During our journey through Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, the Shiite Beirut suburb of Dahyeh, and the border regions with Syria, we met men who’ve fought on opposite sides of the war in Syria: a longtime Hezbollah fighter, a former Jabhat al Nusra fighter, and a former DAESH member. They all spoke to us of "that pill" that turns men into superhuman fighters on the frontlines of the conflict.
That pill is captagon.
The imagery of the words they used to describe what it is like to be on was disturbing.
"We had a superior who would give it to us, our duty was to take the pill and when I took the pill if I was to see a Hezbollah fighter or a Syrian soldier, I would want to kill him and drink his blood. You stop thinking of your own family. When I take a pill I want to kill everyone," one of them told us.
Listening to these men it became easier to understand how the violence in Syria has become so spectacular in its cruelty.
Captagon is a combination drug that includes the psychoactive chemical amphetamine. When taken in high doses, everything - including killing - becomes quick and exciting.
Lebanon and Syria have been drug producers and transit countries throughout modern history and growers in the Bekaa Valley have been selling hashish for decades. During the Lebanese civil war, which coincided with the US-led so-called war on drugs, growers would plant huge sunflowers to hide their marijuana fields from view – and from aerial spraying and plant destruction.
Five years into the war in Syria, the Bekaa Valley is now also being associated with captagon – a drug far more dangerous than hashish. Dealers there are supplying millions of pills to fighters on the frontlines in Syria.
A pill costs 50 cents to produce and retails for $5 to $10. Internal Security officials told us captagon is now more profitable than cocaine or heroine. The trade has become such a problem that even the Lebanese Army is involved in cracking down on the captagon drug trade to Syria.
Has captagon played a role in fueling the incredible violence that’s left at least a quarter of a million Syrians dead by turning fighters into zombies unable to feel anything?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I started thinking about the war in Syria entering its fifth year. And I asked it to an established drug dealer in the Bekaa Valley.
"From the beginning these men don't have any emotions or feelings. The men are asking for a product and I want to sell," he told me. I don't feel guilty at all [for selling it to them].
Author: Zeina Awad
Photos: Charlotte Dubenskij