ISIS-linked stimulant Captagon more dangerous than previously thought, scientists say

Captagon is an illegal amphetamine-type stimulant that has been linked to ISIS.

“It boosts the overall stimulant activity,” Cody Wenthur, the study's co-author and a postdoctoral research associate at the Scripps Research Institute, said in a statement. “You get a faster onset than other amphetamine drugs and a stronger effect than just amphetamine alone.”

Captagon has been around for a while, Wenthur noted. It was used therapeutically before it became illegal in the United States and most countries in the 1980s. But the study's findings may explain why the illicit stimulant has gained popularity in recent years and is abused by young people in the Middle East.

Kim Janda, who co-led the Scripps Research Institute team on the study, said he first became interested in Captagon after it had made headlines around the world as a potential performance-enhancing stimulant and source of "pharmacological morale" for ISIS fighters.

That's how Janda's team discovered that Captagon produces its combat-boosting effects from a functional synergy between amphetamine and theophylline.

As a result, the scientists developed a potentially effective vaccine that can neutralize the drug's effects in mice -- a substance that could be developed further for use in humans.

"This discovery also provides a path for combating Captagon's abuse," Janda said in a statement.