Ukraine soldiers have wondered if Russians advancing into 'certain death' in Bakhmut were on drugs. Here are 5 surprising times troops have used performance-enhancing drugs during war
Ukrainian soldiers have wondered if Russians advancing on Bakhmut may be on drugs.
No evidence has emerged to show that Russia is giving drugs to soldiers.
But performance-enhancing drug use has been prevalent among troops from different countries since at least World War I.
Ukrainian soldiers recently wondered aloud whether Russians fighting for the country's mercenary Wagner forces in the key city of Bakhmut were on drugs as they advanced to "certain death," according to The New York Times.
No evidence has emerged that Russia or the Wagner Group is giving their troops drugs. But it wouldn't be a surprise. Performance-enhancing drug use among soldiers has been commonplace throughout history.
British stores sold syringes of heroin as gifts to send to troops during World War I
During World War I, British department stores — including the famous Harrods — sold "kits" that came filled with syringes, needles, cocaine, and heroin, according to the BBC.
The kits were marketed as gifts for friends and family members who were serving on the frontlines to comfort them as they dealt with the horrors of the war, according to the outlet.
Women often bought these kinds of kits and took them to train stations to give to their boyfriends or husbands who were shipping out, according to Volteface, a London-based advocacy group that promotes policies to reduce the harm caused by drug use.
Harrods also offered small packs of morphine and cocaine "complete with syringe and spare needles," according to the advocacy group.
The Nazis gave meth to their soldiers during World War II to give them a boost
Nazi Germany touted methamphetamine as a "miracle product" when the drug first entered the commercial market in the late 1930s. The excitement stood in sharp contrast to the Nazi Party's general stance that drugs were considered a sign of weakness, according to TIME.
German soldiers who invaded Poland in September 1939 used methamphetamine in the drug's "first real military test" in the field for the Nazis, according to TIME.
The drug would go on to play a major role in the Third Reich. As it focused on physical and mental superiority, Nazi troops used it for hyper-alertness and vigilance, the outlet reported.
Blitzkrieg, the form of Nazi warfare that consisted of fast, unsuspected, mechanized attacks on enemy troops, was "guided by methamphetamine," historian Peter Steinkamp told the outlet.
While Nazis were the most enthusiastic adopters of the drug, allied forces also used meth during World War II to increase "confidence and aggression" and "elevate morale," according to a report in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History.
Russia gave its frontline soldiers rations of vodka during World War II
During World War II, meanwhile, the Russians relied on alcohol to get through the war. Whether or not it enhanced their performance, however, is another matter.
In World War II, Russia's Ministry of Defense gave each soldier on the front lines a 100-gram ration of vodka — which was called the "commissar's ration." The policy was widely criticized in the country — especially by doctors.
In a report published by the Russian Studies department at Macalester College, vodka has been a "featured player" in the Russian military since the late 1800s.
Many historians attribute Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 to vodka use among the Russian troops, which decreased morale and impaired their abilities so much that the army began giving out beer and wine instead by the end of the war, according to the report.
The US military gave troops speed and painkillers during the Vietnam War
The US military distributed painkillers and "pep pills" to soldiers heading into long-range reconnaissance missions and ambushes, according to The Atlantic.
The military gave 20 milligrams of dextroamphetamine to soldiers for 48 hours of combat readiness, but the men rarely followed the recommended doses, according to the report.
A 1971 report by the House Select Committee on Crime found that troops had used 225 million tablets of stimulants from 1966 to 1969.
The stimulants used by US troops during the Vietnam War were nearly twice as strong as the amphetamines used during World War II, according to The Atlantic.
Drug use in general among American troops skyrocketed during the Vietnam War. Soldiers used using marijuana, psychedelics such as LSD and mushrooms, and even hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, according to History.com.
A 1971 Department of Defense report indicated that 51% of US Armed Forces had smoked marijuana, according to the outlet.
The US allows Native Americans in the military to use peyote
While not an example of performance-enhancing drug use, it's worth noting that the US military allows limited drug use for religious reasons.
The US Military allowed Native American troops to use peyote, a psychoactive plant that can cause hallucinations, beginning in 1997, according to The Associated Press.
Peyote is considered sacred among many Native American tribes and is used during religious services. The military only allowed Native American troops to use the drug for religious services.
"If they're using peyote in their religious practice, it's a sacrament, not a drug, just as sacramental wine is not considered a drug,″ a Pentagon spokesperson told the AP at the time.
In 2020, the Department of Defense amended the decision. It still allows indigenous troops to use the drug as a part of their religion, but it puts "reasonable limitations on the use, possession, transportation, or distribution of peyote" among troops.
Military service members may not use peyote while on duty or within 24 hours before a scheduled duty shift, according to the DOD.
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