Many people wonder how ISIS fighters can stomach the thought of killing innocent people. Some say that these fighters are brain-washed by charismatic leaders, while others surmise that they’re attracted to the thought of fighting for a seemingly holy cause and/or proving their masculinity.
All of these might be true, but experts suggest that there’s another reason: ISIS fighters may be on drugs.
But not just any drug. Authorities suspect that they’re taking Captagon, a tiny but extremely powerful pill that quickly produces intense feelings of euphoria. Casual users in the Middle East, who appeared on a BBC documentary, revealed that Captagon made them fearless and powerful and caused them to feel like they own the world. One user commented that he couldn’t sleep after taking the drug, no matter how he tried to close his eyes.
Ex-Syrian fighters seem to agree. One ex-fighter who was interviewed by the BBC revealed that he was introduced to the pill by his brigade leader. After taking the drug, he felt physically fit and was awake all the time, without getting tired or feeling the need to sleep. He also became fearless and courageous and felt that he could follow whatever his leader ordered with a brave heart.
These testimonials might make Captagon sound like a super-pill that ISIS leaders concocted to feed to their men. But this isn’t really the case. Captagon is derived from a synthetic medication known as fenethylline (a stimulant) which was widely available in Western countries in the 1960s and was used to treat patients with depression, narcolepsy, and hyperactivity. However, long-term use exposed the drug’s intense addictive effects, leading many countries (including the United States) to ban it.
But this didn’t exactly stop people from using the drug, and it became popular in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest consumers of the drug, with seven tons (or around one-third of the global supply) landing in the country in 2010. Syria, which is known for being a stopover for drug deliveries from Europe to the Middle East, even took things a step further by producing its own Captagon (which is easy to manufacture using legal materials).
Captagon might be tiny, but it seems to be playing a huge role in ISIS’s battle against the world. Illegal sales of the drug inject millions into Syria’s black-market economy, and experts assume that a large portion of this money ends up in ISIS’s hands. So, aside from making fighters brave and causing them to kill mercilessly, Captagon may also be contributing to the organization’s coffers and giving it the finances to buy weapons and other equipment.
This seems to be well and good for ISIS, but what about its fighters? According to doctors, long-term use of the drugs can result to psychosis, brain damage, and other dangerous side effects. So, while Islamic State fighters might feel like they’re Superman now, they most likely won’t feel so super later.
And it doesn’t stop there. As long as ISIS fighters are on Captagon, they’ll continue to feel the euphoria that lets them harm people and claim innocent lives. It’s a vicious cycle that’s fueled by a tiny but highly dangerous pill.