ISIS's Favorite Amphetamine is Less Potent Than Adderall [Video]
Fenethylline, commonly known by it's former commercial name Captagon, is widely used throughout the Middle East, and has become the drug of choice for ISIS. Yet as it makes headlines, the truth of what the drug really is has become distorted.
The story details the huge rise in production, sale, and use that has occurred in Syria over the last few years, and paints a frightening picture of the "superhuman" abilities it gives users.
"Captagon quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing Syria's fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon."
Like all amphetamines, Captagon gives the user enhanced mental focus and physical stamina, and many users report a high that makes them feel fearless and powerful.
"I felt like I own the world, high like I have power nobody has."
"There was no fear anymore after I took Captagon"
However, Vox ran a follow up article, countering the sensationalism of the Post piece and stories from other media outlets, explaining the the drug in greater detail and providing a more balanced analysis.
"These tablets, like other amphetamine-based drugs, provide a boost of energy, enhance someone's focus, let someone stay awake for longer periods of time, and produce a feeling of euphoria. But they won't cause someone to gain superhuman alertness, bravery, strength, or pain resistance — although it's possible that some sort of placebo effect could help users act out in certain ways, and psychotic episodes are a rare side-effect of amphetamines, including Adderall."
Quoted in the Vox piece, chemist Hamilton Morris notes "Several reports in the media have described Captagon as 'a powerful amphetamine,' but in truth it's quite a bit less potent by weight than Adderall, which is commonly encountered on college campuses."
The black market trade of Captagon in Syria and elsewhere in the the Middle East is certainly a huge problem, as it funnels massive sums of money to ISIS and other violent, lawless groups. Yet media headlines sensationalizing the drug as giving fighters super human powers is counterproductive, distracting from the real, complex issues that give rise to addiction, societal instability, and sectarian violence. Vox notes "Generally, you should be skeptical of any media reports that describe a drug as giving someone superhuman abilities. This trope has been used to demonize drugs and their users throughout history, particularly in racist ways. But no drug that we know of is capable of turning someone into Superman or Luke Cage."
Distorting the reality of a drug that is similar to, but in fact less potent than a commonly prescribed ADHD medication serves only to perpetuate misconceptions about how differently similar drugs can effect people in different contexts. American college students aren't superhuman soldiers, and neither are ISIS fighters. Amphetamines have a long history of use in many civilian and military contexts, including past and current use within the US military. While Captagon abuse may contribute to extreme, violent behavior, only the complex realities of cultural instability, longstanding sectarian conflicts, economic desperation, and radicalizing ideology explain the existence of a group like ISIS.
Check out the video below from BBC Arabic for a more in-depth look at Captagon and it's place in Syria's war: