Japanese called the war stimulants “drug to inspire the fighting spirits”

Friday, November 12th, 2021

I recently listened to Peter Attia’s interview with David Nutt, Director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences at the Imperial College London, in which the good doctor made a few comments on amphetamines in World War 2.

Now, I read (and commented on) Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich a couple years ago, so I knew the Germans had used Pervitin, or methamphetamine, extensively in their Blitzkrieg invasion of France, but Nutt noted that the Desert Rats in North Africa used the less-powerful American drug Benzedrine, or amphetamine sulfate, to great effect, by harassing the Germans all night and sleeping through the next day — while the meth-agitated Germans stayed awake, unable to sleep.

He also mentioned that the Japanese used massive amounts of amphetamines — which seems unsurprising, but rarely mentioned. In fact, there were still huge stashes of amphetamines after the war:

The tablets were distributed to pilots for long flights and to soldiers for combat, under the trade name Philopon (also known as Hiropin). In addition, the government gave munitions workers and those laboring in other defense-related factories methamphetamine tablets to increase their productivity.

Japanese called the war stimulants “senryoku zokyo zai” or “drug to inspire the fighting spirits.” Defense workers ingested these drugs to help boost their output. In the all-out push to increase production, strong prewar inhibitions against drug use were swept aside. It is not difficult to understand why. As researchers such as political scientist Lukasz Kamienski have documented, total war required total mobilization, from factory to battlefield. Pilots, soldiers, naval crews, and laborers were all routinely pushed beyond their natural limits to stay awake longer and work harder. In this context, taking stimulants was seen as a patriotic duty.

Kamikaze pilots took large doses of methamphetamine, via injection, before their suicide missions. They were also given pep pills stamped with the crest of the emperor. These consisted of methamphetamine mixed with green tea powder and were called Totsugeki-Jo or Tokkou-Jo, known otherwise as “storming tablets.” Most kamikaze pilots were young, often only in their late teens. Before the injection of Philopon, the pilots undertook a warrior ceremony in which they were presented with sake, wreaths of flowers, and decorated headbands.


Upon surrendering in 1945, the country had massive stores of Hiropin in warehouses, military hospitals, supply depots, and caves peppered throughout its territories. Some of the supply was sent to public dispensaries for distribution as medicine, but the rest was diverted to the black market rather than destroyed. There, the country’s Yakuza crime syndicate took over much of the distribution, and the drug trade would eventually become its most important source of revenue.

Any tablets not diverted to illicit markets remained in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. In the wake of the traumas and dislocations of the war, a depressed and humiliated population offered an easy target. As Kamienski noted, “The pharmaceutical industry advertised stimulants as a perfect means of boosting the war-weary population and restoring confidence after a painful and debilitating defeat.” The drug companies mounted advertising campaigns to encourage consumers to purchase over-the-counter medicine sold as “wake-a-mine.” The product was pitched as offering “enhanced vitality.” In No Speed Limit: The Highs and Lows of Meth, journalist Frank Owen reports that these companies also sold “hundreds of thousands of pounds” of “military-made liquid meth” left over from the war to consumers, who did not need a prescription to purchase the drug.

With an estimated 5 percent of Japanese people between the ages of 18 and 25 taking the drug, many became intravenous addicts in the early 1950s.


  1. Adar says:

    “the country’s Yakuza crime syndicate took over much of the distribution, and the drug trade would eventually become its most important source of revenue.”

    Prostitution as catering to the American GI also a large source of income for the Yakuza post-war. Seed money for other ventures sort of like prohibition alcohol was for the American mafia.

  2. Bruce Purcell says:

    When I read Ethan Watters Crazy Like Us, I felt bad about innocent Japanese being addicted to opioids by US Big Pharma who already caused the US fentanyl epidemic. Then Scott Alexander, an actual psychologist, reviewed the book, and he was impressed, but not totally convinced. And I started to wonder, how are these Japanese so innocent about drug use that US Big Pharma can sucker them? The fellows I’ve met from Japan have not been naive.

  3. Isegoria says:

    PBS’s World War Speed looks at amphetamine use by the Germans and the Allies:

    In 1942, commanding officer Bernard Montgomery is brought in to Northern Africa to boost the morale of British troops fighting in the region. In the film, Holland discovers a document from Montgomery’s medical officer, Q.V. Wallace, revealing that troops involved in the opening stages of the battle of El Alamein were given Benzedrine, providing evidence that orders for the drug came straight from the top of British command. The memo also makes clear that the British 24th Armored Tank Brigade soldiers were prescribed 20 milligrams of Benzedrine per day — twice the amount recommended to RAF pilots — prior to the second battle of El Alamein in Egypt.

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