The Third Reich's Love Affair With Meth
It was seen as the "ideal war drug" by the Nazis. Incredibly, German troops were still offered it as late as 1988.
Germany's World War II army distributed millions of "miracle" pills to its soldiers to keep them alert, as a fascinating article on The Atlantic details. Pervitin, an early version of methamphetamine, became popular in the Third Reich after it was introduced to the market in 1938 by Berlin drugmaker Temmler Werke, according to Der Spiegel. A German army physiologist, Otto Ranke, first recognized Pervitin's military potential: The "ideal war drug" was able to keep soldiers alert—and feeling euphoric—on very little sleep. So the Wehrmacht started distributing millions of Pervitin pills to soldiers, who dubbed it "Panzerschokolade" ("tank chocolate"), and to air force pilots, who knew it as "pilot's chocolate" or "pilot's salt". Hitler himself also used methamphetamine via intravenous injection. And Nobel Prize-winning writer Heinrich Böll wrote numerous letters to his family begging for the drug during his time in the German military. Just one tablet of Pervitin could achieve the same alertness as several cups of coffee, Böll explained. It allowed him to forget, temporarily, the horrors of war.
Although Pervitin's so-called positive effects made it popular in the military, its long-term side effects—such as heart failure and suicide—took a severe toll. Leonardo Conti, the Third Reich's top health official, sought to limit its use, but failed. Incredibly, it wasn't until 1988 that the drug was finally removed from both East and West Germany's post-war armies' medical arsenals. In today's Germany, meth use is on the rise. The latest official reports say that the country saw more first-time users over the last year than ever before, joining the 24 million total meth users around the world, according to the UN.