The competing fighters in Syria are fuelled by a new drug called Captagon. Photo / Getty Images
On the surface, the competing fighters in Syria are fuelled by an
overlapping mixture of ideologies and political agendas. Just below it,
experts suspect, they’re powered by Captagon.
A tiny, highly
addictive pill produced in Syria and now widely available across the
Middle East, its illegal sale funnels hundreds of millions of dollars
back into the war-torn country’s black-market economy each year, likely
giving militias access to new arms, fighters and the ability to keep the
conflict boiling, says the Guardian.
“Syria is a tremendous
problem in that it’s a collapsed security sector, because of its porous
borders, because of the presence of so many criminal elements and
organised networks,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
regional representative Masood Karimipour told Voice of America.
“There’s a great deal of trafficking being done of all sorts of illicit
goods – guns, drugs, money, people.”
A powerful amphetamine based on the original synthetic drug
fenethylline, Captagon quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users,
letting Syria’s fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb,
“You can’t sleep or even close your eyes,” said
a Lebanese user, one of three who appeared on a BBC Arabic documentary
that aired in September. “And … nothing can stop it.”
“There was no fear any more after I took Captagon,” another user said.
has been around in the West since the 1960s, when it was given to
people suffering from hyperactivity, narcolepsy and depression,
according to a 2014 Reuters report. By the 1980s its addictive power led
most countries to ban its use. VOA notes that while Westerners have
speculated that the drug is being used by Isis (Islamic State) fighters,
the biggest consumer has for years been Saudi Arabia. In 2010, a third
of the world’s supply – about seven tonnes – ended up in Saudi Arabia,
says Reuters. VOA estimated that as many as 40,000 to 50,000 Saudis go
through drug treatment each year.
Five years later, production of
Captagon has taken root in Syria. “The breakdown of state
infrastructure, weakening of borders and proliferation of armed groups
during the nearly three-year battle for control of Syria, has
transformed the country from a stopover into a major production site,”
Cheap and easy to produce using legal
materials, the drug can be purchased for less than US$20 ($30.45) a
tablet and is popular among fighters who don’t follow strict
interpretations of Islamic law, reports the Guardian. Doctors say the
drug has dangerous side effects, including psychosis and brain damage,
according to the BBC.
One secular ex-Syrian fighter told the BBC
the drug was ideal for battle because of its ability to give soldiers
superhuman energy and courage. “It gives you great courage and power. If
the leader told you to go break into a military barracks, I will break
in … without any feeling of fear at all. You’re not even tired.”