What drug makes you tell the truth

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Driven by panics over Cold War espionage and violent crime, physicians, spies, and cops repeatedly heralded would-be truth serums and mind-reading technologies. In the ensuing two-hour monologue Del Gracio found himself mysteriously compelled to give an in-depth of his drug-trafficking network. Del Gracio got too stoned, felt pins and needles in his hands and feet, and had to lie down for a nap. A What drug makes you tell the truth test that same year on 30 Americans suspected of being Communists was encouraging, with five admitting Communist sympathies.

But when the OSS tried to use the substance for actual intelligence gathering, comic disaster befell the interrogator, who accidentally smoked the adulterated cigarettes himself and started ranting about his boss making passes at his wife; the German U-boat captain being questioned coughed up little useful information. TD was not used again during the war, and intelligence officials eventually concluded that it was not much more effective than giving people alcohol and caffeine.

Yet the quasi-scientific search for methods to extract information from unwilling subjects was far from over. Occasionally these drugs and devices have seemed to work, though psychologists point out they rely on antiquated notions of how memory operates, and legal experts liken them to torture rather than genuine investigative tools. Even now entrepreneurial scientists continue to pursue new technologies that might extract truths from guilty minds. The oldest substance for extracting secrets may be alcohol, whose tendency to loosen tongues was recognized in ancient Greece and probably earlier.

Efforts to develop better tools date to the late 19th century, as insights from the developing field of psychology and growing faith in technology sparked hopes that scientific innovation could address rampant crime and public corruption. The first modern method for coaxing out buried truths was hypnosis, which fascinated early psychologists with its promise of revealing the roots of mental disorders. Its apparent success in retrieving blocked memories led courts in the s to admit such evidence, resulting in a of convictions based on hypnotically induced testimony.

In the early s U. In psychology, hypnosis hung on for a while longer despite the disillusioning experiences of Freud and others. Having lost its patina of scientific respectability, hypnosis was largely relegated to smoking-cessation programs and bachelorette parties. But its reliability could never approach the evidential level the judicial system requires to send someone to jail.

Even spies, who more easily set aside legal and ethical niceties, viewed hypnosis skeptically. Still, the CIA had taken the trouble to investigate hypnosis as a way to induce compliance during interrogations, just as it investigated marijuana, LSD, and a of other psychoactive substances. The persistent hunt for a working truth technology, despite the faulty theories on which the concept rests, reflects its intense, irrational allure. The great power of hypnosis, and its fatal flaw, is the suggestibility it induces. The control it grants the therapist is reminiscent of the power imparted by the polygraph exam, another process that requires the administrator to wade through the muck of unspoken psychic flow in search of solid evidence.

Both technologies involve complicated negotiations with the person being interrogated and the interpretation of subtle, ambiguous als. He asked the husband of a What drug makes you tell the truth patient where to find scales in the house to weigh the newborn, and the sedated woman suddenly answered the question.

According to historian Alison Winter, the drug apparently eased both emotional and physical pain, including the psychological discomfort of revealing upsetting or otherwise repressed facts. It was initially used by interrogators to confirm assertions of innocence by criminal suspects; if they kept to their story after being drugged, their claims were judged valid and they could be released.

In it drew confessions to a string of two dozen ax murders in What drug makes you tell the truth. Yet a chauffeur who confessed to a kidnapping and murder in Hawaii subsequently maintained his innocence during a second scopolamine interview, and a different suspect was convicted of the crime. Among the various ways memory has been imagined, the file cabinet packed with folders is perhaps the most deeply embedded in modern society. To explain how the drug worked, House, who was not a psychologist or neurologist, drew from common, unproven conceptions of the mind.

The nerves act like pulleys, or perhaps telephone lines, dumbly conveying the wanted data to and fro. Only the intervention of two other forces—the will and reason-driven imagination—can prevent this otherwise automatic action, and suppressing them with drugs frees the nerve to operate perfectly. Scopolamine not only eased confessions but also confirmed that professions of innocence were genuine and not forced by the will. Other metaphors include the metal etching, photograph, filmstrip or videotape, and computer circuit. But while memory is still not completely understood, decades of neuroscience research have shown that these popular notions are far too simplistic.

Remembering is actually a complex electrochemical process involving living cells in multiple parts of the brain. Different aspects of memories—such as physical activity, geographical location, and emotion—are produced in different places as they rise to consciousness as a single memory. The quality of recollection depends on the presence of cues related to the original processing of the information, such as smells and feelings. Memories are also frail and changeable.

They are pared down over time, losing the specificity so crucial in court testimony, and eventually become harder to retrieve. They are fabricated fairly easily: when researchers ask people about events that never happened, a ificant minority say they remember the events, especially after repeated questioning. Remembering, then, might better be called reconstructing. Each time a person recalls an event or undergoes a related stimulus, the memory may change, as if it were being experienced and remembered anew.

He concluded the man was innocent, but the interview was rejected as unscientific and the suspect was convicted, according to Winter. The lack of a credible explanation for how scopolamine worked bred skepticism in the press and judiciary. House had envisioned scopolamine as an advance that would end false convictions and prevent law-enforcement abuses by providing a humane, objective way to produce the truth.

What drug makes you tell the truth when he died inhis successors instead took up the drug as a brute weapon in their fight against crime. In this way it recalls the polygraph, which does a poor job of detecting lies but derives great power from the fear and confessional mode it induces. In a U. No other truth drug had as successful a run as scopolamine, but many others were given a try. Sketchy intelligence and press reports in the s and s suggested the Chinese and Russians were experimenting not just with scopolamine but also with amphetamines, such as Benzedrine, and barbiturates, such as sodium thiopental also known as Sodium Pentothal.

In one suchLieutenant John Ori, an American, said he found a sweet white powder in his food while detained in a prison camp during the Korean War. I talked a blue streak. The United States responded with its own research programs, continuations of the effort that had George White testing cannabis extract on August Del Gracio. As a truth serum Pentothal proved no more useful than scopolamine, though it is safer to administer and still has its advocates. More recently, the judge in the trial of mass shooter James Holmes alarmed legal experts when he ruled Holmes could undergo so-called narcoanalysis, probably using a barbiturate, to determine whether Holmes was sane when he killed 12 people in a Colorado movie theater in In India, one of the few nations where some courts allow narcoanalysis, barbiturates are occasionally used in high-profile cases.

In Uttar Pradesh a wealthy businessman and his servant were injected with a truth serum in and supposedly confessed to the gruesome murders of 17 children and women. The one surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks was also reportedly interrogated while on Pentothal; he was later convicted based on other evidence and hanged. A few would-be truth serums departed from the depressant-and-stimulant formula, including marijuana and LSD, which in the s the CIA briefly considered fabulously successful at eliciting secrets.

The drug went on to a much grander career as a pathway to spiritual revelation and a touchstone of hippie culture through the s and s. The CIA never did find a real truth serum, and the U. Supreme Court ultimately barred confessions under scopolamine and What drug makes you tell the truth substances inreasoning that the resulting testimony was unconstitutionally coerced.

Such drugs are similarly banned in most countries.

In another context truth serums have been massively successful. They have become a staple of popular entertainment, an irresistible dramatic tool in novels, movies, and TV. They can serve as a traditional poison or as a device that withholds or releases new information to advance the story. In Big Jim McLaina heavy-handed political thriller starring John Wayne, a villainous Communist psychiatrist tries to use the drug on a House Un-American Activities Committee investigator but accidentally kills him.

At times, truth drugs have been depicted in ways that illustrate their unreliability. In the popular film The Guns of Navaronea British officer is deliberately given false information so he can blab it to the Germans when they administer scopolamine. Truth serums are also often used to comic effect, as in Meet the Fockerswhere Robert De Niro plays a retired CIA officer and a caricature of a suspicious father-in-law.

When he injects Pentothal into his son-in-law, played by Ben Stiller, the younger man confesses his lust for his mother-in-law to a roomful of relatives. In another, truer-to-life variation used on the TV show Get Smart and in many other productions, the drug works too well: the character reveals everything on his mind, including random trivia, What drug makes you tell the truth the interrogators to tears.

At the heart of truth-detection techniques is an enduring power fantasy that repeatedly adapts to the latest quasi-scientific belief and technological innovation.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers can track blood flow in the brain and watch in real time as neurons react to external experiences. Such experiments occasionally give strikingas inwhen researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, attempted to convert brain activity into videos of what people were seeing. It was quite a bit more laborious than straightforward mind reading.

First, while subjects watched movie trailers, researchers conducted brain scans on the volunteers to determine which neuron patterns corresponded to which viewed images. Then the researchers had the subjects watch new videos and recorded their brain activity again. The re-created videos, which may be viewed online, are little better than blurry, oozing inkblots that roughly correspond to faces and shapes in the trailers.

The dream of unmediated access to the mind would finally be realized. But the risks that doomed older technologies—the malleability of memory and the tendency to use such devices coercively—still apply. At any rate, that future is a long way off. To use one, a test subject lays his head in a bulky, donut-shaped fMRI machine; an examiner asks test questions, noting the different brain-activity patterns corresponding to true and false statements, and then asks about the crime or issue being investigated.

In an accused murderer in Maryland tried to get his fMRI interview admitted to demonstrate his innocence, but the judge denied the request, ruling there was no scientific consensus that the technology is valid. A comprehensive review in identified several fundamental questions fMRI lie detection would have to answer before it could be considered for legal use, including whether it is actually detecting lying and not some other mental phenomenon, whether the machine can be tricked, and whether it works outside the lab.

It uses the electroencephalogram, or EEG, to detect electrical activity in the brain via electrodes on the scalp. In the mids scientists discovered a pattern of als that occurs about milliseconds after a person experiences a familiar stimulus. Contrary to public expectations, lie detectors like fMRI are not mind readers, do not actually detect deception, and will never provide details of what has actually happened in complicated cases. Brain fingerprinting has met stiff criticism for having, at best, weak support from scientific studies.

In addition, it What drug makes you tell the truth keeping some criminal evidence hidden until it is sprung on the suspect. For now none of these newfangled devices or any other truth technology appears likely to win acceptance by Western legal systems. The picture is naturally less clear with intelligence agencies. At best they could make a terrorist trip over his lies or become addicted and dependent on his interrogators. Why are these stylish women posing with scientific instruments? Forensic science can be a powerful crime-fighting What drug makes you tell the truth, but misdeeds, dubious methodologies, and bogus claims threaten its reputation—and the reputation of science as a whole.

Though science and investigations of the paranormal might seem incompatible, they were intertwined for a long time. Podcast Video About Subscribe. By Meir Rinde December 2, Meir Rinde is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Related Topics. Fashion in the s embraced the bewildering changes that characterized the Atomic Age. The Third Sense Culture. Ghost Hunting in the 19th Century Culture.

What drug makes you tell the truth

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