If there’s one thing synonymous with war, it’s drug use. The impact of narcotics on war doesn't get a ton of publicity, but history is littered with armies that did drugs. From ancient warriors tripping on bog myrtle to modern soldiers buzzed on dangerous combinations of steroids and speed, drugs have been handed to fighters since the dawn of large scale combat.
In some respect, drugs are almost necessary to engage in the most vicious forms of war. Since science suggests people are basically good, it’s no small stretch to suggest the average person isn’t adequately equipped to go out and kill a bunch of strangers simply because a superior told them to. That’s where the drugs come in.
In some cases, historians argue several ancient cultures made their fierce reputations on the back of mind-altering substances. Drugs have fueled pretty much every army ever, and there’s no sign the trend is set to change any time soon. So read on to learn about drugs that fueled armies, and how drugs won wars.
The Wehrmacht Were Given Assault Pills That Were Basically Crystal Meth
When the might of the Nazi army was unleashed on the world a new term was coined to describe the speed and savagery of the attack: blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” At the time of Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland, the Wehrmacht was viewed with such fear they were considered to have superhuman stamina and strength, and willingness to kill without hesitation.
The basis for that reputation was a pill called Pervitin, which was widely used in Nazi society as a way to improve moods. On the battlefield, the drug helped soldiers go abnormally long periods of time without eating or sleeping, while also keeping their spirits up in spite of the horrible conditions around them.
Viking Beserkers Supposedly Dosed Themselves On Bog Myrtle to Reach n Animal Frenzy
Centuries before the Nazis invented the word “blitzkrieg,” a small group of Viking warriors crafted a legend of ferocity unparalleled in the ages since. They even got their own word to describe the rage in their attacks: “berserk.”
Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlson once wrote of berserkers, “(Odin's) men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them.”
While the theory is debated, some historians believe that one of the primary ingredients in Scandinavian alcohol, bog myrtle, may have caused the berserker behavior. They may have also taken psychedelic mushrooms to help sink into a state of psychotic frenzy.
Roman Soldiers Were Rationed Wine Every Day
In ancient Rome, citizens and slaves consumed an estimated three liters of wine a day, meaning everybody was at least a little drunk all of the time. For low or high classes, there was basically no stigma associated with addiction, even for serious drugs like opium. And everybody drank. What’s more, ancient Roman wine (which was essentially just fermented grapes) had an extremely high alcohol content.
Since science was in its infancy, the popular belief was that Roman wine was medicinal. As such, Roman soldiers were rationed wine every day. The rations were meant to boost morale and help keep the soldiers energy up in time of duress and near exhaustion.
Child Soldiers In West Africa Were Hooked On A Mix Of Cocaine And Gun Powder
If you were to imagine the most harrowing existence possible, it'd be hard to imagine something worse than the fate of child soldiers. Throughout the world, small squads of young boys—mostly orphans whose parents were killed in whichever conflict drew them in—are handed machine guns and told to fight for their country.
In the 11-year-long civil war in Sierra Leone that began in 1991, child soldiers were given a substance called "brown brown" to increase the intensity of their fighting and keep them loyal to whichever warlord had them in his thrall. Brown brown is a potent mix of cocaine and gunpowder. Former child soldier Ishmael Beah wrote in The New York Times:
We smoked marijuana and sniffed "brown brown," cocaine mixed with gunpowder, which was always spread out on a table near the ammunition hut, and of course I took more of the white capsules, as I had become addicted to them. The first time I took all these drugs at the same time, I began to perspire so much that I took off all my clothes. My body shook, my sight became blurred and I lost my hearing for several minutes. I walked around the village restlessly. But after several doses of these drugs, all I felt was numbness to everything and so much energy that I couldn't sleep for weeks.