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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]

Use in clinical practiceEdit

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 Edit


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]

Reliability Edit

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]

See alsoEdit


  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.

External linksEdit

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