Here's how ISIS uses amphetamines to create brainwashed, psychotic killing-machines
Islamic State (IS) militants threatened to kill British hostage David Haines in a chilling video that was released on September 2, 2014 (AFP/SITE Intelligence Group)

U.S. officials are reporting that ISIS is supplying its fighters with an amphetamine called "Captagon". This Adderall for jihadists—or as Stephen Colbert has called it, “Jihadderall”—allows soldiers to fight for days on end without sleep, and instills in them a feeling of invincibility. One captured ISIS militant told CNN that these pills have effects that “make you go to battle not caring if you live or die.” But in addition to powerful side effects that include both auditory and visual hallucinations, scientific studies show that long term amphetamine use can damage areas of the brain that lead to more psychotic behavior, as well as a hindered ability to doubt or resist instruction. As a result, Captagon may be creating an army of brainwashed, psychotic, fearless fighters who won’t think twice about harming others or even themselves.

Courage Pills Or Crazy Pills?

After the ISIS attacks in Paris last month, French police raided a suburb and found needles that were used by the terrorists to inject Captagon, presumably to allow them to keep calm as they carried out the barbaric attack. Reports from Kurdish civilians who escaped ISIS forces in the Syrian city of Kobane described them as drug crazed. “They are filthy, with straggly beards and long black nails. They have lots of pills with them that they all keep taking. It seems to make them more crazy if anything.”

In recent years, the drug has become increasingly popular all over the Middle East, generating millions of dollars in revenue inside Syria alone. Many experts believe that ISIS is also trafficking the drug to help finance their war.

Captagon was originally developed in the 1960s as a drug used to treat hyperactivity disorders, but was later banned for causing serious hallucinations and being highly addictive. It is much cheaper and easier to make than most amphetamines, and is mass-produced in Lebanon for just pennies. This may allow ISIS to distribute it widely amongst its fighters, but also to make a high profit off trafficking, since the drug is often sold for around $20 a pill in Saudi Arabia.

Amphetamine And The Brain

So what kind of effects are these amphetamines having on the brains of ISIS members, and how is it affecting their behavior over the long term? Brain imaging studies from neuroscience have shown that repeated amphetamine use changes certain functions of the brain by deactivating electrical circuitry in a region known as the prefrontal cortex. This brain area is important for many critical roles, like impulse-control, rational decision-making, and the ability to doubt new knowledge.

Over time, amphetamine abuse leads to psychosis—a mental and emotional disorder so severe that one gets detached from external reality. It is quite likely that drug-fueled ISIS fighters are experiencing many of the symptoms and confused brain states commonly seen in schizophrenics. There aren’t many things more terrifying than hallucinating, increasingly psychotic murderers and rapists who believe they are on a holy mission from God.

Damaged Brains = Brainwashing Made Easy

Just as disturbing is the fact that the amphetamines being constantly consumed by these blood-thirsty addicts are also dissolving their free will, making their brainwashing so concrete that all hope of reversing their mental state to a rational one disappears. Since the prefrontal cortex is necessary for the ability to doubt or be skeptical of new information, dysfunction in this area caused by Captagon is making more obedient soldiers who are precisely programmed to wage jihad and slaughter innocent civilians.

No Rationalizing With The Irrational

Determining how to fight ISIS most effectively requires understanding the mindset of the terrorists. From the reports detailing widespread Captagon use by ISIS members, we can ascertain that we are at war with drug-crazed jihadists who only become more psychotic and brainwashed over time. ISIS is creating an army of unpredictable tweekers that are progressively less concerned with the moral and ethical consequences of their actions. We cannot rationalize with this enemy, and we should not expect any sort of empathy from them. As such, there is no room for negotiation. Perhaps the only answer is to aggressively exterminate them with potent force and no dialogue or diplomacy.