Saturday, December 22, 2007

Amphetamines, capitalism's first 'performance enhancing' drug

Published Dec 20, 2007

Performance enhancers may have been used in almost all competitive sports since the first Olympics in ancient Greece. But the rise of the capitalist profit system and the giant pharmaceutical monopolies changed performance enhancement into its opposite. The most important enhancement has become the performance of the corporations’ profits.

Yu-Hsuan Lee at Harvard has documented that there are records of the use of performance enhancing drugs going as far back as ancient times. Lee cites, “The Greek physician, Galen, is reputed to have prescribed ‘the rear hooves of an Abyssinian ass, ground up, boiled in oil, and favored with rose hips and rose petals’ to improve performance.”

Lee then adds, “Ancient Olympic athletes attempted to boost testosterone (the hormone that anabolic steroids are designed to produce) by eating sheep testicles, a prime source for testosterone.”

Modern chemistry introduced the possibility of more concentrated forms of enhancers, now commonly called drugs and steroids. A Romanian chemist in Berlin synthesized amphetamines from the stimulating herb Ma Huang in 1887. Nothing much came of it.

Drug profits fueled
performances at the
1936 Nazi Olympics.

Then in the 1930s the U.S. pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline & French (now GlaxoSmithKline) started marketing it as Benzedrine. Officially it was sold as a medical treatment for narcolepsy. Unofficially it was one of the first drugs being pushed as a performance enhancer. German athletes in the 1936 Olympics were given amphetamine injections, as was Adolph Hitler.

“In the 1936 Olympic Games films, Hitler can be seen moving his hands back and forth on his upper legs in a way that’s consistent with the ‘stereotypical behavior,’ of heavy amphetamine use,” says a report on “Meth in the military.” (

The online Science Encyclopedia says that amphetamine use was widespread in World War II. “Soldiers on both sides were given large amounts of amphetamines as a way of fighting fatigue and boosting morale. The British issued 72 million tablets to the armed forces. Records also show that Japanese Kamikaze pilots—who crashed their bomb-laden planes into enemy ships—and German Panzer troops were given large doses of the drug to motivate their fighting spirit. Hitler’s own medical records show that he received eight injections a day of methamphetamine, a drug known to create paranoia and unpredictable behavior when administered in large dosages.” (

Hitler is not the only government head known to have regularly used amphetamines. John F. Kennedy also received injections from his physician.

After World War II, Smith, Kline & French emerged as a key player in the military-industrial complex, making a killing in the drugs it sold to the military. After the war, new markets were created for this “performance enhancer,” which was being pushed to workers throughout industry—from steelworkers facing fatigue on their grueling shifts, to auto workers on the assembly line, to long-distance truck drivers.

Then during the Vietnam War, the U.S. troops were flooded with easily available amphetamines, though by that time the drug had become an allegedly controlled substance because its destructive effects were well established.

It is now known that all too frequently the war crimes committed by U.S., German, British and Japanese troops during World War II were the result of the maniacal effects of drugs like the amphetamines. The same is true for the U.S. troops in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

The soldiers were being given drugs that were destroying both their bodies and their minds, but kept them going as fighting machines.

The real crime was committed by GlaxoSmithKline and the other capitalist pharmaceutical conglomerates, which pushed the drugs and later the steroids that raised their profit line while destroying so many lives.

None of this will change until the system is changed to make medicines and drugs that are only to meet peoples' needs, not pharmaceutical company profits.

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1 comment:

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