Vice did a report about scopolamine dubbing it as the world's scariest drug. The story is that people being given that drug can be told to do anything, similar to some popular claims about hypnosis and the zombie myths in the Caribbean.

When I mentioned this report to someone with a medical background he debunked it on the basis of it being impossible in the physiological sense and that the interviewed scientist from the report hadn't published a paper in English. The latter I found rather biased, but the former is something I have no formal education in, so I'm turning to you.

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    The link from Wikipedia is from the Daily Mail, which is not the best source of scientific fact. See the Daily Mail oncology ontology thedailymailoncologicalontologyproject.wordpress.com for examples of hyperbole!
    – Nick
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 17:58
  • @Nick: thanks, no question about the yellow press, but it's a claim among others. And I am skeptical about it, but couldn't find any proper sources refuting this in particular. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 1:14
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    If even half of that video is true then it's a really scary drug. Quality of the journalism in that video is really low though. I would be really interesting to finding some truth about that drug.
    – Wertilq
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 16:30
  • It is my understanding that the victim basically looses all inhibition. They will just go along with what they are told and without inhibition they will reveal personal information they normally wouldn't reveal. I'm sure there is no shortage of intoxicated people, under the influence of alcohol, who have reacted similarly with no memory the next day. But this is more serious.
    – user27078
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 5:28

1 Answer 1


I have done some research on the drug. I find the drug extremely scary. The video in the question was of fairly low quality when it came to science, for shock value it was high quality though.

Digital Journal

That may be why in more recent years, the U.S. State Department issued a warning telling travelers to beware of "criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others."

Concerning its disabling properties.

The CIA says: Enthusiastic at this success, House concluded that a patient under the influence of scopolamine "cannot create a lie" Because he said the drug ‘will depress the cerebrum to such a degree as to destroy the power of reasoning’. ... there is no power to think or reason." His experiment and this conclusion attracted wide attention, and the idea of a "truth" drug was thus launched upon the public consciousness.

Consering its use as a truth serum.

The link is fairly dubious as well, I have looked up some of its claims though.

I found a much more secure source about the drug.

CIA historical review program

Early in this century physicians began to employ scopolamine, along with morphine and chloroform, to induce a state of "twilight sleep" during childbirth. A constituent of henbane, scopolamine was known to produce sedation and drowsiness, confusion and disorientation, incoordination, and amnesia for events experienced during intoxication. Yet physicians noted that women in twilight sleep answered questions accurately and often volunteered exceedingly candid remarks.

Here it makes claims about truth telling part of the drug.

Because of a number of undesirable side effects, scopolamine was shortly disqualified as a "truth" drug. Among the most disabling of the side effects are hallucinations, disturbed perception, somnolence, and physiological phenomena such as headache, rapid heart, and blurred vision, which distract the subject from the central purpose of the interview. Furthermore, the physical action is long, far outlasting the psychological effects.

Here are further claims about that, and why they dismissed it as a truth serum.

It seems little research have been done on the truth telling/zombie state part of the drug, since that time. Main usage of the drug seems to be others in medicine.

US Department of Travel

Use of disabling drugs: The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate tourists and others. At bars, restaurants, and other public areas, perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes, or gum. Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault, and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink. Certain areas of Bogota are off-limits to U.S. Embassy personnel due to the prevalence of the use of disabling drugs. See map below for specific areas that U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid.

The claims of usage of 'disabling drugs' seems to be true as well.

Robberies of taxi passengers: Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota, as well as in Cali and Medellin. Typically, the driver – who is one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up two or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings. If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations. Such ordeals can last for hours.

Withdrawal from an ATM seems to be common criminal practice as well in the area. The anecdotal claims made in the video, was that they were like put into zombie state and took out all their money from an ATM.

What truth can be found about the drug is that it induces memory loss, drowsiness and overall make the victim of it offer less resistant. It also seems to work to some extent as making victim tell the truth. I didn't manage to find any real proofs of turning into "zombie"

If I am allowed to do some speculations, I think the video over hypes the drug and the drugs effect have been hyperbolic over-exaggerated. The drug seems to give heavy memory loss, some level of truth telling, and overall weaken the victim physically. Criminals probably use it more for weakening the victim, and because of the memory loss than actually turning them into zombies that listen to everything they say. With a bit of force, and time, they can probably get their will anyways, and since the victim doesn't remember anything, it's hard for him to tell if he put up resistance or went with their will because he was forced to. I have no proof of it, but I am very dubious about the claims of turning people into 'zombies'.

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