Two separate Reuters and Time investigations have revealed the drug Captagon is widely abused by Syrian soldiers on both sides of the civil war to keep them awake, alert, and, more concerningly, addicted. Although users believe the drug bestows them with “special powers,” it’s actually a highly dangerous amphetamine that’s banned throughout most of the world.

Captagon (fenethylline) was first developed in the 1960s as a treatment for hyperactivity, narcolepsy, and depression. But by the 1980s the drug was banned in most countries for being too addictive. Sometimes referred to as a “smart drug” or “nootropic,” Captagon acts like most amphetamines, giving users a euphoric sensation, making them more talkative, staving off sleep and hunger, and providing a burst of energy. One drug trafficker in Lebanon told Newsweek some users even believe “it gives them special powers for sex” — though other research suggests this isn’t true.

As one of the cheapest narcotics in the Middle East, Captagon has become popular due to the breakdown of state infrastructure, which has led to the civil war. "The use of Captagon and other pills increased after the revolution even among civilians because of psychological and economic pressures," a Syrian psychiatrist, who treated Captagon users and chose to be called George, told Reuters.

With rising tensions, however, the country has become not only the biggest consumer of the drug but also the biggest producer. Its sales profits have reportedly been used to pay for guns and other weapons, which are then taken into the field where soldiers full of Captagon are able to fight longer hours without feeling tired despite little sleep.

In a recent interview with Reuters, a drug control officer in the Syrian city of Homs explained how the drug's effects on Syrian soldiers are highly evident, especially when they are captured for questioning. “We would beat them, and they wouldn't feel the pain. Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows,” the drug control officer explained. “We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier.”

Along with its addictive properties, amphetamines are known to cause blurred vision, nervousness, pounding in the ears, shakiness, and, in rare cases, hallucinations and severe mental changes. Amphetamine overdoses can also cause fainting, fever, seizures, and vomiting. The drug is cheap and easy to produce, usually made with ingredients like caffeine. What’s more, Lebanese psychiatrist Ramzi Haddad told Reuters that a person needs "only basic knowledge of chemistry and a few scales" to make the drug.

Pro-Syrian government propaganda often portrays opposition soldiers, many of whom use the drug, as nonbeliever terrorists — Islamic law prohibits the use of any controlled substance. Yet, considering the two reports, it seems the government is just as guilty.