Drug policy of the Third Reich

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The Third Reich had a number of drug policies relating to the use of legal and illegal drugs during the period from 1933 to 1945.

Use of most drugs among non-persecuted groups was considered legal as long as individuals had a medical prescription. Drug addiction was seen as a curable disease. Many of the drug addicts in the 1930s were medical personnel or veterans of the First World War like Herman Goering.[1]

Even though Adolf Hitler's Nazi party rules stressed the importance of keeping fit by abstaining from drink and tobacco to keep the Aryan race strong and pure, his soldiers were taking chemicals to fight longer, harder and more recklessly. The German army distributed many millions of pills made from methamphetamine and a primarily cocaine-based stimulant to its front-line fighters, who were ordered to take them during battles. Medical authorities say the downside of the plan was that many soldiers became addicted to drugs and were of no use in any theatre of war. The frequent distribution of the pills contributed to the creation of many new drug addicts, also at the home front.[1][2][3][4]

The liberal official drug law in the Third Reich was inherited from the Weimar Republic (1919–33).[2] In 1925, had Hitler's closest man Herman Goering been locked up in a Swedish mental hospital for detoxification from a serious morphine addiction. Goering's wife felt that the dependence was so serious that she gave permission for the doctors to do it.[5]

In an attempt to fuel its youthful but increasingly exhausted fighting force during World War II, the Nazis reportedly turned to addictive and potentially dangerous substances.[6] Drug use in the German military during World War II was highly encouraged and widespread. The head of state at the time is believed to have been addicted to drugs after they had initially been used to treat chronic medical conditions. Adolf Hitler’s doctor revealed that the Fuhrer consumed a daily cocktail of drugs, to help cope with stomach cramps and bad gas. After Doctor Theodor Morell prescribed live bacteria, the ailment eased and Hitler made him his primary physician. Dr. Morell later prescribed powdered cocaine to soothe his throat and clear his sinuses.[7] A collection of medical reports commissioned by the US military has just been released and includes interviews with six doctors who treated the Nazi dictator. They are explored in a new documentary by National Geographic TV, called Nazi Underworld – Hitler’s Drug Use Revealed.[7] Dr Morell’s popularity skyrocketed and he was dubbed ‘The Reichsmaster of the Injections.’

Before the First World War, Germany obtained a virtual monopoly on manufactured drugs, or those drugs that require chemical expertise and industrial capability to produce. Morphine, an alkaloid found in opium that is best known for its analgesic effect, was the primary product of the German industry.[2] Morphine was first identified by a German chemist in the early 19th century, and was patented by Merck soon after. The pharmaceutical companies were preoccupied with morphine derivatives, experimenting with pain relievers and cough suppressants. Bayer eventually identified heroin as especially potent. The drug was prescribed to German patients until the 1950s, where it was only illegal in the United States and Asia.[2]

During World War II, drug use in the German military was widespread, and was encouraged by leadership amongst the ranks. The Nazis highly believed that altering the mindset of their population was necessary for them to perpetuate their core principles. In the military, they provided their soldiers with substantial amounts of mind-altering drugs, which they believed enhanced the soldiers' abilities to be ruthless killers, and their fighter pilots to be more daring. After it was first introduced into the market in 1938, Pervitin, a methamphetamine drug newly developed by the Berlin-based Temmler pharmaceutical company, quickly became a top seller among the German civilian population. The supposed wonder drug was brought to the attention of Otto Ranke, a military doctor and director of the Institute for General and Defense Physiology at Berlin's Academy of Military Medicine.[8] The effects of amphetamines are similar to those of the adrenaline produced by the body, triggering a heightened state of alert. In most people, the substance increases self-confidence, concentration and the willingness to take risks, while at the same time reducing sensitivity to pain, hunger and thirst, as well as reducing the need for sleep. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on 90 university students, and concluded that Pervitin could help the Nazi army win the war.

Alcohol consumption in the Nazi army was also widespread. High-ranking officials encouraged its use to help soldiers relax after they would have been traumatized by the horrors of war. However, after France had been defeated, Hitler attempted to curb the reckless use of alcohol in the military, promising severe punishment for public drunkenness. He expressed that "I expect that members of the Wehrmacht who allow themselves to be tempted to engage in criminal acts as a result of alcohol abuse will be severely punished." Serious offenders could even expect "a humiliating death.” [8] However war changed how soldiers viewed life, and their deteriorating behavior was blamed on alcohol abuse. The Commander-in-Chief of the German military, General Walther von Brauchitsch, concluded that his troops were doing “the most serious infractions" of morality and discipline, and that the culprit was "alcohol abuse." Included in the adverse effects of alcohol abuse he cited were fights, accidents, mistreatment of subordinates, violence against superior officers and "crimes involving unnatural sexual acts." The general believed that alcohol was jeopardizing "discipline within the military.” [8]

After the war, Pervitin remained easily accessed, on the black market or as a prescription drug from pharmacies. Doctors prescribed it to patients as an appetite suppressant or to improve the mood of those struggling with depression. Students, especially medical students, turned to the stimulant to help them cram through the night and finish their studies faster.[9] The drug was removed from the medical supplies of East and West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s respectfully, and it was later deemed illegal in the entire country. Today, a different form of the drug, Crystal Meth, is rising in popularity throughout Europe and the United States. It is sold on the black market to addicts, and law enforcement agencies are steadfastly fighting its spread.

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