‘Captagon’: The drug which fuels ISIS and turns soldiers into ‘Superhumans’
ISIS fighters are being fuelled by a cheap amphetamine-like drug which can keep soldiers on their feet for days.
‘Captagon’ - which is actually scientifically known as fenethylline - is a banned drug which is popular in the Middle East and is now thought to be being produced on a large scale in Syria, and used by several groups in the civil war.
Trade in the drug is thought to bring millions into Syria and possibly to finance weapons and ammunition for groups such as ISIS.
The drug was used to treat conditions such as hyperactivity in the West but has been banned in most countries since the Eighties.
It is easy to make using basic knowledge of chemistry and can be made from legally available chemicals. It’s effects make users feel ‘superhuman’, according to the Washington Post.
"You're talkative, you don't sleep, you don't eat, you're energetic," Lebanese psychiatrist Ramzi Haddad told The Guardian.
A Syrian police officer in Homs told Reuters he had witnessed its effects on anti-government protesters.
"We would beat them, and they wouldn't feel the pain," he said.
"Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows.
"We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier."
But what is the drug and how does it work?
Live Science reached out to drug experts for information on the tablet that is rumored to be turning ordinary men into "supersoldiers."
Captagon is actually a combination of two drugs, theophylline and amphetamine, said Nicolas Rasmussen, a professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The combination itself is inactive in the body, but when the body breaks it down into the two component parts, each part becomes active, Rasmussen told Live Science.
Theophylline is similar to caffeine, but it also opens up a person's airways, and is sometimes used to treat people with asthma.
Amphetamine, on the other hand, is the main psychoactive ingredient in Captagon, he said.
"Amphetamines speed everything up," said Richard Rawson, the co-director of UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.
They produce feelings of pleasure and increased alertness, and they reduce the need for sleep and food, he said.
One purported effect of Captagon is that it makes users feel no pain, but Rawson dismissed this claim.
"We've heard that with stimulants for years," he said. "It's not a magical painkiller."
Instead, the perceived inability to feel pain is a byproduct of a strong stimulant effect, Rawson said.
"When you're hyper-stimulated and very focused, you tend not to react to pain as much," he said.
As for Captagon turning fighters into supersoldiers, in reality, its effects are "nowhere near what the media reports have been talking about," Hart said.
"Trust me, if this drug produced a supersolider, U.S. soldiers would be using it," he said.
The US military has given other stimulants to soldiers since World War II, Hart added.
Still, there's a chance that people using the drug feel it gives them superior abilities.
It's possible that the fighters taking Captagon truly find the effects to be "spectacular," Rawson said.
But he attributed this to a general lack of experience with drugs among the users.
If someone with more experience with drugs, or even experience with alcohol, took Captagon, they would likely say that it was much weaker than what its effect would be on someone with little drug experience, he said.
However, as for the use of Captagon by ISIS, it's also possible that what the fighters are actually taking is not Captagon.
"As far as I know, no one's actually [tested] the stuff that's being sold or manufactured," Rawson said. "My suspicion is that it could likely be meth[amphetamine] that's sold under the name Captagon," he added.
News break – November 27