Fenethylline (BAN, USAN), also spelled phenethylline and fenetylline (INN), and also known as amphetaminoethyltheophylline and amfetyline, is a chemical linkage of amphetamine and theophylline which behaves as a prodrug to both of the aforementioned drugs. It is marketed for use as a psychostimulant under the brand names Captagon, Biocapton, and Fitton.
Fenethylline was first synthesized by the German Degussa AG in 1961 and used for around 25 years as a milder alternative to amphetamine and related compounds. Although there are no FDA-approved indications for fenethylline, it was used in the treatment of "hyperkinetic children" (what would now be referred to as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and, less commonly, for narcolepsy and depression. One of the main advantages of fenethylline was that it does not increase blood pressure to the same extent as amphetamine and so could be used in patients with cardiovascular conditions.
Fenethylline was considered to have fewer side effects and less potential for abuse than amphetamine. Nevertheless, fenethylline was listed in 1981 as a schedule I controlled substance in the US, and it became illegal in most countries in 1986 after being listed by the World Health Organization for international scheduling under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, even though the actual incidence of fenethylline abuse was quite low.
Fenethylline is metabolized by the body to form two drugs, amphetamine (24.5% of oral dose) and theophylline (13.7% of oral dose), both of which are active stimulants. The physiological effects of fenethylline therefore result from a combination of these two compounds.
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Abuse of fenethylline of the brand name Captagon is most common in Arab countries and counterfeit versions of the drug continue to be available despite its illegality.
Many of these counterfeit "Captagon" tablets actually contain other amphetamine derivatives that are easier to produce, but are pressed and stamped to look like Captagon pills. Some counterfeit Captagon pills analysed do contain fenethylline however, indicating that illicit production of this drug continues to take place.
Fenethylline is a popular drug in Western Asia, and is allegedly used by militant groups in Syria. It is manufactured locally in a cheap and simple process and it sells for between $5 and $20. According to some leaks, militant groups also export the drug in exchange for weapons and cash. According to Abdelelah Mohammed Al-Sharif, secretary general of the National Committee for Narcotics Control and assistant director of Anti-Drug and Preventative Affairs, 40% of the drug users who fall in the 12–22 age group in Saudi Arabia are addicted to fenethylline.
"SUPER HUMAN STRENGTH"
Captagon won't turn anyone into the Hulk or even give them superhuman abilities. ISIS aren't alone among military forces in the use of performance-enhancing drugs — it's something the US military does, too.
You should be skeptical of any media reports that describe a drug as giving someone superhuman abilities. This trope has been used to demonize drugs and their users throughout history, particularly in racist ways. But no drug that we know of is capable of turning someone into Superman or Luke Cage.
Its name has been applied to counterfeit tablets that often contain amphetamine and caffeine or, less frequently, methamphetamine and ephedrine.
These tablets, like other amphetamine-based drugs, provide a boost of energy, enhance someone's focus, let someone stay awake for longer periods of time, and produce a feeling of euphoria. But they won't cause someone to gain superhuman alertness, bravery, strength, or pain resistance.
Indeed, former fighters in Syria have told media outlets that the drug helped them fight. "So the brigade leader came and told us, 'This pill gives you energy. Try it,'" one ex-fighter told BBC. "So we took it the first time. You feel physically fit. And if there were 10 people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them. You're awake all the time. You don't have any problems. You don't even think about sleeping. You don't think to leave the checkpoint. It gives you great courage and power. If the leader told you to go break into a military barracks, I will break in with a brave heart and without any feeling of fear at all — you're not even tired."
Captagon is not going to explain any outrageous brutality on the part of ISIS. Implying the brutality of ISIS is somehow a product of amphetamine abuse is unfounded and reductionist. The same amphetamine psychosis explanation has been used for everyone from Jeffrey MacDonald to Adolf Hitler and Nazi blitzkrieg. I don't find it to be a particularly satisfying explanation.
Time's Aryn Baker reported:
In terms of pure profit, it’s hard to beat amphetamines. Unlike cocaine and heroin, the base ingredients are easy, and even legal, to obtain. A pill that costs pennies to produce in Lebanon retails for up to $20 a pop in Saudi Arabia, where some 55 million Captagon tablets are seized a year — a number that even Saudi officials admit amounts to only 10% of the overall total that actually makes it into the kingdom, according to the UNODC World Drug Report and a not-yet-published E.U. assessment of drug trafficking in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia alone accounts for more than one-third of global amphetamines seizures a year, and three-quarters of patients treated for drug problems there are addicted to amphetamines, almost exclusively in the form of Captagon. Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE have reported similar spikes in multimillion-tablet seizures of the drug in the past two years.
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