From the Ancient Greeks to modern soldiers in the Middle East, wartime has been almost synonymous with drug use. Here are 13 times soldiers used drugs to enhance their skills in battle, or drown out the sorrows of war altogether.
Wine And Opium For Greek Warriorstheinkbrain.files.wordpress.com
Soldiers and warriors have been using drugs to amp up for battle (and quell their emotions afterwards) as far back as the Classical Age. According to author Shane Blackman, Greek and Roman warriors associated drugs with fearlessness, luxury, and even deception—and used everything from wine to opium to fuel themselves for battle. In Homer's "The Odyssey," Helen of Troy actually pumps up exhausted warriors with a drug called nepenthe, which she obtained from an Egyptian woman. In Greek society, it also wasn't uncommon for soldiers to guzzle down opium spiked wine, cakes, and candies in order to bring themselves back to a "vegetative nature."
The Vikings Loved Magic MushroomsCarl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Of course, Greeks aside, some of the most famous drug users in history are probably the Viking Berserkers. Viking warriors were arguably the most manly and fierce men of all time—they ravaged cities in a flurry of axes, animal furs, and blood, and were regarded for their super-human strength. According to Norse folklore, the warriors were a gang of men who worshipped Odin and could be bought as "shock troops." The warriors were thought to have used amanita muscaria, otherwise known as magic mushrooms, to contact animal spirits before they went into battle. Some historians believe the men were high on mushrooms when they overtook their enemies in war and this may have allowed them to fight in a trance without feeling pain.
Alcoholism During The Napoleonic Warswarof1812.ca
Considering how often the Vikings and Greeks partook in drug-related activities, it should be no surprise that European soldiers did the same while fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Between 1803 and 1815, French soldiers partook in a series of battles between France and all of Europe; they fought against drunken British navy and infantrymen, who were encouraged to drink heavily to stave off diseases. Additionally, it was thought that consuming high levels of alcohol would help soldiers bond and improve morale. However, the high alcohol consumption usually backfired with soldiers rebelling against higher-ranking officers.
Big Surprise: Opium Addicts During The First Opium WarNutty History
While soldiers drank heavily during the Napoleonic Wars, British and Chinese soldiers were hooked on the good stuff by the time the First Opium War rolled around in 1839. Fittingly, the war where so many soldiers partook in smoking opium was actually fought over the drug itself. At the time, the United Kingdom was importing huge amounts of opium and it was making its way over to China, where the Qing Dynasty believed it was devastating their population. In 1838, the British sold nearly 1.4 tons of opium a year to China, so there was certainly no shortage of the drug. When British soldiers showed up to combat with the Chinese, the opium-addicted Chinese soldiers were quickly overtaken. An estimated 90 percent of the Chinese soldiers were addicted to opium, which actually made them terrible soldiers and gave the British a huge advantage in the war.
Civil War Soldiers Loved Their MorphineSoldier Studies
Between 1861 and 1865, the Civil War ravaged the United States, and began a love affair between soldiers and the wonder drug of the century, morphine. Morphine was discovered in 1831, and was promptly used in hospitals to treat wounded Civil War soldiers. Soldiers would apply morphine in powder form directly to their wounds on the battlefield, and the advent of the syringe made it a popular drug in hospitals. Wounded soldiers staying in infirmary's would be loaded up on morphine to aide their rest and recovery, and after several successful uses, the drug became (and remains) popular in hospitals in the U.S. Unfortunately, the drug was also incredibly addictive, and nearly 400,000 Civil War soldiers became addicted to the drug.
THC, Magic Mushrooms, And The Anglo ZuluPrint Collector/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In the late 1800s, the British Empire had come out of its war with China and began colonizing what is now South Africa. The British set their sights on the Zulu Kingdom, which extended along the Indian Ocean and dominated much of the country. The British government desperately wanted to take control of the area, but the Zulu King was determined not to go down without a fight. Although the British had far superior weapons, Zulu warriors were so hopped up on drugs the British army almost lost the war. The African warriors loaded up on a potent snuff that had high levels of THC, and combined it with hallucinogenic mushrooms for an effect that made them feel utterly invincible.
Out With The Hard Drugs, In With The Smokes During WWIUniversal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Morphine was used heavily during the Civil War, but eventually the government was forced to address the large number of addicted soldiers and actually classified the drug as a controlled substance. With that in mind, the government was wary about creating a new generation of addicts when they entered into World War I in 1917. However, the government and military were aware that soldiers needed some kind of stimulation to fight the war, and turned their attention to cigarettes. They provided each soldier with a smoking kit, hoping the tobacco would help them calm down and cope with the hardship of war.
Stirring Up Soldiers With Amphetamines During WWIICentral Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Surprisingly, this attitude about lessening addiction was totally thrown out the window during World War II. Aside from packing their cigarettes and booze, soldiers during World War II were also given amphetamines to help them stay awake. American, British, German, and Japanese soldiers were all given government issued amphetamines during the war, mainly with the objective of increasing their strength and heightening their ability to get pumped up for battle. Curiously, the Nazi's were against recreational drug use, but encouraged their soldiers to get high on morphine, cocaine, and even crystal meth.
Marijuana Use During The Vietnam WarIan Brodie/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
No war is more synonymous with drug addiction than the Vietnam War. Vietnam is actually known as "the first pharmacological war" because so many military personnel used psychoactive substances. Fittingly, many soldiers in Vietnam experimented with marijuana, which makes sense because at the same time many people in the U.S. were interested in the drug as well. Marijuana was cheap and easy to get, which made it a prime drug of choice for soldiers whittling away their time between battles. However, by 1968, the military decided to crack down on marijuana use, and desperate soldiers turned to heroin instead.
Heroin Use During The Vietnam Warpointsadhsblog.files.wordpress.com
The Vietnam War was brutal for soldiers; it lasted nearly 20 years, and in that time 15 to 20 percent of American veterans became addicted to heroin, with about 40 percent experimenting with the drug while in Vietnam. Soldiers were inundated with stress and violence, and many turned to heroin use to drown out the pain. As a result, many addicted soldiers were able to kick the habit when they returned to their lives back home, but a percentage of veterans came back in the 1970s and were addicts with a serious problem.
Child Victims Of The Sierra Leone Civil War-/AFP/Getty Images
Perhaps the only thing more sinister than war itself is forcing a child to fight in it. That was the case with the Civil War in Sierra Leone, where children were kidnapped and transformed into drug-addicted foot soldiers. Evil warmongers rounded up thousands of children and got them hooked on a combination of amphetamines, cocaine, and gunpowder. The gang leaders would cut the children's temples, mix the drug into their wounds, and then cover it with tape. Before long, the children were brainwashed into joining the army and were convinced to partake in extremely violent activities.
Turning To Prescription Pills During The War In Iraqtheamericanconservative.com
While soldiers in Vietnam turned to drugs like marijuana and heroin for relief, those fighting in the war in Iraq in the early 2000s were more pill-addicted than ever. Soldiers were given high levels of prescription drugs to treat a variety of ailments, and it's estimated that drug use among military personnel more than doubled between 2002 and 2005. Additionally, a large number of Iraqi policemen also became prescription drug addicts, with most of them turning to Artane. The drug, which is normally used to treat Parkinson's disease, is said to give the user energy and courage.
Heroin, Opium, And The War In AfghanistanAndrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images
In addition to being one of the longest wars in history, the war in Afghanistan has also led to a huge influx of drug abuse amongst American troops. While members of the Taliban are strictly forbidden from using drugs, the area is ripe with drugs like opium and heroin, and it's estimated that nearly $160 million of drug money goes directly to funding the Taliban. So although many soldiers don't partake in the drug, the drugs do contribute a great deal of financing to the terrorist organization and aide in getting Americans addicted to the drugs.