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18 February 2014

Was Hitler a Drug-Addict?

The answer seems to be no.

Adolf Hitler with the trusted Dr. Theo Morell behind him. The trust was apparently not misplaced.

When people start from the premise given to us by old war-propaganda, that Adolf Hitler was a madman who made mad decisions, there is an impetus to try to determine what exactly caused this madness. Propaganda once accepted thus leads to grasping at straws in an effort to validate a lie. There is also a peculiar gratification for small souls in attributing madness or other character-defects to great men. Given the great multitude of small souls, there is also considerable profit in catering to such predilections.

In 1969 David Irving, perhaps exploiting the concerns of the time, wrote for Stern magazine that Hitler was addicted to cocaine and took hormones to stimulate his sex-drive (The Age, 18 June 1969). This later became the theme of one of Irving's books (Wie krank war Hitler wirklich?) and the claim that Hitler was a cocaine-addict still reverberates in sensationalist mass-media.

In 1979 psychiatrist Leonard Heston, relying on the memoir of the unreliable Albert Speer, speculated that Hitler's judgment was distorted by amphetamines. Heston came to this conclusion because, while accepting the premise that Hitler's judgment was bad, he determined that Hitler did not have syphilis1, schizophrenia, or manic-depressive disorder. Overuse of amphetamines was thus left as a possible explanation for Hitler's presumed poor judgment that could also account for his trembling hands. (AP, 15 June 1979) Heston rejected Parkinson's disease as the explanation for Hitler's tremors, claiming that the tremors did not fit the disease's normal pattern: other physicians have disagreed with Heston about this.

The major turning point in the question occurred when German authors entered the fray, rejecting the premise (derived from Anglo-American propaganda) that Hitler suffered any madness that required explanation.

In 1985 Ernst Günther Schenck, a physician in charge of nutrition for the German Army who was present at Hitler's last medical consultation in April 1945 and later wrote a book (Patient A) about Hitler's relationship with his personal physician, was quoted in American Medical News to the effect that Hitler was neither clinically insane nor chemically dependent on drugs. Schenck says that  Hitler's regular injections consisted of vitamins mixed with glucose and caffeine. Hitler was not a regular user of any stronger drug, but was given them on occasion: codeine and cocaine for colds, strong painkillers and barbiturates for cramps and colitis (an intermittent condition in most people that suffer it). By the end of his life, Hitler showed obvious symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and also had a heart problem that was treated with nitroglycerin and digitalis. Schenck says that medically there was nothing unusual about Hitler. (AP, 10 October 1985)

In 2010 the book War Hitler Krank? by Henrik Eberle and Hans-Joachim Neumann (published in English in 2012 as Was Hitler Ill?), offered generally the same assessment as Schenck. They write that "at no time did Hitler suffer from pathological delusions,"2 and they find no indication that Dr. Theodor Morell was anything other than a competent and ethical physician. 

There is some controversy about Hitler's alleged use of methamphetamine (also known as methyl-amphetamine), which had been available in Germany as an over-the-counter drug under the brand-name Pervitin since 1938. The quantity of methamphetamine in the pills seems not to have been very great, because novelist Heinrich Böll, who used Pervitin during the war, has described the stimulation as equivalent to several cups of coffee. It is clear that Pervitin was not perceived as excessively dangerous at the time,3 and even for several decades after the war, since it was only taken off the market in the 1970s. In any case, Morell records administering that over-the-counter stimulant on only one occasion. (C. Gunkel, "Hitlers Krankheiten: Therapie mit Rattengift," Der Spiegel January 2010; there is also an abridged English translation)

To summarize, Hitler's physician gave him various strong drugs on occasion, but not on a regular basis, and there is no reason to believe that drugs adversely affected Hitler's judgment. The strongest drug that Hitler received on a regular basis was caffeine, taken with vitamins.
1. According to an article from  the California State Journal of Medicine (August 1910) which the U.S. National Institutes of Health presents on its website, the Wasserman test for syphilis, administered to Adolf Hitler by Dr, Morell, was designed to detect 98% of syphilis-cases. That is the basis of Dr. Leonard Heston's view that Adolf Hitler did not have syphilis.

2. "Eine Besessenheit im Sinne eines krankheitsbedingten Wahns gab es bei Hitler zu keinem Zeitpunkt." (Henrik Eberle & Hans-Joachim Neumann, 2010)

3.  The appeal of such drugs was not limited to Axis nations. In the United States, the use of Pervitin by German military men stimulated the U.S. Government's Office of Scientific Research and Development to work on an American equivalent (Alexander George, Wide World Features, 22 August 1942).  The U.S. Army has contemplated the benefits of amphetamines at least as recently as 1988 (AP, 7 September 1988). As of 2014 methamphetamine in the United States is a prescription-drug, used for treatment of ADHD and for weight-loss.