READ 10 Terrifying Facts and Rumors About Drugs Used as Torture Devices  

Lisa A. Flowers
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From the vintage kitsch of Reefer Madness to the harrowing dystopia of Jacob's Ladder, "drugs-as-torture-method" is a theme that's been thoroughly covered. Drugs can torment their own users with horrible hallucinations, as in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. They can also be used for government-engineered torture, as in the famous baby head/doll mask/bullet hole scene in Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

CIA/Illuminati conspiracies have always been big - and not only among conspiracy theorists, but also in Hollywood, where the specter of the Illuminati-via-Scientology is as pervasive as the threat of witchcraft was to certain Salem-ites once upon a time.

But, as the old saying goes, every bit of fiction contains a kernel (or 7000 micrograms) of truth. Whether it's the CIA, Haitian voodoo cults, or gun-wielding DMT trippers at the helm, drug torture is out there - the only question is, how deep does it go?

LSD: When the Truth Is Worse Than the Hallucination


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Photo: Columbia Pictures

LSD has long been associated with poisoned Kool-Aid, starry-eyed, swastika-carving Manson followers, and the dark side of flower power; but members of the CIA's Scientific Intelligence Division were perhaps history's most sinister "dealers" of Timothy Leary's favorite substance. Project MKULTRA, which took place between 1953 and 1964, involved the secretly dosing various Americans with acid "at the beach, in city bars, and at restaurants." (Agents would then surreptitiously follow said subjects to see how they reacted to the drug).

Though they sound like something out of the delusions of a conspiracy theorist, these experiments were real and documented; apparently, the CIA was attempting to try out certain "brainwashing" methods that they believed had already been used successfully in North Korea, China, and communist Russia.

Nor were they averse to testing these methods out on their own people: Dr. Frank Olson, a biological weapons researcher for the US Army, was dosed one night while attending a scientific conference in rural Maryland. According to witnesses, Olson "never recovered from the ordeal, and shortly after the experiment... began to show 'symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia.'" One night in New York City (where he'd been staying while awaiting psychiatric treatment by specialists), Dr. Olson threw himself (or fell, or was pushed, nobody really knows) from his 10th story window, and plunged to his death.

Barbiturates: "Twilight Zone" Torture


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Photo: 20th Century Fox

A lot of people think of barbiturates as dreamy, ethereal, sleepy-time fun, but those people probably never had to be on brain-detail, to paraphrase Jules in Pulp Fiction. When you're the subject of certain CIA interrogation methods, "brain detail" includes being forced into nightmarish "half dream, half reality" states via an agent shooting you up with thiopental (a barbiturate) and amphetamine, one arm for each. 

Though it hasn't been proven, conspiracy theorists describe a ritual, supposedly known in inner circles as "the Twilight Zone technique," that locks "one's psyche into a brain-breaking circle of waking dreams." From which (due to the insomniac properties of the amphetamine) it's not possible to wake... until, or unless, interrogators get the information they're looking for.

Haldol: A Powerful Anti-Psychotic Used on Prisoners


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Photo: United Artists

Haloperidol, or Haldol, a potent anti-psychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia, has long been a staple of institutions, and its awful, nervous-system-annihilating side effects have been well-documented. But the drug is not limited to the inner sanctums of psychiatric clinics: it's apparently just as popular in Guantanamo Bay. According to a declassified report from the Pentagon’s inspector general, were interrogated while under psychoactive medications, including Haldol.

Wired explains that Haldol, which causes "long-term movement disorders and life-threatening neurological disorders" (which subjects are made aware of) works by bringing on sleeplessness - which, in combination with waterboarding and "intense, fearful questioning," is supposed to incite prisoners to spill their guts.

Mefloquine: The Malaria Antidote That Turns on You


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Photo: United Artists

To most people, the words "malaria antidote" probably sound like death averted, but files from the US Defense Department complicate that picture. According to this article, Mefloquine, an anti-malaria drug also known by the brand name Larium, only does wonders if it's administered to people who actually have the disease. When its given to the uninfected, however, it produces symptoms that are tantamount to nothing less than "pharmalogic waterboarding," as army physician Major Remington L. Nevin so memorably put it. However, the US maintained an official policy of giving it to all detainees at Guantanamo Bay regardless of their malaria status - and without even testing them first to see if they had the disease.

According to Nevin, exposure to the drug causes "high risks of potentially severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including seizures... hallucinations, paranoid delusions, panic... and thoughts of suicide."

All of which one would assume prisoners would do - or say - just about anything to avoid.