You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!
August 24, 2006 12:50 PM   Subscribe

When I came to I was tied to a chair in the dark basement of what appeared to be a farm house. Across the table was Herr Doktor with a menacing look behind his small circular glasses. He was filling a syringe when he said "Von dose of zee Sodium Pentothal and ve vill know zee truth!" "Sodium Pentothal?" I thought to myself, what the hell is that? How does it work and I'm pretty sure there is gonna be

The Wikipedia article on Sodium Pentothal leaves a lot to be desired for this fan of the thriller genre. I'd like to know a bit more about how it works in terms of brain functions and what someone feels like when they're under the influence of the drug?

Can someone 'train' themselves to be resistant to the effects of the drug?

How easy is it to get specific answers to questions or do people under its effect just tell the truth about anything?

Also, how easy is this stuff to get ahold of? Would a small criminal gang be able to get their mitts on a doseage in the US without alerting the authorities?

This is all asked in preperation for NaNoWriMo in November. I'm not planning anything other than a book and even if I were, I would never tell you the truth!
posted by DragonBoy to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
ugh. my only experience is when i had my tonsils out when i was 20. i distinctly remembered the funny metallic taste in my mouth before it knocked me out cold.

also, there was a dear abby reference to it's use in the operating room and it's subsequent abuse afterward. too lazy to find a link, though.

as for getting it: i can't imagine it's harder then getting any other kind of perscription narcotic.
posted by lester at 12:57 PM on August 24, 2006

erowid ...

writers need to learn how to google. at least until they are rich enough to pay a researcher.
posted by shownomercy at 12:58 PM on August 24, 2006

shownomercy: writers need to learn how to google.

Sometimes writers don't want google (or employers or ISPs) to know what they're up to. Besides, any first hand knowledge of this topic is going to be far better than the somewhat dry and clinical info I found on the web when I was at the library.
posted by DragonBoy at 1:01 PM on August 24, 2006

Truth serum is a convenient film device. In the real world it doesn't work like that-- it lowers inhibitions, but probably isn't much more effective in getting the truth than getting someone really drunk.
posted by justkevin at 1:01 PM on August 24, 2006

I was given Valium and Sodium Pentothal when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. It's not a magic serum that makes only truth come out of your mouth, it just makes you talkative and indiscrete, like a really happy articulate drunk.

My anesthesiologist was a family friend, and warned me ahead of time that I would be pretty talkative (up until the chiseling started, anyway). My mind was all over the map until the Valium and O2 finally settled me down; I certainly would have verbalized every single thought I had if I'd been able to talk.

You might do some searching in an anesthesia context rather than thriller; if I had it at an oral surgeon's office I don't think it's real hard to acquire.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:02 PM on August 24, 2006

I'm not so sure that it's so much a "truth serum" as it just makes it darned difficult to tell the same lie over and over in a consistent manner. So when it's used as a truth serum, I believe the interrogator asks the same question multiple times in different ways or asks questions about the details of your lie, all the while looking for inconsistencies in your answers.
posted by jknecht at 1:03 PM on August 24, 2006

I believe that's what they gave me when I had my wisdom teeth extracted, the summer after my freshman year in college (1994). Apparently I babbled to my mother on the way home, answering questions she never asked me.
posted by emelenjr at 1:08 PM on August 24, 2006

See also: mkultra, specifically their aspirations for lsd and subsequent failures.
posted by prostyle at 1:09 PM on August 24, 2006

It can, apparently, lead to religious visions, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:23 PM on August 24, 2006

Sodium thiopental (generic), otherwise known as Penthothal (brand name), is a barbiturate. Barbiturates, in addition to being one of the abuse drugs of choice in the 80's (q.v. Valley of the Dolls, etcetera), were used as anesthetic agents. Pentothal, in particular, was used to induce short-term (15 minutes or less) anesthetic and hypnotic states without analgesia.

In layman's terms, it'd dope you up and make you loopy, but it wouldn't keep you from feeling pain.

The barbiturates have been largely supplanted by the benzodiazepines for sedative/hypnotic use, largely because the benzodiazepines are much, much safer.

The "truth serum" effect, in all likelihood, comes from the Central Nervous System depressant effects of sodium thiopental: our inhibitions (and emotions) are controlled by higher brain functions, and as you depress the CNS, you get less and less inhibition of impulses. And, as others have related, pretty soon you've eliminated the meditative circuit between brain and mouth, and if you think it, you say it. This makes it difficult to maintain the fabrications required by a lie.

In terms of your book, using some sort of "truth serum" device will make you seem dated, from a cursory review of Google. A much more contemporary technique for obtaining the truth (and one much more believable to readers with a medical background) would be using grain (or other) alcohol administered via IV line. Fair warning: Dick Francis, among others, has used this particular narrative trope (alcohol via IV).
posted by scrump at 1:56 PM on August 24, 2006

I had my wisdom teeth out with Valium and pentothal. I was awake and chatty right up to the point they started the pentothal injection. Then I was unconscious. Period.
posted by tommasz at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2006

What you have to understand about interrogation is that interrogators have no expectation of obtaining accurate information from their subject, because it's not really possible. Techniques such as drugging, mental coercion, physical torture, etc. are designed to get the subject to talk as much as possible about everything and anything. Investigators then systematically check every possible lead that comes up, because at least one or two clues out of the hundreds that the subject blabbers might yield something useful. A "truth serum" doesn't make the subject instantly spew out the precise truth that you want, but it will probably make him slip up in a way that leads you toward the truth upon careful analysis.
posted by randomstriker at 4:21 PM on August 24, 2006

Here's a meta-theory.

When being investigated, the subject is torn between the desire to tell what he/she knows and thereby end the interrogation, and the desire to keep whatever secret is involved.

Being administered a "truth serum", whether it's SP or kiwi-flavoured Gatorade, allows them, psychologically, to spill the beans with less guilt. "What could I do? Their scientists fed me a Truth Serum!" Everyone wins, even if there's no such thing.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:24 PM on August 24, 2006

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