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.
Budding marijuana mogul Jamen Shively is building the nation's first retail brand of marijuana, he announced at a Seattle press conference on Thursday, alongside former Mexican president Vicente Fox. The 45-year-old former corporate strategy manager at Microsoft has been developing a chain of retail stores, already dubbed "the Starbucks of pot." "It's a giant market in search of a brand," he said of the world-wide marijuana industry (estimated at $142 billion). "We would be happy if we get 40 percent of it worldwide." The self-proclaimed "amateur evangelist of cannabis" said he has only recently "fallen in love" with pot after smoking it for the first time 18 months ago. Since then, he has been purchasing marijuana dispensaries in Washington and Colorado, where recreational pot was legalized last November. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique moment in history,” Shively said Thursday. “The Berlin Wall of the prohibition of cannabis is weak, and it is crumbling as we speak.” The brand will be called "Diego Pellicer" after Shively's great-grandfather, who he claims was a major hemp grower. All that remains is the cash. Shively is currently seeking investors for the estimated $10 million needed to launch the company—but he seems optimistic. "Let’s go big or go home," he said. "We’re going to mint more millionaires than Microsoft with this business."
As far as legal issues, Shively said he's not concerned about the federal government cracking down—all his dispensaries comply with local and state law, and his business will be transparent. "If [the feds] want to come talk to me, I'll be delighted to meet with them," he said. "I'll tell them everything that we're doing and show them all our books." He plans to launch the brand both domestically and internationally, and said he and Fox "intend to pursue" the possibility of a marijuana trade between Mexico and the US. The former Mexican president, who has advocated for legalization of all drugs, called Shively's vision a "game changer." Fox has been vocal in his opposition to the aggressive drug war tactics in Mexico, and added that he was glad to be working alongside Shively, instead of notorious Mexican drug lord, Chapo Guzman. "It’s time for a new start, a new vision," he said, "That’s why I applaud this group."
France was once considered a smokers' paradise, but these days, even electronic cigarettes are getting the red light. E-cigarette "smokers" will now face the same regulations enforced on tobacco smokers since 2007, including a ban in public places and an advertising blackout, Health Minister Marisol Touraine said at a news conference on Friday. The battery-driven devices—designed to look like regular cigarettes—deliver nicotine through an odorless vapor and are increasingly used as a smoking cessation tool. According to a government report released this week, there are now about 500,000 e-smokers in France, many of whom use the devices in smoke-free zones, such as bars, cafes, public transportation and offices.But health officials across the world say the devices may not be entirely safe, and their public health impact demands further study.The French report also claimed that e-cigarettes could increase the "general temptation to smoke," prompting non-smokers to either start smoking or return to the habit. "This is no ordinary product because it encourages mimicking and could promote taking up smoking," said Touraine. In the US, the number of smokers who have tried e-cigarettes doubled to one in five in 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In France, tobacco smoking is responsible for about 66,000 deaths a year (out of a population of 66 million), and another 5,000 die from exposure to second-hand smoke. The expert behind the French report discouraged an outright ban on e-cigarettes, which are still considered healthier than the tar-laden alternative.
A Mormon mother of seven from Arizona has been released from a Mexican prison after her charges of drug smuggling were dropped. Yanira Maldonado, 42, a naturalized US citizen born in Mexico, was arrested by Mexican military officials last week after they found nearly 12 pounds of marijuana under the seat of the commercial bus she was taking from Mexico to Phoenix. The judge in her case determined she was no longer a suspect, after officials reviewed security footage that showed Maldonado and her husband Gary boarding a bus in Mexico with only blankets, bottles of water and her purse in hand. Two relatives who accompanied them to the bus station in Los Mochis and two passengers on the bus also testified that she didn't have any drugs. Gary says he was originally the one arrested, but military officials decided to release him and arrest her after she begged to come along and serve as a translator for her husband, who doesn't speak Spanish. He also claims authorities originally demanded $5,000 for her release, but the bribe fell through. "We never thought this could happen," he said. Mexico decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, but drug trafficking still carries stiff penalties. Buses are reportedly becoming an increasingly common mode of transportation for traffickers bound for the US. Jose Luis Manjarrez, a spokesman for federal prosecutors in Mexico, said Mexican law doesn't specify minimum or maximum sentences for drug crimes and instead lets judges make their rulings on a case by case basis.
The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has confirmed that he checked out of a treatment facility on May 24 after completing a 10-day detox for heroin and prescription drugs, following 23 years of sobriety. Hoffman, 45, who won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2006 for his role in Capote, tells TMZ that his prescription drug abuse problem lasted over a year, but that he only used heroin for a week before he sought help. Crediting a "great group of friends and family" for helping him get to treatment, the actor is now back in Europe and on the set for indie flick God's Pocket. Hoffman first developed a drug problem in his early 20s after graduating from NYU's drama school, but he kicked the habit and stayed sober for 23 years before his recent slip. "It was anything I could get my hands on... I liked it all," he said in a 2006 interview with 60 Minutes. "I went [to rehab], I got sober when I was 22 years old. You get panicked... and I got panicked for my life. It really was just that." Hoffman also acknowledged that he was lucky to have gotten sober before he was famous and questioned whether he would have survived otherwise. "I have so much empathy for these young actors that are 19 and all of a sudden they're beautiful and famous and rich. I'm like, 'Oh my God. I'd be dead,' he said. "I think if I had... that kind of money and stuff... so, yeah [I would have died]."
A compound found in marijuana can help treat schizophrenia as effectively as standard antipsychotic drugs—and with fewer side effects—according to the results of a new clinical trial, reports The Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz in Time. Researchers at University of Cologne in Germany studied 39 people with schizophrenia, all hospitalized for a psychotic episode. Twenty of the patients were given cannabidiol (CBD), a substance found in marijuana that is associated with its mellowing, anti-anxiety effects (not THC—the main ingredient in marijuana, which has been found to worsen schizophrenia). The other participants were given amisulpride, an antipsychotic medication. At the end of the four-week trial, both groups showed significant clinical improvement in their schizophrenic symptoms. “The results were amazing,” says Daniele Piomelli, professor of pharmacology at the University of California-Irvine and a co-author of the study. “Not only was [CBD] as effective as standard antipsychotics, but it was also essentially free of the typical side effects seen with antipsychotic drugs.” Antipsychotic medications can cause serious, sometimes permanent movement disorders and other side effects such as weight gain and movement problems. In the study, these side effects were observed in those taking amisulpride, but not in those taking CBD. “These exciting findings should stimulate a great deal of research,” says Dr. John Krystal, chair of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, who was not associated with the study. He noted that CBD, in addition to having fewer side effects, also seemed to work better on schizophrenia’s negative symptoms, which are notoriously difficult to treat, including: social withdrawal, blunting of pleasure, and lack of motivation.