In 1940, Hitler's Luftwaffe invaded allied air space and rained bombs on Great Britain. The Battle of Britain ensued, and in what Churchill called "their finest hour," the Royal Air Force successfully turned back the German menace. Sixty years later, the country of Shakespeare and the Sex Pistols is hyped up over yet another Nazi-related invasion in a different war that also started long ago -- the nearly century-old drug war. Today, a new form of speed that harks back to Nazi-era chemists is on the streets, and it's far more dangerous than those "mothers' little helpers" The Rolling Stones used to sing about.
Seems like every time the drug reform movement scores a few victories against prohibition a new, more powerful, instantly addicting, and totally deadly drug scourge appears, evidently out of nowhere. Last month, London's venerable Observer broke the news on the latest drug menace in subtle fashion: "Hitler's Drug Set to Invade British Clubs."
"Hitler's Drug," or "Nazi Speed," is popularly known as "yaba," a Thai word meaning "crazy medicine." The so-called "Nazi method" of making yaba was revived in Thailand about 30 years ago, and today the drug -- popular in discos but also found in high schools -- is creating one of the biggest youth drug problems in Southeast Asia. The effects are said to make it the most intense form of speed known, providing multiple hours of high energy and euphoria, followed by the inevitable speed crash. Available in pills or powder form, yaba, like crack, is sometimes smoked in a pipe with heroin, creating the infamous "speedball" effect.
According to The Observer, "yaba is heading for Britain, amid warnings that it could supercede ecstasy as the drug of choice for the country's clubbers." Heading for London... like a German V-2 rocket?
Maybe not. "In my opinion, yaba is crap," says "Huffalump," who admits having tried it. "I'm not a tweaker. For people that like to go fast, yaba is the thing. It is not a psychedelic amphetamine, or designer drug, as it has been incorrectly labeled in the press. The [Western] media has attempted to demonize it as 'Nazi Crank.' I truly doubt it will replace MDMA as the drug of choice in nightclubs. While I suspect that it will gain a sizable and steady market wherever it is introduced, it lacks the glitz and glamour that ravers crave."
Nonetheless, the U.S. drug czar and his U.K. counterpart (known there as the "czarette") and their PR flacks could hardly dream up a better propaganda coup. But apparently the DEA did not come up with this mother-of-all-drug-menace monikers. According to one disgruntled American chemist, some blabbermouth in the speed lab underground is responsible for popularizing the Nazi connection.
The Making of "Nazi Speed"
World War II was largely fought on speed. The American, British, German, and Japanese high commands gave massive quantities of amphetamines to their fighting men, particularly their air forces. Speed was systematically fed to troops to combat fatigue, heighten endurance, and elevate mood.
The primary energizers were Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and Methedrine. When the Nazis couldn't get the raw materials to continue producing amphetamines in the traditional manner (supplies of standard precursors had dwindled during the course of the long war), Merck Labs came up with something called the "iodophosphorus-ephedrine reaction."
Everything needed to produce yaba can be purchased legally and apparently you don't have to be a serious chemist to manufacture it. The cooking time is only a couple of hours, whereas traditional speed formulas take days. Forget the retort stand and Bunsen burner -- all you need is a casserole dish. One meth-lab buster compared making it to baking chocolate chip cookies.
The "Nazi method" employs the drug ephedrine, a natural stimulant found in the ephedra bush. (Far Eastern ephedra has a higher concentration of ephedrine than the Western plant.) Ephedrine is quite common, being frequently used in allergy and cold medicines. The other main ingredients of yaba can be found today in common household products: salt, cleaning products, and lithium from camera batteries.
According to The Observer, UK drug agents believe the recipe has spread from the "Golden Triangle" by word of mouth and on the Internet. Like the importation of the ecstasy dance scene, which British clubbers discovered while vacationing in Ibiza in the 1980s, demand for yaba in Britain is said by the Observer to be "fueled by holidaymakers returning from the Far East."
If one believes the British press (which is as misinformed and sensationalistic as the American press in matters of drug reporting), yaba has all the earmarks of a major drug menace. First, there's the Nazi lineage; second, you have the Golden Triangle origin (home of the opium poppy and cheap heroin); third and most importantly, it gets you wired big-time. The Observer, hitting the severe-abuse panic button, warns of intense hallucinations, including "speed bugs," a susceptibility to "severe depression and suicidal urges," and grievous bodily harm.
The New Crack, or a Phantom Menace?
Yaba has been known in the U.S. at least since 1996, showing up in Seattle after first appearing on the East Coast. The first reports of yaba in the American press appeared in the Seattle Times that year. A meth chemist, quoted on the origin of the Hitler/ Nazi link, lamented that "the cooks who call it the 'Nazi method' so they can sound bad-ass just gave the DEA another meaningless rhetorical piece of garbage they can use for propaganda."
And what a propaganda tool it is. Like crack and crank before it, yaba is tailor-made to strike fear into the hearts of soccer moms everywhere. Virtually every successful anti-drug campaign utilizes the mass media to alarm the general population with fears about a drug's:
- huge addiction potential (one hit may be enough to hook you for life)
- horrible side-effects (which may not be noticeable for years)
- potential to cause really bad behavior (users hurt themselves, are a threat to others, or both)
- creation and distribution by an insidious foreign power bent on destroying our will and our youth
- ease of manufacture from readily obtainable products even by idiots who've flunked high school chemistry
- effects being twenty times stronger nowadays than when YOU used it
- easily remembered moniker (dope, reefer, coke, crack, smack, crank, ice, glass, acid, angel dust, to name a few)
Yaba a.k.a. "Hitler's Drug" -- the pedigree alone makes it sound like the most dangerous drug in the world. It's as if that sick fuck has come back from the grave (or Argentina) to menace us once again. Of course, yaba could simply be yet another "new crack," arriving just in time to bolster public support for the ever-more-unpopular war on drugs.
In any case, there's an effective counter-spell that's been around since 1968. If someone offers you this drug and you feel menaced, remember the mantra: "Yaba-daba-doo. Speed kills (you)."
Michael Horowitz has been a drug historian for 30 years and has edited books by Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and Fitz Hugh Ludlow, among others. He also sells first editions of books by such writers by mail order.