Truth drug

Truth drug

A truth drug or truth serum is a psychoactive medication used to obtain information from subjects who are unable or unwilling to provide it otherwise. The unethical use of truth drugs is classified as a form of torture according to international law.[1] However, they are properly and productively utilised in the evaluation of psychotic patients in the practice of psychiatry.[2] That application was first documented by Dr. William Bleckwenn in 1930,[3] and it still has selected uses today. In the latter context, the controlled administration of intravenous hypnotic medications is called "narcosynthesis" or "narcoanalysis." It may be used to procure diagnostically—or therapeutically—vital information, and to provide patients with a functional respite from catatonia or mania.[4][5]


Active chemical substances

Amobarbital, one of chemical compounds that can be used as a "truth drug"

Sedatives or hypnotics that alter higher cognitive function include ethanol, scopolamine, 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, temazepam, and various barbiturates including sodium thiopental (commonly known as sodium pentothal) and sodium amytal (amobarbital) (see figure at right).[6]


According to prevailing medical thought, information obtained under the influence of intravenously-administered sodium amytal can be unreliable; subjects may mix fact and fantasy in that context.[7] Skeptics imply that much of the claimed effect of the drug relies on the belief of the subject that he or she cannot tell a lie while under its influence.[8][9] Some observers also feel that amobarbital does not increase truth-telling, but merely increases talking; hence, both truth and fabrication are more likely to be revealed in that construct.[10]

Use by country


India's Central Bureau of Investigation has used intravenous barbiturates for interrogation.[11] One such case in which the CBI has used these techniques is the Noida double murder case.[12] For many criminal cases, the use of these methods may violate the right against self incrimination.[13] On May 5, 2010 the Supreme Court of India held that narco, polygraph and brain mapping tests violate article 20(3) of the Constitution.[14]


A defector from the biological weapons department 12 of the KGB "illegals" (S) directorate (presently a part of Russian SVR service) claimed that a truth drug codenamed SP-117 was highly effective and has been widely used. According to him, "The 'remedy which loosens the tongue' has no taste, no smell, no colour, and no immediate side effects. And, most important, a person has no recollection of having the 'heart-to-heart talk'" and felt afterwards as if they suddenly fell asleep. Officers of the S directorate used the drug primarily to check the trustworthiness of their own illegal agents who operated overseas, including even heroes of the service, such as Vitaly Yurchenko.[15] According to Alexander Litvinenko, Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin was drugged with the same substance by FSB agents during his alleged kidnapping.[16]

United States

Truth drugs have been used by the Central Intelligence Agency as seen in the U.S. Army and CIA interrogation manuals declassified by the Pentagon in 1996.[citation needed]


To many in modern society, truth serums or truth drugs are little more than myths. A majority of the world population live not knowing that such drugs exist. If the words "truth serum" are heard in society today, many minds will only refer back to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.[17] Though many reasons account for the lack in knowledge about truth drugs, much falls upon the fact that they are rarely used as in 1963 the US Supreme Court ruled confessions produced as a result of ingestion of truth serum was "unconstitutionally coerced", and therefore inadmissible. In reality, the drugs are used most by Intelligence Agencies and even so, only in the most drastic of circumstances. [18]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Brugger W: May governments ever use torture? Am J Compar Law 2000; 48: 661–678.
  2. ^ Naples M, Hackett TP: The amytal interview: history and current uses. Psychosomatics 1978; 19: 98–105.
  3. ^ Bleckwenn WJ: Sodium amytal in certain nervous and mental conditions. Wis Med J 1930; 29: 693–696.
  4. ^ Tollefson GD: The amobarbital interview in the differential diagnosis of catatonia. Psychosomatics 1982; 23: 437–438.
  5. ^ Bleckwenn WJ: Production of sleep and rest in psychotic cases. Arch Neurol Psychiatry 1930; 24: 365–375.
  6. ^ Anonymous: Barbiturates., Accessed 9-21-2009.
  7. ^ Op cit., Ref. 2
  8. ^ Redlich FC, Ravitz LJ, Dession GH: Narcoanalysis and truth. Am J Psychiatry 1951; 107: 586–593.
  9. ^ Mann J: The use of sodium amobarbital in psychiatry. Ohio State Med J 1969; 65: 700–702.
  10. ^ Piper A Jr: 'Truth serum' and 'recovered memories' of sexual abuse: a review of the evidence. J Psychiatry & Law 1993: 3: 447–471.
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  15. ^ Alexander Kouzminov Biological Espionage: Special Operations of the Soviet and Russian Foreign Intelligence Services in the West, Greenhill Books, 2006, ISBN 1-853-67646-2 [1].
  16. ^ Alex Goldfarb and Marina Litvinenko. Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB. New York: Free Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1416551652.
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Look at other dictionaries:

  • truth drug — truth .drug BrE truth .serum AmE n [U and C] a drug that is supposed to make people tell the truth …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • truth drug — trüth n TRUTH SERUM …   Medical dictionary

  • truth drug — ☆ truth drug n. an anesthetic or hypnotic, as thiopental sodium, regarded as tending to make a subject responsive while being questioned: also ☆ truth serum * * * …   Universalium

  • truth drug — ☆ truth drug n. an anesthetic or hypnotic, as thiopental sodium, regarded as tending to make a subject responsive while being questioned: also ☆ truth serum …   English World dictionary

  • truth drug — noun an intravenous anesthetic drug that has a hypnotic effect; induces relaxation and weakens inhibitions; is believed to induce people to talk freely • Syn: ↑truth serum • Hypernyms: ↑intravenous anesthetic • Hyponyms: ↑amobarbital, ↑thiopental …   Useful english dictionary

  • truth drug — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms truth drug : singular truth drug plural truth drugs a drug used for trying to make someone tell the truth …   English dictionary

  • truth drug — BrE truth serum, AmE noun (C, U) a drug that is supposed to make people tell the truth …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • truth drug — n. intravenous anesthetic drug that is believed to be able to cause a person to answer questions truthfully …   English contemporary dictionary

  • truth drug — noun a drug supposedly able to induce a state in which a person answers questions truthfully …   English new terms dictionary

  • truth drug — /ˈtruθ drʌg/ (say troohth drug) noun sodium pentothal when used as a mild anaesthetic to render a person incapable of answering questions untruthfully …  

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