started with just vitamin shots to make Hitler work more efficiently and support his overall health. As time passed, so did Hitler’s health and the physician had to start using more and more drugs (at one point 89 different compounds!), such as cocaine, oxycodone (strong opiate, similar to morphine) and several hormones, just to name a few.

After just reading a few pages I understood that I was in for a treat.

To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations before I started reading this book. Being more a reader of literary fiction and reading few non-fiction and history books, it would not have been my first preference. After just reading a few pages I understood that I was in for a treat. What I liked was the approach Ohler took when writing this book. He had performed extensive research in American and German archives and eventually using previously unpublished letters from Hitler’s personal doctor Morell and other texts of drugs in Nazi Germany. As a result, he occasionally used direct speech between Morell and Hitler which made the book definitely more engaging and very readable.

Some reviewers have described this book as shocking, but at the same time an excellent and enjoyable read. I must agree with these opinions and recommend reading Norman Ohler’s book even when you are hesitant of historical lectures – it might change your view of World War II and of drugs in war for ever.