The Tyee has published my review of a remarkable book: How Nazi Germany Fought a War on Drugs. Excerpt:
Of all the thousands of books on Hitler, Blitzed seems to be the first to focus on the role of drugs in the Nazis’ conduct of the Second World War.
It puts Nazi Germany in a new perspective: a country and an army on speed, under the direction of a vegetarian drug addict. Blitzed is also a masterpiece of history as black humour, portraying a world ruled by fools and grotesques.
Even before the First World War, Germany was Big Pharma. Early in the 19th century, a German chemist named Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine, a key alkaloid in opium. In 1827, Emanuel Merck began producing consistently good morphine, launching a pharmaceutical company that still flourishes.
By 1850, injectable morphine was in use. In the U.S. Civil War and the brief and bloody Franco-Prussian War, Ohler writes, the discovery helped many wounded soldiers recover, if only to be sent back into combat.
Morphine was available without prescription and a key ingredient in many patent medicines. Cocaine, morphine’s opposite, was also widely available, an upper included in many products, including the early versions of Coca-Cola.
On Aug. 10, 1897, Felix Hoffman, a chemist with the Bayer company, synthesized acestylsalicylic acid from willow bark, Ohler writes. It went on sale as Aspirin and conquered the globe. Eleven days later, Hoffman invented another substance that was also to become world famous: diacetyl morphine, the first designer drug. Trademarked as “Heroin,” Bayer promoted it as children’s cough syrup and said it was good for babies with colic or sleeping problems.