Streamed live on April 8, 2024

A large group of Veterans gathered to discuss their military service for a Veterans Breakfast Club Open Conversation. We talked about the 4/9 25th Infantry Division “Manchus,” the experience of PTSD, and the use of buttons vs. brass zippers on Army fatigues.

But the most robust, disturbing, and important aspect of the conversation was a discussion of drug use among US service members during the Vietnam War, especially 1970-1973.

During the Vietnam War, drug use was much more prevalent than in previous wars. Soldiers consumed a variety of substances, including marijuana, psychedelics like LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin mushrooms, as well as hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The military also issued stimulants like amphetamines to enhance endurance during missions and sedatives to manage anxiety and prevent mental breakdowns, which were notably successful with a low rate of mental breakdowns compared to previous conflicts.

The ease of access to drugs, breakdown in morale, and influence of counterculture back home contributed to widespread drug use among troops. Marijuana was initially tolerated and easily obtained from local villages. However, media attention following reports like John Steinbeck IV’s article led to crackdowns by the military, pushing many soldiers towards heroin, which became more available due to its odorless nature and influx from neighboring countries like Cambodia.

Most soldiers used drugs casually as a means of escape from the harsh realities of war rather than being addicted. Efforts to curb drug use included initiatives like “Operation Golden Flow,” which required servicemen to undergo drug testing before returning home. Contrary to fears of widespread addiction post-service, rates of drug use and addiction among veterans returned to pre-war levels.

The role of drugs in the brutality witnessed in Vietnam remains debated. Overall, the Vietnam War reflected broader societal shifts in drug culture during the late 1960s and early 1970s.