Sodium Pentothal

Adriano Taylor writes in a review of the sedative hypnotic Sodium Pentothal:

Sodium Thiopental (also called Sodium Pentothal) has the formula: C11H17NaO2S. This molecule is a trademark of Abbott Laboratories. Sodium Thiopental was discovered in the 1930s by Ernest H. Volwiler and Donalee L. Tabern while working for Abbott Laboratories. Dr. Ralph M. Waters first used it in human beings on March 8, 1934. The investigation centred on its properties, which were discovered to be short-term anesthesia, but surprisingly little analgesia. Its IUPAC name is Sodium 5-ethyl-6-oxo-5-pentan-2-yl-sulfanyl-pyrimidin-4-olate and it has a molecular weight of 264.32.1

During the 1950s Cold War paranoia, a reliable means of coercing prisoners into telling secrets was of upmost priority. In addition to painful tortures, “sodium thiopental was used by the CIA for many years, and was… used against Al-Qaeda members to find out secrets within the organization,” notes Taylor.2

Username “cameron_05” comments at the website that “sodium pentathol [sic] is truth serum and the brand name is Thiopental Sodium 8.” 3 In an episode of the award-winning American television series M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital), sodium pentothal is printed as “Na Pent” on shipping crates. Username “slurik” also mentions at the site:

Source: Adriano Taylor

A milder form of psychological abuse includes exposing subjects (intravenously or orally) to sodium pentathol.… Sodium pentathol [sic] is an ultra-short-acting barbiturate that depresses the central nervous system, slows heart rate, and lowers blood pressure. In the relaxed state produced by the drug, subjects are more susceptible to suggestion and are therefore easier to interrogate. The drug does not actually guarantee that prisoners will tell the truth, however. Often, it makes subjects “gabby” without revealing any important information.i, ii This substance has been tested in accomplis to LSD, which proved to be a most efficient means of inducing short term amnesia. Many tests were done by the CIA for this reason.4

Large doses of Ritalin and Sodium Pentothal have been used in narcoanalysis. (Ritalin is used to counteract the powerful effects of the Sodium Pentathol.) During this drug-induced state, the subject becomes highly relaxed, easily suggestible, and more freely shares information.

Sodium Pentothal was also used as an ingredient in lethal injections, though now that the drug is no longer manufactured in the United States, prisons are switching to Pentobarbitol, a move that displeases its manufacturer, Lundbeck Inc.5


i [A] judge has ruled that [James Holmes] may have to undergo an interview under the influence of drugs – dubbed a ‘truth serum’ – in order to evaluate his mental state. The process is designed to lower a patient’s inhibition, and is decades old. Judge William Blair Sylvester has also ruled that he may be given a lie detector test.
– “Aurora cinema shooting: Judge approves ‘truth serum’ interrogation,”, 12 March 2013, at (retrieved: 13 March 2013).

ii “It’s an extraordinarily unusual procedure to use,” Dr. Steven Hoge, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, told “The fact that they’ve linked it to the use of polygraph makes me concerned that they do believe that it is indeed a ‘truth serum’ and there’s no evidence to support that.”

Hoge said that are no controlled studies that demonstrate that information obtained under narcoanalysis is reliable. “The idea that sodium amytal is a truth serum is not correct,” he said. “It’s an invalid belief. It is unproven in its ability to produce reliable information and it’s not a standard procedure used by forensic psychiatrists in the assessment of the insanity defense, nor is polygraph.”
– Christina Ng, “‘Truth Serum’ Draws Skepticism in Case of Accused Aurora Shooter James Holmes,” ABC News, 13 March 2013, at (retrieved: 13 March 2013).

Related links

1 Adriano Taylor (King’s College, Madrid, Spain), Sodium Thiopental (Sodium Pentothal): The Truth Serum, The Molecule of the Month, February 2007, University Chemistry Department Univerity of Bristol, at (retrieved: 25 March 2011).

2 Op. cit.

3 “Sodium Pentathol,”, at (retrieved: 25 March 2011).

4 Op. cit.

5 Mike Ward, “Texas picks new drug for execution cocktail,”, 16 March 2011, at (retrieved: 15 March 2011).

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