Been There Done That, Got The T-shirt
When Heinrich Böll, the German writer and Nobel laureate, was a young man in his twenties, like many able-bodied youths of his time, he joined the Wehrmacht, the German Armed Forces of Nazi Germany. During World War 2, he served all over Europe as well as the Soviet Union.
On November 9, 1939, while fighting in occupied Poland, Böll wrote to his parents back home in Cologne: “It's tough out here, and I hope you'll understand if I'm only able to write to you once every two to four days soon. Today I'm writing you mainly to ask for some Pervitin.”
Some months later, he wrote to his family again: “Perhaps you could get me some more Pervitin so that I can have a backup supply?”
Pervitin was Nazi Germany’s wonder drug, one that was designed to enable pilots, sailors and infantry troops deliver superhuman performance. Soldiers who took Pervitin stayed awake for days at a time, walked for miles without resting, and felt no pain or hunger. Today we know this drug as methamphetamine, or crystal meth.
Methamphetamine is an awfully potent drug. Even in small quantities, it stimulates the central nervous system releasing loads of dopamine that gives the drug user a prolonged euphoric high, increases alertness and concentration while removing fatigue. Methamphetamine also has a strong aphrodisiac effect that makes it a popular “party drug”. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that nearly 25 million people abuse crystal meth throughout the world.
Methamphetamine was first synthesized in 1887, and was originally prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and obesity (meth causes loss of appetite), and as a nasal decongestant. During World War 2, the German armed forces fed their soldiers copious amount of stimulants including alcohol, opiates and methamphetamine to keep them perpetually high. The German high command believed—based on inputs from the director of the Military Medical Academy and the Institute of General and Military Physiology, Otto Friedrich Ranke—that drugging and intoxicating troops would improve their self-confidence, concentration and the willingness to take risks, and at the same time reduce their sensitivity to pain, hunger and thirst, and the need for sleep. Ranke promoted methamphetamine as a miracle drug that would help Germany achieve victory over the Allies.
Pervitin: The Wonder Drug That Fueled Nazi Germany
John Cornille had been with the Drug Enforcement Administration for seven years. Yet he couldn't wrap his head around what his informant was describing.
It was November 1992, and the man was talking about a visit to a home in Reeds Spring, Missouri. He said he'd been forced at gunpoint to use methamphetamine manufactured there. But something was off. The informant didn't mention beakers, flasks, Bunsen burners — none of the complex glassware Cornille was taught were part of meth labs.
Instead, the informant reported an unusual scene: Black trash bags stuffed with empty boxes of cold medicine. A mason jar full of kerosene, with something resembling a hockey puck settled at the bottom. Starter fluid. And a cookie sheet in the oven, with a yellowish cake on it.
Cornille, like other DEA agents, had made meth himself, under controlled circumstances, as part of his official duties. It was standard practice; the agency knew it meant he'd have more credibility when he asked a court for a search warrant or filled out a probable cause statement recommending criminal charges. It was important that prosecutors see him and other agents as experts on the manufacturing of illegal drugs.
The Man Who Reinvented Meth