Killer High: A History of War in Six Drugs by Peter Andreas

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The main points of the book.

  1. The use of drugs in warfare is not a recent phenomenon, but rather a long-standing tradition that dates back to ancient times.
  2. Governments have played a significant role in the spread of drugs, and drugs have been used as a tool of colonialism.
  3. The use of drugs to control and manipulate soldiers is a common practice throughout history, from keeping them awake to boosting their aggression.

Killer High is an Interesting book that explores the history of war through the lens of six different drugs.

Peter Andreas, a professor of international studies at Brown University, takes readers on a journey through history to explore the role of drugs in warfare.

The book is well-researched and provides a unique perspective on the history of war through the lens of drugs. However, it should be noted that the dates jump around a lot and sometimes the connections from one instance to the next is a bit of a pull. Nonetheless, Killer High is an engaging and informative exploration of a topic that is often overlooked in traditional histories of war.

In his book, Andreas focuses on six drugs that have played a significant role in warfare throughout history. He explores how each drug was used, the effects it had on soldiers, and how it impacted the outcome of wars. And explores the role of governments in the spread of drugs. He sheds light on a little-known aspect of military history, and his insights are sure to spark discussion and debate among readers.

In this book, Andreas digs into the effects of drugs on colonialism and how governments have used this to their advantage. He posits that opium was highly instrumental in helping Britain gain control over China and other nations.

Chapter Summaries


Peter Andreas takes readers on a (bumpy) journey through the history of warfare from a unique perspective – the role of drugs. The author emphasizes the undeniable impact of drugs in warfare, and highlights that recognizing this history is essential to grasping what war itself embodies.


American Revolution

  • Year: 1765-1783
  • Who was involved: Thirteen Colonies vs. Great Britain
  • Description: A colonial revolt which occurred between 1765 and 1783. The American Patriots in the Thirteen Colonies defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War with the assistance of France, winning independence from Great Britain and establishing the United States of America.

World War I

  • Year: 1914-1918
  • Who was involved: Allied Powers vs. Central Powers
  • Description: A global war that lasted from 1914 to 1918. It was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until the start of World War II in 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter.

The author examines how alcohol has been used in wars over time & how it has impacted the soldiers. According to them, alcohol was not only used to elevate morale but also for providing comfort & helping soldiers tackle stressful situations on combat grounds.

How was alcohol used during World War II? The sobering reality is that many of our Armed Forces used alcohol as a way to cope with the trauma of war.

There were indeed many stills creating rum on the east coast of the United States in the early days of settlement. In fact, it was one of the most popular drinks in the colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, during the American Revolution, the British cut off the supply of molasses needed to make rum, which led to a shift towards locally-made whiskey, using grains like rye and corn. This was encouraged by figures like George Washington, who saw it as a way to promote self-sufficiency and reduce dependence on foreign imports.


The author delves deep into the history of caffeine and its role in warfare. From tea and coffee to energy drinks, caffeine has been used for centuries to keep soldiers awake & alert. Its impact on modern warfare is undeniable and the chapter explores it in detail.

For many years, the coffee industry in Central American countries has been dominated by a few wealthy families owning large coffee farms. They had a stranglehold on the entire process; right from processing to distribution, leaving poorer farmers unable to join the race.

In the early 1940’s, Soviet General Georgy Zhukov requested a special color-free version of Coca-Cola to disguise its American origins and make it look like vodka. With President Harry Truman’s blessing, Coca-Cola was happy to comply with the request, and sent Zhukov shipments of bottles with no labels other than a white cap with a red Soviet star.


The chapter on nicotine explores the use of tobacco in warfare, from the early days of smoking to the development of modern nicotine products. Andreas argues that before World War I, the United States was strongly opposed to nicotine, due to knowing the health dangers.

However, during the war, the US military began providing cigarettes to soldiers as a way to boost morale and reduce stress. This led to a significant increase in cigarette use, which continued after the war and contributed to the rise of smoking culture in America. Andreas suggests that this shift in attitude towards nicotine was a result of wartime propaganda efforts that portrayed smoking as a patriotic duty.

Nicotine has been used to calm nerves and provide a sense of comfort, but that it has also led to addiction and other negative consequences.


Opium Wars

  • Year: 1839-1860
  • Who was involved: China vs. Britain
  • Description: Two wars fought between Great Britain and China in the mid-19th century over the British trade in opium, a key factor in the damaging of the Chinese economy by forcing the Chinese to trade valuable commodities for a drug that was devastating their population.

Vietnam War

  • Year: 1955-1975
  • Who was involved: North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam and United States
  • Description: A Cold War-era proxy war that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was fought between North Vietnam, supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and other anti-communist allies.

The author examines the historical context and implications of opium. How it diffused across China, and how its consumption has changed in the past century. Starting from ancient China. Then exploring the 19th century Opium Wars before finally arriving at modern-day Afghanistan. In this chapter, the author looks into how opium consumption has evolved and how various changes in its composition have made it more potent & addictive.

According to the author, opium had a major impact in facilitating Britain’s influence in China. The opium trade seemed to have contributed significantly to this effect. It is worth noting that the Vietnam War had a massive influence on the development of the heroin industry, especially in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle region – including portions of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.During the Vietnam War, the United States government aided anti-communist forces in the region, unfortunately, these forces were also associated with heroin production and trafficking.

The main goal of the United States concerning the Vietnam War was to contain Communism by preventing its growth in Southeast Asia. Conversely, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were striving for Vietnam to be reunited under a communist government.


World War II

  • Year: 1939-1945
  • Who was involved: Axis Powers vs. Allied Powers
  • Description: A global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the majority of the world’s nations, including all of the great powers, organized into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than 100 million people from more than 30 countries.

This chapter takes a look into how amphetamines have been used in combat, ranging from Benzedrine in WW2 to newer stimulants currently being researched. The author’s does say while amphetamines may help troops stay awake and responsive, they can also lead to addiction and other adverse effects.

This chapter provides a brief look into how drugs are utilized in conflict, however there may be more details and subtleties that were not touched upon. Take a look at Norman Ohler’s – Blitzed – it gives an in-depth and accurate look into how drugs were used during Nazi Germany.

Fact – during World War II, German soldiers took Pervitin which was an OTC drug with amphetamines.

This chapter is all about amphetamines and their use in warfare. We take a look at the early use of Benzedrine during WW2 and its evolution into the stimulants we have now. The writer’s point is that, although drugs like amphetamines have been taken by soldiers to stay vigilant and sharp, they also cause dependency and other undesirable results.

Pharmacologist Leslie Iversen writes about the non-medical use of amphetamines spreading rapidly in the 20 years after the Second World War. While the use of amphetamines to enhance soldier performance was abandoned after World War II, the availability of amphetamines increased in the post-war years, leading to their widespread use for non-medical purposes.


The chapter on cocaine explores the use of cocaine in warfare, from its early use as a local anesthetic to its development as a stimulant.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs, which was initiated by the United States government in the 1970s, has been heavily criticized for its disproportionate impact on minority communities and for its failure to effectively reduce drug use and drug-related crime. Additionally, there have been allegations of United States government involvement in the drug trade, particularly in the context of the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s, where the United States government was accused of facilitating the sale of drugs in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. These allegations have been the subject of much debate and investigation, and it is unclear to what extent they are true.


The book wraps up with a summary of the main points made & topics discussed. The writer believes drugs have been an important part of wars all throughout and understanding this is essential to knowing what war truly is.

Is a fascinating read, as it provides a fresh perspective on war history by looking at six distinct drugs and their influences. This book dives deep into a lesser-known part of military history.

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