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3. Courage in a Pill
World War II. Captagon, a combination of dextroamphetamine, the main ingredient in Adderall, and theophylline, a stimulant in the same class as caffeine, was prescribed for decades as a treatment for obesity, depression, and hyperactivity. Yet this year sensational news stories managed to make the old and familiar new and scary by linking Captagon to Syria's civil war.Soldiers have been using amphetamines to stay awake and alert since
The Washington Post described Captagon as "a tiny, highly addictive pill" that is "fueling Syria's war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers." The Post's Peter Holley claimed "Captagon quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing Syria's fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon." Drawing on anecdotes from a 2015 BBC documentary and a 2014 Reuters story, Holley left the impression that Captagon enables members of various armed groups in Syria to fight without fear, kill without hesitation or remorse, and resist brutal interrogation, literally laughing at the pain. The next day Washington Times reporter Kellan Howell parroted Holley's claims, using the same secondhand quotes and strikingly similar language.
Such breathless accounts do not reflect Captagon's properties so much as reporters' perennial willingness to believe outlandish claims about drugs other people take. Captagon is an "inferior amphetamine" whose effects are "nowhere near what the media reports have been talking about," Columbia University neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart told Live Science. "Trust me, if this drug produced a supersoldier, U.S. soldiers would be using it."