ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF METHAMPHETAMINES
Natural stimulants such as coca, caffeine and betel had been used for centuries. In 1892, Japanese scientists extracted ephedrine from mahuang, a Chinese drug long used as a pick-me-up and treatment for asthma and other breathing problems. In the 1920s, K.K. Chen of the Eli Lilly company identified the chemical composition of ephedrine but because ephedrine was so difficult to extract scientists decided that making amphetamines — a synthetic drug close in chemical structure to ephedrine — was easier.
Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 in Germany by Romanian chemist Lazăr Edeleanu, who named it phenylisopropylamine. Not long after that the Japanese organic chemist Nagai Nagayoshi isolated ephedrine from the Chinese ephedra plant and later developed a method for ephedrine synthesis. Methamphetamine was synthesized from ephedrine in 1893 by Nagayoshi. Neither drug was used commercially until 1934, when Smith, Kline & French began selling amphetamine as an inhaler under the trade name Benzedrine..Benzedrine was initially prescribed as a decongestant but users found it also worked as an appetite suppressant, kept them awake and gave them a pleasurable, stimulating buzz. ### for congestion. [Source: Wikipedia
In 1919, methamphetamine hydrochloride — crystal meth — was synthesized by pharmacologist Akira Ogata via reduction of ephedrine using red phosphorus and iodine. At that time the effects of amphetamine on humans was still unknown.In 1927, pioneer psychopharmacologist Gordon Alles made amphetamines and tested it on himself while searching for an artificial replacement for ephedrine. He called benzedrine, a term derived from the name benzyl-methyl carbinamine.
Popularization of Methamphetamines
Later, the chemist Fritz Hauschild from the German pharmaceutical company Temmler developed an easier method for converting ephedrine to methamphetamine. Peter Andreas wrote in Time: “Hauschild had been aware of Benzedrine ever since it was used as a doping product in the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. Temmler-Werke began selling methamphetamine under the brand name Pervitin in the winter of 1937. Partly thanks to the company’s aggressive advertising campaign, Pervitin became well known within a few months. The tablets were wildly popular and could be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies. One could even buy boxed chocolates spiked with methamphetamine. [Source: Peter Andreas, Time, January 7, 2020]
Pervitin was marketed as confidence booster and performance enhancer for everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers. “Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight” was the slogan of the drug-containingconfectionery.” Women were told of they took two or three pills they finish their housework in lightning speed — and would lose weight too. [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
One of the first scientific studies on the effects of amphetamines was done by M. Nathanson, a Los Angeles physician. In 1935, studied the effects of amphetamine on 55 hospital workers who were each given 20 mg of Benzedrine and were asked to report the effects. The two most commonly reported drug effects were "a sense of well being and a feeling of exhilaration" and "lessened fatigue in reaction to work"###
Amphetamines and War
During World War II, amphetamine and methamphetamine were used extensively by the Germans, Japanese, American and British forces for their stimulant and performance-enhancing effects. Allied bomber pilots took them to fight off fatigue and focus better during long flights. Lester Grinspoon and Peter Hedblom wrote in their 1975 study “The Speed Culture”: “World War II probably gave the greatest impetus to date to legal medically authorized as well as illicit black market abuse of these pills on a worldwide scale.”
Scientists in Germany developed several kinds of amphetamines intended to help Nazi soldiers fight harder and longer. Amphetamines were issued to Japanese and British soldiers in World War II to keep them awake and alert when there were on missions or pulling night duty.
Amphetamines and methamphetamines continue to be used by soldiers today. Some of the friendly fire mistakes made by American pilots in Afghanistan were blamed on amphetamine use. During the Persian Gulf War, amphetamines were widely used by American bomber pilots. Roughly half of U.S. Air Force pilots used them based on their own choice. The Tarnak Farm incident during the War in Afghanistan (2001-21), in which an American F-16 pilot killed several friendly Canadian soldiers on the ground, was blamed by the pilot on his use of amphetamine. Because of incidents like this and the addictive qualities of amphetamines, people, newer wakefulness-inducing drugs such as modafinil are being pushed as a safer alternative to amphetamines for military uses.
Nazis and Methamphetamines
Pervitin, a pill form of methamphetamines, was commonly used by the German and Finnish militaries. It is said Adolf Hitler began using amphetamines occasionally after 1937 and became addicted to them in late 1942. This conclusion is disputed by historians who argue that symptoms attributed to amphetamine use, addiction and withdrawal were caused by other health issues.
Early in World War II, Pervitin was widely distributed across German military ranks and divisions, from elite forces to tank crews and aircraft personnel. Millions of tablets were distributed. More than 35 million three-milligram doses of Pervitin were manufactured for the German army and air force between April and July 1940. That sounds like a lot but was equivalent to only three tablets per serviceman a month. Germany’s drug laws prevented non-military people from obtaining the drug without a doctor’s prescription. [Source: Wikipedia]
After April 1941Pervition was no longer distributed to servicemen on a mass scale due to the recognition of its dangerous side effects, and several deaths were attributed to it. Use continued but it closely supervised. Its use was discouraged during combat. Despite these efforts to restrict its use, Pervitin consumption rose rapidly among soldiers and civilians alike. Production rose from about 7.5 million tablets in 1941, 9 million tablets each in 1942 in 1943, falling to 8 million in 1944. This figures do not indicate widespread use as Nazi Germany had a population of over 80 million during the war.
German writer Norman Ohler’s wrote a bestselling account of methamphetamine use during the Nazi area and among other things asserted that Hitler was a meth addict, the Blitzkrieg and the invasion of France was made possible by meth and and Rommel and all those tank commanders were high on the drug. Rachel Cooke wrote in The Guardian: The book, “Blitzed”, reveals the astonishing and hitherto largely untold story of the Third Reich’s relationship with drugs, including cocaine, heroin, morphine and, above all, methamphetamines (aka crystal meth), and of their effect not only on Hitler’s final days — the Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers. [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
Ian Kershaw, a British historian and leading authority on Hitler and Nazi Germany, described the book as “a serious piece of scholarship”. Among the sources are the papers of Dr Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal physician, great German historian of the Third Reich Hans Mommsen, and a letter from Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, in which he suggests that the “medication” Morell is giving the Führer needs to be regulated for the sake of his increasingly wobbly health.
Books:“Blitzed” by Norman Ohler, Harper Collins in the U.S., 2018; Penguin in the U.K., 2016; “Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs” by Peter Andreas, Oxford University Press, 2020]
Methamphetamine and Nazi Military Strategy
Peter Andreas also wrote a book about Nazi drug use. In Time magazine he wrote: Nazi ideology was fundamentalist in its antidrug stance. Social use of drugs was considered both a sign of personal weakness and a symbol of the country’s moral decay in the wake of a traumatic and humiliating defeat in World War I. But as Norman Ohler shows in Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany, methamphetamine was the privileged exception. While other drugs were banned or discouraged, methamphetamine was touted as a miracle product when it appeared on the market in the late 1930s. [Source: Peter Andreas, Time, January 7, 2020]
“Indeed, the little pill was the perfect Nazi drug: “Germany, awake!” the Nazis had commanded. Energizing and confidence boosting, methamphetamine played into the Third Reich’s obsession with physical and mental superiority. In sharp contrast to drugs such as heroin or alcohol, methamphetamines were not about escapist pleasure. Rather, they were taken for hyper-alertness and vigilance. Aryans, who were the embodiment of human perfection in Nazi ideology, could now even aspire to be superhuman—and such superhumans could be turned into supersoldiers. “We don’t need weak people,” Hitler declared, “we want only the strong!” Weak people took drugs such as opium to escape; strong people took methamphetamine to feel even stronger.
“Dr. Otto F. Ranke, director of the Research Institute of Defense Physiology, had high hopes that Pervitin (methamphetamines) would prove advantageous on the battlefield. His goal was to defeat the enemy with chemically enhanced soldiers, soldiers who could give Germany a military edge by fighting harder and longer than their opponents. After testing the drug on a group of medical officers, Ranke believed the Pervitin would be “an excellent substance for rousing a weary squad…We may grasp what far-reaching military significance it would have if we managed to remove the natural tiredness using medical methods.” Ranke himself was a daily user, as detailed in his wartime medical diary and letters: “With Pervitin you can go on working for 36 to 50 hours without feeling any noticeable fatigue.” This allowed Ranke to work days at a time with no sleep. And his correspondence indicated that a growing number of officers were doing the same thing—popping pills to manage the demands of their jobs.Wehrmacht medical officers administered Pervitin to soldiers of the Third Tank Division during the occupation of Czecholslovakia in 1938.
Blitzkreig and Methamphetamines
Peter Andreas wrote in Time: “The invasion of Poland in September 1939 served as the first real military test of” methamphetamines “in the field. Germany overran its eastern neighbor by October, with 100,000 Polish soldiers killed in the attack. The invasion introduced a new form of industrialized warfare, Blitzkrieg. This “lightning war” emphasized speed and surprise, catching the enemy off guard by the unprecedented quickness of the mechanized attack and advance. The weak link in the Blitzkrieg strategy was the soldiers, who were humans rather than machines and as such suffered from fatigue. They required regular rest and sleep, which, of course, slowed down the military advance. That is where Pervitin came in—part of the speed of the Blitzkrieg literally came from speed. As medical historian Peter Steinkamp puts it, “Blitzkrieg was guided by methamphetamine. If not to say that Blitzkrieg was founded on methamphetamine.” [Source: Peter Andreas, Time, January 7, 2020]
Armies had long consumed various psychoactive substances, but this was the first large-scale use of a synthetic performance-enhancing drug. Historian Shelby Stanton comments: “They dispensed it to the line troops. Ninety percent of their army had to march on foot, day and night. It was more important for them to keep punching during the Blitzkrieg than to get a good night’s sleep. The whole damn army was hopped up. It was one of the secrets of Blitzkrieg.”
The Blitzkrieg depended on speed, relentlessly pushing ahead with tank troops, day and night. In April 1940, it quickly led to the fall of Denmark and Norway. The next month, the troops moved on to Holland, Belgium, and finally France. German tanks covered 240 miles of challenging terrain, including the Ardennes Forest, in 11 days, bypassing the entrenched British and French forced who had mistakenly assumed the Ardennes was impassable. Paratroopers sometimes landed ahead of the advance, causing chaos behind enemy lines; the British press described these soldiers as “heavily drugged, fearless and berserk.”
General Heinz Guderian, an expert in tank warfare and leader of the invasion, gave the order to speed ahead to the French border: “I demand that you go sleepless for at least three nights if that should be necessary.” When they crossed into France, French reinforcements had yet to arrive, and their defenses were overwhelmed by the German attack.
“I was dumbfounded,” Churchill wrote in his memoirs. “I had never expected to have to face…the overrunning of the whole communications and countryside by an irresistible incursion of armoured vehicles…I admit it was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life.” The speed of the attack was jaw-dropping. High on Pervitin, German tank and artillery drivers covered ground night and day, almost without stopping. Foreign commanders and civilians alike were caught entirely off guard.
Nazi Soldiers and One-Man Submariners on Math
Rachel Cooke wrote in The Guardian: In Blitzed, Ohler reproduces a letter sent in 1939 by Heinrich Böll, the future Nobel laureate, from the frontline to his parents back at home, in which he begs them for Pervitin, the only way he knew to fight the great enemy — sleep. In Berlin, Dr Ranke, concluded that Pervitin was indeed excellent medicine for exhausted soldiers. Not only did it make sleep unnecessary it also switched off inhibitions, making fighting easier, or at any rate less terrifying. [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
“In 1940, as plans were made to invade France through the Ardennes mountains, a “stimulant decree” was sent out to army doctors, recommending that soldiers take one tablet per day, two at night in short sequence, and another one or two tablets after two or three hours if necessary. The Wehrmacht ordered 35 million tablets for the army and Luftwaffe, and the Temmler factory increased production.
According to Ohler the invasion of France would not havee been possible without meth. When Hitler heard about the plan to invade through Ardennes, he loved it [the allies were massed in northern Belgium]. But the high command said: it’s not possible, at night we have to rest, and they [the allies] will retreat and we will be stuck in the mountains. But then the stimulant decree was released, and that enabled them to stay awake for three days and three nights. Rommel [who then led one of the panzer divisions] and all those tank commanders were high — and without the tanks, they certainly wouldn’t have won.”
“Thereafter, drugs were regarded as an effective weapon by high command, one that could be deployed against the greatest odds. In 1944-45, for instance, when it was increasingly clear that victory against the allies was all but impossible, the German navy developed a range of one-man U-boats; the fantastical idea was that these pint-sized submarines would make their way up the Thames estuary. But since they could only be used if the lone marines piloting them could stay awake for days at a time, Dr Gerhard Orzechowski, the head pharmacologist of the naval supreme command on the Baltic, had no choice but to begin working on the development of a new super-medication — a cocaine chewing gum that would be the hardest drug German soldiers had ever taken. It was tested at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, on a track used to trial new shoe soles for German factories; prisoners were required to walk — and walk — until they dropped.
““It was crazy, horrifying,” says Ohler, quietly. “Even Mommsen was shocked by this. He had never heard about it before.” The young marines, strapped in their metal boxes, unable to move at all and cut off from the outside world, suffered psychotic episodes as the drugs took hold, and frequently got lost, at which point the fact that they could stay awake for up to seven days became irrelevant. “It was unreal,” says Ohler. “This wasn’t reality. But if you’re fighting an enemy bigger than yourself, you have no choice. You must, somehow, exceed your own strength. That’s why terrorists use suicide bombers. It’s an unfair weapon. If you’re going to send a bomb into a crowd of civilians, of course you’re going to have a success.”
Nazis Cut Back on Methamphetamine Use
But even during this periods when the Nazi were scoring great successes under the influence of methamphetamines, there were clear signs of trouble with the drug. Peter Andreas wrote in Time: “In late 1939 and early 1940, Leo Conti, the “Reich Health Führer,” and others sounded the alarm bells about the risk of Pervitin, resulting in the drug being made available by prescription only. But these warnings largely fell on deaf ears, and the new regulations were widely ignored. Use of the drug continued to grow. At the Temmler-Werke factory, production revved into overdrive, pressing as many as 833,000 tablets per day. Between April and July 1940, German servicemen received more than 35 million methamphetamine tablets. The drug was even dispensed to pilots and tank crews in the form of chocolate bars known as Fliegerschokolade (flyer’s chocolate) and Panzerschokolade (tanker’s chocolate). [Source: Peter Andreas, Time, January 7, 2020]
“Some users reported negative side effects of the drug. During the French invasion, these included a lieutenant colonel with the Panzer Ersatz Division I, who experienced heart pains after taking Pervitin four times daily for as many weeks; the commander of the Twelfth Tank Division, who rushed to a military hospital due to the heart attacked he suffered an hour after taking one pill; and several officers who suffered heart attacks while off duty after taking Pervitin.
“Amid growing worries about the addictive potential and negative side effects of overusing the drug, the German military began to cut back on allocations of methamphetamines by the end of 1940. Consumption declined sharply in 1941 and 1942, when the medical establishment formally acknowledged that amphetamines were addictive. Nevertheless, the drug continued to be dispensed on both the western and eastern fronts. Temmler-Wenke, the maker of the drug, remained as profitable as ever, despite rising awareness of the negative health effects.”
High Hitler, the Addict?
There were rumors that Hitler took methamphetamines as well as cocaine and opiates, and it certainly seems plausible that he took some drugs that are illegal today based on testimonies and documents, but the evidence is argely circumstantial. Rachel Cooke wrote in The Guardian: In the days of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and 1930s, Germany’s pharmaceutical industry was thriving. The country was a leading exporter both of opiates, such as morphine, and of cocaine and drugs were available on every street corner. It was during this period that Hitler’s inner circle established an image of him as an unassailable figure who was willing to work tirelessly on behalf of his country, and who would permit no toxins — not even coffee — to enter his body. [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
“He is all genius and body,” reported one of his allies in 1930. “And he mortifies that body in a way that would shock people like us! He doesn’t drink, he practically only eats vegetables, and he doesn’t touch women.” No wonder that when the Nazis seized power in 1933, “seductive poisons” were immediately outlawed. In the years that followed, drug users would be deemed “criminally insane”; some would be killed by the state using a lethal injection; others would be sent to concentration camps. Drug use also began to be associated with Jews. The Nazi party’s office of racial purity claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent. Both needed to be eradicated from Germany.
“Some drugs, however, had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned.
Hitler’s personal physician, Dr Morell, was a podgy, insecure man. “In the late 20s, Morell had grown a thriving private practice in Berlin, his reputation built on the modish vitamin injections he liked to give his patients. He met Hitler after he treated Heinrich Hoffman, the official Reich photographer, and sensing an opportunity quickly ingratiated himself with the Führer, who had long suffered from severe intestinal pains. Morell prescribed Mutaflor, a preparation based on bacteria, and when his patient’s condition — Patient A, as Hitler was thereafter known — began to improve, their codependent relationship began. Both were isolated. Hitler increasingly trusted no one but his doctor, while Morell relied solely on the Führer for his position. [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
When Hitler fell seriously ill in 1941, however, the vitamin injections that Morell had counted on no longer had any effect — and so he began to ramp things up. First, there were injections of animal hormones for this most notorious of vegetarians, and then a whole series of ever stronger medications until, at last, he began giving him a “wonder drug” called Eukodal, a designer opiate and close cousin of heroin whose chief characteristic was its potential to induce a euphoric state in the patient (today it is known as oxycodone). It wasn’t long before Hitler was receiving injections of Eukodal several times a day. Eventually he would combine it with twice daily doses of the high grade cocaine he had originally been prescribed for a problem with his ears, following an explosion in the Wolf’s Lair, his bunker on the eastern front.
“Did Morell deliberately turn Hitler into an addict? Or was he simply powerless to resist the Führer’s addictive personality? “I don’t think it was deliberate,” says Ohler. “But Hitler trusted him. When those around him tried to remove Morell in the fall of 1944, Hitler stood up for him — though by then, he knew that if he was to go, he [Hitler] would be finished. They got along very well. Morell loved to give injections, and Hitler liked to have them. He didn’t like pills because of his weak stomach and he wanted a quick effect. He was time-pressed; he thought he was going to die young.” When did Hitler realise he was an addict? “Quite late. Someone quotes him as saying to Morell: you’ve been giving me opiates all the time. But mostly, they talked about it in oblique terms. Hitler didn’t like to refer to the Eukodal. Maybe he was trying to block it off from his mind. And like any dealer, Morell was never going to say: yeah, you’re addicted, and I have something to feed that for you.” So he talked in terms of health rather than addiction? “Yes, exactly.”
“The effect of the drugs could appear to onlookers to be little short of miraculous. One minute the Führer was so frail he could barely stand up. The next, he would be ranting unstoppably at Mussolini. But “For Hitler, though, a crisis was coming. When the factories where Pervitin and Eukodal were made were bombed by the allies, supplies of his favourite drugs began to run out, and by February 1945 he was suffering withdrawal. Bowed and drooling and stabbing at his skin with a pair of golden tweezers, he cut a pitiful sight. “Everyone describes the bad health of Hitler in those final days [in the Führerbunker in Berlin],” says Ohler. “But there’s no clear explanation for it. It has been suggested that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To me, though, it’s pretty clear that it was partly withdrawal.” He grins. “Yeah, it must have been pretty awful. He’s losing a world war, and he’s coming off drugs.” [Source: Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, September 25 2016]
Japanese Use of Methamphetamines in World War II
In Japan, methamphetamine was sold under the registered trademark of Philopon by Dainippon Pharmaceuticals (present-day Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma [DSP]) for civilian and military use. It has been estimated that one billion Philopon pills were produced between 1939 and 1945.
Amphetamines (or awakening drugs or wake-amines) were first put on sale in Japan about 1941. The drugs were not widely used to begin with, but only administered for the treatment of some cases of mental disease. During the Second World War, amphetamines were used by the armed forces and by civilians engaged in heavy work, to stay awake and fight fatigue. This use was not widespread and there were reports of toxic reactions of addictions. [Source: Kiyoshi Morimoto Director, Pharmaceutical and Supply Bureau, Ministry of Welfare, Japanese Government, UNODC, January 1, 1957
The Japanese air force and other military units issued methamphetamines to encourage servicemen to fight hard. The drug was called "Senryoku Zokyo Zai" — drug to inspire the fighting spirit."
The Mainichi Shimbun reported: In February 1951, a Dainippon Pharmaceuticals executive told the Japanese Diet: "During the war, most (of the hiropon) was taken by the military and used by putting it in candy and through other means." For those who experienced the war firsthand, the link between the military and hiropon was widely known, and the drug was given to soldiers on the front lines. [Source: Mainichi Shimbun, January 10, 2022]
Meth-Laced Chocolates Given to Kamikaze Pilots
The Mainichi Shimbun reported: In 1945, the final year of World War II, Kazuko Umeda, then a student at a girls' high school, was tasked as a student laborer to wrap chocolates that were to be shipped out to tokko (Kamikaze) pilots. She had heard from older students that the chocolates were the last things the pilots ate before their suicide missions, and that "something" was inside them.
At Umeda’s school, students wrapped chocolates that had the chrysanthemum emblem — a symbol of the Emperor of Japan — on them and were in the shape of sticks some 15 centimeters long in thin paper, and packed them into boxes. She was also ordered to monitor the other students because some of them stole the chocolates, and to report them to the teacher. At a time of scarcity, chocolates were a valuable commodity. [Source: Mainichi Shimbun, January 10, 2022]
That day, she was called up onto the roof of the school by some older students, and pressured to eat a piece of chocolate that they had snuck out of the packaging room. "They told me that if I ate some, then I was as guilty as they were, and ordered me not to tell the teacher." As soon as she put the chocolate in her mouth, Umeda said she felt a strange sensation, "as if there were a strong drug in it." When she went home and told her father about it, he said, "Maybe they're putting hiropon in it or something." Hiropon was a methamphetamine that then Dainippon Pharmaceuticals put on the market in 1941 to assist in recovery from physical exhaustion.
Fumiyo Ooka, a former teacher traced Umeda's memory of the chocolates and compiled a booklet about them — "'Hiropon' and 'tokko': methamphetamine-laced chocolates wrapped by schoolgirls" ("'Hiropon' to 'tokko' jogakusei ga tsutsunda 'kakuseizai iri chokoreto'"). The booklet portrays the use of hiropon cited from a variety of sources. For example, in the book "'Meisho' 'gusho' daigyakuten no Taiheiyosensoshi" ('Good generals,' 'foolish generals,' the history of a major reversal in the Pacific War), author Kimio Arai says he was told by a confectionery company executive, "We were supplied with large amounts of hiropon, which were then covered with chocolate, embossed with the chrysanthemum emblem, and periodically given over to the military."
Additionally, there are books that discuss the experiences of suicide pilots in the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy who were given hiropon through "genki-shu" (energy alcohol), which referred to alcohol with hiropon in it; "totsugeki-jo" (assault tablets), which were hiropon tablets; and hiropon injections. Ooka inferred, "It probably was meant to keep the pilots awake on their long flights, but the military probably also counted on the drug's ability to cause an abnormally excited state so the pilots would not feel fear."
Methamphetamines in Post--World-War-II Japan
In the 1940s and 1950s, methamphetamines was widely administered to Japanese industrial workers to increase their productivity. After World War II, there were huge stockpiles of amphetamines left over in Japan, and many of the drugs found their way onto Japanese streets. There was widespread abuses. Some abusers developed a form of madness called “amphetamine psychosis.” In the 1960s, portent speed could be purchased over the counter at Japanese pharmacies.
In 1957, the Japanese government reported: After the war, a state of social confusion prevailed which made the life of many people irregular. The constant and prolonged use of amphetamines became more popular among those who were working at night, or at irregular hours. Intoxication and addiction were increased by the habitual use of rapid-effect injections. As social order was restored, however, the control of the drugs gradually reduced the number of addicts, specially those engaged in normal occupations. Meanwhile, the abuse of amphetamines among the criminal and depraved elements — particularly of the younger generation - reached very high proportions. Its prolonged use brought mental and physical dislocation into their lives; delinquency and crime developed to such an extent that the matter required severe measures.[Source: Kiyoshi Morimoto Director, Pharmaceutical and Supply Bureau, Ministry of Welfare, Japanese Government, UNODC, January 1, 1957]
In the 1950s, the Japanese Ministry of Health banned stimulant production, although drug companies continued to produce stimulants that wound up on the black market. From 1951 to 1954, a series of acts were passed by the Japanese government to try to stop production and sale of stimulants; however, the production and sale of stimulant drugs continued through criminal syndicates such as Yakuza criminal organizations. On the streets, it is also known as S, Shabu, and Speed, in addition to its old trademarked name.
Post-World-War-II Japan — Home of the First Modern Drug Abuse Pandemic
At University of Michigan symposium in November 1970, Dr. Masaaki Kato of the Jananese National Institute of Mental Health said there was very little drug dependence in pre-war Japan despite the fact that there was little regulation of licensed pharmacologists could dispense all kinds of drugs that are now illegal without prescriptions.
According to the Ann Arbor News: Trouble came when Japanese pharmaceutical companies were left with huge stocks of amphetamines unused” after the war. These companies tried to sell these large stocks of methamphetamines, propagandizing that this was a drug to inspire the fighting spirits in daiy life, without knowing it had terrible dependency producing effects," Dr. Kato said.
The advertising campaign came at a time when Japanese morale and self confidence was low. Amphetamine abuse spread rapidly. lts benefits were extolled by veterans and use of the drug was quickly picked up by social fringe groups such as "Bohemians, novelists, entertainers, racial minorities, and juvenile delinquents," Dr. Kato said. Despite the passage of five separate laws tightening controls on distribution of amphetamines and increasing penalties for abuse, by 1954 the epidemic peaked at 550,000 abusers, of which 200,000 showed some psychotic symptoms, Dr. Kato said. [Source: Ann Arbor News, November 9, 1970]
Speculating on what caused amphetamiñe abuse to drop off after that, Dr. Kato said that the drug abuse and suicide rates in Japan both peaked during the 10 years following World War II. Accompanying this trend was a growing pessimistic mood among the Japanese, especially the youth. Dr. Kato said that the legal controls coupled with improving national morale may have ended the drug epidemic. But he added that "the violent, aggressive behavior among youth became manifest since that time and the number of violent crimes among them increased after the reduction of stimulant abuse and suicide."
Methamphetamines in Post-World-War-II U.S. and Europe
In the 1950s, there was a rise in the legal prescription use of methamphetamine in the U.S. American housewives took amphetamines to lose weight. Methamphetamine was major constituent in the diet drug Obetrol. The drug was also marketed for sinus inflammation and were taken for non-medicinal purposes as "pep pills" or "bennies". There was a robust black market for pep pills among long-haul truck drivers in the 1950s and 1960s. The 1960s also marked the beginning of the illicitly-manufactured methamphetamine trade controlled by motorcycle gangs. [Source: Wikipedia]
In Finland, Nazi-era Pervitin lived as höökipulveri ("pep powder") taken by special forces and commandos. In Britain it was associated with youth movements, particularly with mods, who liked to mix amphetamines with barbiturates known as Purple Hearts. In Britain, methamphetamines fueled all-night dances at clubs like Manchester's Twisted Wheel. Newspaper reports described dancers emerging from clubs at 5 a.m. with dilated pupils. Mods in the took the drug for stimulation and alertness and viewed it as a cooler alternative to getting drunk.
In the 1960s, American hippies used it and called it speed.. It was one of many popular drugs of the time along with barbiturates, LSD, marijuana and hashish. Its dangers ad addictiveness were highlighted in the slogan “speed kills. In 1965 the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) banned Benzedrine inhalersand limited amphetamine to prescription use, but non-medical use remained common.
A second wave of speed use occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s when an inhaled form or methamphetamine called crank became poplar and a third wave occurred in the late 1990s when a smokable form (ice) caught on. This version of the drug was often manufactured and trafficked by motorcycle gangs such as Hells Angels.
Motorcycle Gangs and Methamphetamines
Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) are groups that use their motorcycle clubs as channels for criminal activity. They are highly organized and engage in criminal activities such as weapons trafficking, violent crime and drug trafficking. According to the Justice Department, there are more than 300 active OMGs within the United States, ranging in size small ones with five or six members to large ones with hundreds of chapters and thousands of members worldwide. The Hells Angels, Pagans, Mongols, Bandidos and Outlaws Silence conduct the majority of criminal endeavors — mostly drug dealing— linked to OMGs. Among their main activities are , to drug-trafficking and, cross-border drug smuggling. Their trans-national scope enables them to organize drug smuggling strategies in partnership with major international drug-trafficking organizations.
The Hells Angels are the most well-known biker gang. They were formed in 1948, getting their name from World War II bomber pilots. Although they pride themselves for living outside the constraints of law-abiding society they ascribe to their own highly-organized hierarchical chain of command with extensive written rules. Membership, which is limited to white males that own an American-made motorcycle. Hells Angels has about 2,500 active members in 230 chapters world-wide, wit 800 members in 92 chapters in 27 states in the U.S. Although biker gangs have dealt about every drug known to mankind, methamphetamines —‘biker’s coffee’ — is their signature product.
The methamphetamine trade today is dominated by Mexicans gang but for a long time it was controlled by motorcycle gangs. These gangs still have considerable influence today but they were arguably at their peak in the 1980s and 90s when they controlled an estimated 75 percent of the United States methamphetamine production and distribution. According to a U.S. Justice Department report issued in 1991: The narcotics trade continues to be the main source of income for outlaw motorcycle gangs in the United States, Europe, and Canada. The drug of choice varies by region. California's outlaw motorcycle gangs primarily deal in methamphetamine; those in the Midwest and on the East Coast deal primarily with cocaine. European gangs focus on distributing amphetamine while Canada's gangs deal in both cocaine and methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine production and distribution is the drug of choice for most outlaw gangs in the Western United States. Despite the increased enforcement efforts occurring in California, Oregon, and Washington, this lucrative business continues to thrive. California led the way with its stringent laws regarding the sale of precursor chemicals and the formation of task forces to shut down clandestine labs. This forced many California manufacturers to shift their operations to the less-regulated areas of the Pacific Northwest-- specifically Oregon and Washington. The rugged terrain and sparse popu1ation of rural Oregon and Washington area were ideal for clandestine drug labs. Precursor chemicals were readily available, and law enforcement intervention was unlikely.
The reduced availability of precursor chemicals in the western part of the United States has led outlaw motorcycle gangs to establish a sophisticated underground network across the country. They use this network to obtain precursor chemicals and glassware for the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine.
A government survey published in the Federal Criminal Investigator, spring issue 1990, found that the outlaw motorcycle gangs dominate 40 percent of the dangerous drug traffic in the United States — including three-quarters of the methamphetamine market. The results of a second survey was published in the U.S.A. Perspective, which was distributed at the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Training Seminar in September 1990. This survey concluded that 22 outlaw motorcycle gangs either control or are heavily involved in the methamphetamine trade in 38 states.
In light of the information reported in the government survey, the "U.S.A. Perspective," and the establishment of supply/distribution networks, the low percentage of labs associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs indicates the gangs are removing themselves and their paraphernalia from the clandestine lab sites and are assuming an aloof management role. Evidence of outlaw motorcycle gang involvement in the methamphetamine trade is well-documented by the information gathered through the arrests of these groups.
Image Source: DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration); Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: 1) “Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy” by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); 2) National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 3) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and 4) National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, , Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.
Last updated April 2022