‘Captagon’.. ISIS Favorite Tiny Pill Fueling Syria’s War and Turning Fighters into Superhuman Soldiers
The Washington Post called it “the tiny pill fueling Syria’s war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers.” The BBCsaid it was “the drug fueling conflict in Syria.” Many other media outlets — Reuters, Voice of America, theGuardian, Time— have reported on this apparently powerful pill and its outsize presence in the Middle East, especially the civil war in Syria.
The pill is known by an old brand name, Captagon. While it’s by and large a run-of-the-mill amphetamine, Captagon has drawn more attention in the past few years due to its apparent widespread use among ISIS recruits, many of whom reportedly pop the pill before running into battle.
Captagon won’t turn anyone into the Hulk or even give him superhuman abilities. But like other drugs, it does enhance a person’s ability to do dangerous things. And ISIS actually isn’t alone among militaries in its use of performance-enhancing drugs — it’s something the US military does, too.
Generally, you should be skeptical of any media reports that describe a drug as giving someone superhuman abilities. This trope has been used to demonize drugs and their users throughout history, particularly in racist ways. But no drug that we know of is capable of turning someone into Superman or Luke Cage.
This kind of hyperbole seems to apply to media reports of Captagon, which is by and large a standard amphetamine. As Hamilton Morris, a chemist who closely studies drugs, told me, “Several reports in the media have described Captagon as ‘a powerful amphetamine,’ but in truth it’s quite a bit less potent by weight than Adderall, which is commonly encountered on college campuses.”
Captagon was commercially produced and sold until the 1980s, when it was banned due to fears of its highly addictive nature. Since then, Morris said its name has been applied to counterfeit tablets that often contain amphetamine and caffeine or, less frequently, methamphetamine and ephedrine.
“Implying the brutality of ISIS is somehow a product of amphetamine abuse is unfounded and reductionist”
These tablets, like other amphetamine-based drugs, provide a boost of energy, enhance someone’s focus, let someone stay awake for longer periods of time, and produce a feeling of euphoria. But they won’t cause someone to gain superhuman alertness, bravery, strength, or pain
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