Amphetamines, capitalism's first 'performance enhancing' drug
Published Dec 20, 2007 1:17 AM
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.” (www.allpositiveoptions.com)
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
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