Pharmacological torture

Pharmacological torture is the use of psychotropic or other drugs to punish or extract information from a person.[1] The aim is to force compliance by causing distress, which could be in the form of pain, anxiety, psychological disturbance, immobilization, or disorientation.[1]

One form of this torture involves forcibly injecting a person with addictive drugs in order to induce physical dependence. The drug is then withdrawn, and, once the person is in withdrawal, the interrogation is started. If the person complies with the torturer's demands, the drug is reintroduced, relieving the person's withdrawal symptoms.[2]:73

Alleged use


According to some reports, various forms of pharmacological torture were used in Brazil during the 1970s, including the injection of alcohol into the tongue and scrotum; use of drugs to induce seizures; and use of muscle relaxants to minimize physical injury when giving victims electric shocks.[2]


In the 1960s, prisoners were allegedly given drugs to make them talk in their sleep.[2]

South Africa

In 2013, leaked video footage shot inside South Africa's Mangaung Prison showed a prisoner with no record of mental illness being forcibly injected, apparently with anti-psychotic drugs.[3] The Legal Resources Centre, a non-governmental organization, is representing 13 clients who allege they were forcibly injected with the drugs.[4]

Soviet Union

In the former Soviet Union, drugs were allegedly used as a form of punishment. Haloperidol, an antipsychotic medication, was a preferred agent. It was used to induce intense restlessness and Parkinson's-type symptoms.[2] Another antipsychotic medication, chlorpromazine, was also used to induce grogginess, sedation, and (in high doses) vegetative states. Other alleged uses of pharmacological torture included:

United States

In the United States, in a series of hearings in the fall and winter of 1977, Congressional committees drew forth disclosure of project MKULTRA, which was most active between 1953 and 1966 and conducted experiments that included the CIA agents administering LSD and Truth Serum to soldiers, citizens, and foreign nationals without their knowledge or consent. Activities of MKULTRA resulted in at least one death, that of Frank Olson, an army scientist who was given LSD without his knowledge, and committed suicide as a result of his experience.[5][6]

In 1953 Harold Blauer died in a New York State psychiatric institute after doctors there administered mescaline derivatives to him without his consent, as part of a 1950s secret program run by the US army that tested chemical warfare agents on US citizens.[7]


In Uruguay, people have allegedly been paralyzed using curare derivatives.[2]

Fictional use

In the television series, 24, a fictional drug called "hyoscine-pentothal" was used to inflict pain on characters during interrogations in several episodes.[8]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Pharmacological Torture" World Problems Online. Union of International Associations
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Rejali, Darius (2009). Torture and democracy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400830879.
  3. "'Shocking' abuse claims at South Africa's Mangaung prison". BBC. 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  4. "Tortured Mangaung prisoners seek justice". Legal Resources Centre. 2015-11-27. Retrieved 2015-12-01.
  5. John M. Crewdson and Jo Thomas for the New York Times. September 20, 1977. Abuses in Testing Of Drugs by C.I.A. To Be Panel Focus; Senate Panel to Focus on C.I.A. Actions
  6. Joint Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources. United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session August 3, 1977 Project MKULTRA, The CIA's Program of Research in Behavioral Modification.
  7. Associated Press in the Los Angeles Times. May 6, 1987 $700,000 Awarded to Estate of Army Drug Test Victim
  8. Daniel Burstein, Arne J. De Keijzer. Secrets of 24: The Unauthorized Guide to the Political & Moral Issues Behind TV's Most Riveting Drama. Sterling Publishing Company, 2007 ISBN 9781402753961 Page 240
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