Captagon is the brand name of a synthetic stimulant invented in 1963 to treat conditions including narcolepsy and depression. But abusers of the drug are not looking to get some sleep or drive the blues away. They are looking for a "buzz", said a doctor who works with drug addicts. "It is not as powerful as cocaine but it is quite addictive," said the doctor, who asked that his name not be used. "It's an amphetamine-like substance. It gives the user a buzz. It is the kind of thing that is popular on the nightclub scene because it gives you energy and means you can keep on dancing for hours on end."
The drug is known by the street name of Abu Hilalain, or The Man with Two Crescent Moons, which is believed to be a reference to the hallucinations caused by the drug. It is the most popular drug in the Arab world, but it is not clear why this is the case. The chemical name for Captagon is fenethylline. It was banned in 1986 by the World Health Organisation over concerns over its effect on kidney functions.
Fenethylline can reduce appetite, distort and enhance sensations, cause insomnia and increase energy and sometimes headaches. It is also thought to enhance sexual performance. It can lead to feelings of euphoria or anxiety, increased self-confidence and even aggression. Men and boys tend to take the drug for its stimulating effect while women and girls are likely to use it as both a stimulant and weight-loss supplement. Young men and women who take the drug use it to stay awake to study or for social gatherings.
There are added dangers in Captagon because of the contaminants often found in the tablets that are sold on the streets. * Charlie Hamilton with additional reporting by Awad Mustafa