Archive for June 2nd, 2013

02
Jun
13

thank the nazis

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Maybe you–like me–know everything you know about methamphetamines from Breaking Bad, the fabulously popular TV series about a high school chemistry teacher who, dying of cancer, turns to the cooking of meth as his means of creating financial stability for the family he will leave behind.breaking bad 1

One thing I learned only last week, not from the series, is that this scourge, too, can be pinned on the Nazis. Meth, then known as Pervitin, was used after 1938 by German troops to enable them to function with limitless energy despite sleep deprivation. It kept pilots alert and entire armies euphoric. It was the perfect wartime drug, and totaler Krieg depended on it and fanatical ideology.

As enticing as the drug was, its long-term effects on the human body were devastating. Short rest periods weren’t enough to make up for long stretches of wakefulness, and the soldiers quickly became addicted to the stimulant. And with addiction came sweating, dizziness, depression and hallucinations. There were soldiers who died of heart failure and others who shot themselves during psychotic episodes. Some doctors took a skeptical view of the drug in light of these side effects and wanted to limit use of the drug, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.

In the 1960s, the manufacturer Temmler Werke supplied the armies of both East and West Germany with the stimulant pills. Not until the 1970s did West Germany’s postwar army remove the drug from its medical supplies, with East Germany following in 1988. Pervitin was ultimately banned in Germany, but its meteoric rise as an illegally produced drug had only just begun.

The drug’s new popularity came thanks to an American cookbook. In the United States, where meth use is widespread today, illegal methamphetamine was initially a rarity. Then, starting in the late 1970s, motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels discovered crystal meth as a source of income and began setting up large-scale drug labs. But since they targeted mainly the California cities of San Francisco and San Diego as their market for the drug, the problem remained limited mainly to the West Coast.

cookbookMethamphetamine was no longer a powder compressed into tablets, but instead sold in crystal form. It was vastly popularized when a chemist in Wisconsin in the mid-1980s named Steve Preisler, alias “Uncle Fester,” published a drug “cookbook” entitled Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture. In this controversial book Preisler presented six different recipes for preparing the drug. All called for only-legal ingredients, using a simple chemical reaction to extract the drug’s principal component from cough medicine, then combining it with liquids that increased its effectiveness, including drain cleaner, battery acid, and antifreeze.

More and more illegal meth labs began to spring up, producing the drug in normal apartments, isolated cabins, or hotel rooms. Meth production creates highly toxic, explosive substances, and it’s not uncommon for improvised drug labs to explode or for drug-addicted mothers to store the drug’s dangerous components in the refrigerator next to baby food and end up poisoning their children.

meth_labThere are a shocking number of these private laboratories. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), around 11,000 meth labs were discovered in the country in 2010, compared to 7,530 in 2009. Of those, 2,000 were in Iowa alone.

Meth can be snorted, smoked, swallowed or injected, with addicts often consuming 1,000 times the dose once taken by the Wehrmacht’s soldiers.

The side effects are alarming. Meth weakens the immune system, which leads to eczema, hair loss and so-called “meth mouth,” in which the teeth fall out and mucus membranes rot. Meth addicts experience extreme weight loss and develop kidney, stomach. and heart problems, which have a nightmarish combined effect.

Despite these terrible side effects, it seems the drug has lost none of the appeal to which World War II soldiers succumbed. In 2011, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that around 13 million Americans had tried meth at some point. The UN estimates around 24 million users globally.

With the passage of time in our own lifetimes, it is remarkable to reflect on what we consider bad for us today.smoking doctor

Does anyone remember those doctors who said cigarettes are good for you?

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This post relies on the article “WWII Drug: The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth” by Fabienne Hurst, which was first published in Der Spiegel.

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Groove of the Day 

Listen to Huey Lewis & The News performing “I Want a New Drug”