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Captagon – The Smart Drug Fuelling Syria’s Civil War

Syrian Civil War

There’s been a lot of news coming out of Syria and the Middle East about a “new amphetamine” that is coming to dominate the war economy. Since most of Syria’s infrastructure and economy has been destroyed by civil war, the major moneymaker has become arms deals and drug sales, but specifically sales of a drug called “Captagon”.

There’s a lot of talk in the news about this “scary new drug,” but what concerns us is, what is Captagon really? What was it intended for? And why is a Nootropics blog covering Captagon?

Captagon’s other name is Fenethylline. Looking at the structure of the molecule, one can see that it’s a combination of d-amphetamine and theophylline. It doesn’t appear to be active in its own right, but it’s a prodrug that the liver separates into both of these compounds. When Captagon is taken, it becomes in vivo d-amphetamine and theophylline, and these two new compounds are absorbed into the blood stream, and can now cross the blood brain barrier and become centrally active.

d-amphetamine: We have pretty extensively covered d-amphetamine in our Adderall section. d-amphetamine makes up 75% of Adderall by weight, so we understand the left half of the Captagon molecule. Once broken down and released into the blood stream, the d-amphetamine effects become apparent. This is very similar to Vyvanse, in which d-amphetamine is joined to L-lysine, which is an amino acid. Using the Vyvanse analogy, we can assume that the d-amphetamine release from taking captagon is rate-limited by the liver’s ability to convert the molecule into its constituent parts. This causes an effect similar to a built-in time-release mechanism. I was unable to find the effective half-life, but would expect it to be similar to Vyvanse’s.


Theophylline: Captagon’s “other half” is Theophylline. Theophylline is a chemical of the Xanthine class. The most recognizable Xanthine is Caffeine. The Xanthine family is made of up Caffeine, Theobromine, and Theophylline. Theophylline is found naturally in cocoa beans, black tea, green tea, and has a half-life of 5-8 hours. The effects of Theophylline are subjectively and objectively very close to Caffeine



So what is Captagon? In the end, Captagon could be considered to be a time-release pill containing Theophylline and Amphetamine. The effects subjectively would be very similar to taking Adderall XR and drinking tea or coffee. The effects are going to be milder than the same dose of Adderall, because half of the molecule being a Xanthine. There are some interesting effects on blood pressure, as Theophylline is a vasodilator while Amphetamine is a vasoconstrictor.

What was Captagon originally intended for? Captagon was originally designed by Degussa AG, a German pharmaceutical company infamous for being the inventors of Zyklon B, used to gas people during the Holocaust. Captagon was invented in 1961 as an alternative to straight Amphetamine to treat ADHD, to work as an antidepressant, and to treat narcolepsy. It is of lower abuse potential than Amphetamine, and is actually quite comparable to Vyvanse in terms of effects. Essentially while not a nootropic, Captagon was designed to be a “smart drug” with a lower side effect and abuse potential than Adderall.

Why is Captagon currently the drug of choice for the Syrian Civil War? Captagon allows soldiers to fight longer hours without fatigue. It doesn’t give the same level of rush or euphoria or mania that straight amphetamine would, but it allows soldiers to function for extended periods of time on little sleep and without significant decreases in alertness or performance. Eventually these soldiers are going to burn out, but it allows them to keep fighting, and potentially even to stay alive.


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  3. Howie   •  

    Wow! This is incredibly interesting. I came across your article about Captagon after reading an article on Forbes that also spoke about some of the effects of Captagon and reasons it is being commonly used by soldiers in the Syrian Civil War.

    What I find to be so interesting is how closely related it is to some of the prescription “smart drugs” on the market that are being regularly prescribed for attention deficit disorders. We have such clear evidence of Amphetamines like Adderall and Vyvanse or Ritalin potentially having, even more, serious side effects, not to mention the potential for abuse, yet the nootropics industry still struggles to be taken seriously.

    Now, I am not saying that prescription drugs like Adderall and Vyvanse, Ritalin, etc. are not effective or don’t serve their purpose for specific people, times, and places. However, so many people are still not informed or misinformed about nootropics, many of which can prove to be safer and equally effective alternatives for many people.

    Many times the media paints a picture of nootropics and/or “smart drug” supplements in a negative light or use poor examples of false advertising and extreme hype marketing from the low-quality, bottom of the barrel products in their discussions, instead of addressing the positive potential and limited side effects that nootropic ingredients and stacks can have for so many people around the world.

    I can, at least, understand why the FDA and perhaps, various government officials continue to share negative “opinions” about nootropic supplements, considering that at the end of the day, they are not getting their “piece of the pie” from the supplement industry. It is one of the primary reasons that I will not be surprised to see more than a few nootropics become available by prescription only.

    However, I wish more media outlets would start using their influence to talk about the many positive benefits that nootropics can provide to help people more safely and effectively improve things like focus, concentration, attention, memory while reducing stress, anxiety, cognitive decline and improving overall brain health.

    I guess it is up to people like you and me to harness the power of social media as best as possible to spread the word and share actual facts about nootropics, as well as talk about the many positive benefits that they can provide for a variety of people and purposes.

    Thanks for sharing an incredibly interesting article about Captagon! What would you say are the most significant differences between Captagon and a smart drug like Modafinil OR is it simply a matter of Captagon being more accessible in Syria? Do you feel that more nootropic supplements will start to become available by prescription only?

    I was surprised and incredibly disappointed by the FDA’s decision to ban Picamilon for virtually no good reason at all. The lack of evidence to show that it served any kind of negative effects were astounding. There is literally not one documented case of negative adverse effects from someone using Picamilon in the United States and virtually none worldwide, either. It is the decisions like these that concern me about the future of the nootropics industry.

    Thanks again for the insightful article and all the best!

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