If it seems as if Islamic State group fighters have a limitless capacity for war and aren't deterred by the threat of billion-dollar bombers dropping deadly payloads over their strongholds, a Washington Post report says there's a chemical reason for that — the jihadis are fueled by Captagon, a powerful amphetamine stimulant that's been flowing through the war-torn country since the law collapsed there.
Captagon, initially created by a German pharmacology firm to help hyperactive patients, is inexpensive, easy to make using legal ingredients, and abundant in Syria, The Washington Post report says. Combatants and their commanders favor the drug because it keeps them awake and alert through prolonged engagements with the enemy.
Not only is the stimulant fueling Islamic State group fighters, it's also filling the group's bank accounts: The Washington Post said sales of Captagon could generate "hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues" for extremist groups, giving them a steady revenue source to continue purchasing weapons for the civil war.
The lawlessness in the war-torn region makes it easier for suppliers to manufacture and distribute the highly addictive stimulant, said Masood Karimipour, regional representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
“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 organized networks," Karimpour told Voice of America. “There’s a great deal of trafficking being done of all sorts of illicit goods — guns, drugs, money, people. But what is being manufactured there and who is doing the manufacturing, that’s not something we have visibility into from a distance.”
Captagon "gives you great courage and power," a former Syrian combatant told the BBC, reports The Washington Post.
"So the brigade leader came and told us, 'this pill gives you energy, try it,'" the former combatant said. "So we took it the first time. We felt physically fit. And if there were 10 people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them. You're awake all the time. You don't have any problems, you don't even think about sleeping, you don't think to leave the checkpoint."
The drug, which comes in the form of small pills, was heavily produced in Lebanon until recently, when Syria surpassed Lebanon as a major producer. A 2014 report in The Guardian highlighted the impact of the Syrian civil war on Captagon's production: "Production in Lebanon's Bekaa valley — a traditional [center] for the drug — fell 90 percent last year from 2011, with the decline largely attributed to production inside Syria."
Aside from war zones, the stimulant is also popular in Saudi Arabia, where about a third of the manufactured supply is delivered, according to The Washington Post. Despite its popularity in the Middle East, Captagon is virtually unheard of in the West.
As long as war rages in the region, there's nothing stopping the widespread production of Captagon, Khabib Ammar, a Damascus-based media activist, told Reuters in a 2014 report.
"These days, the criminals and addicts do whatever they want," Ammar told Reuters. "They've increased because of hunger, poverty and lack of work."