Psychotomimetic Chemical Weapons

An overview of chemical weapons acting on the mind

Psychotomimetic Agents

Source: A FOA Briefing Book on Chemical Weapons

This group of agents usually includes substances which, when administered in low doses (<10 mg) cause conditions similar to psychotic disorders or other symptoms emanating from the central nervous system (loss of feeling, paralysis, rigidity, etc.). The effects are transitory and cause inability to make decisions and incapacitation. Several such substances may be used to achieve these objectives and only a few examples are given here.

During the 1950's, studies were made of substances such as glycolic acid esters (glycolates). Particular interest was paid to 3-quinuclidinylbenzilate, BZ. The effects of this group of substances are similar to those caused by atropine. BZ causes poisoning at doses of 0.5-5 mg. Peripheral symptoms such as distended pupils, deteriorated short-distance vision, dry mouth and palpitations occur after about 30 minutes.

A serious effect of poisoning with BZ, as also with other atropine-like substances, is an increased body temperature. Deterioration in the level of consciousness, hallucinations and coma occur subsequently. Incapacitating after-effects may remain 1-3 weeks after the poisoning. Since the effect of glycolates was found to be difficult to predict, interest in continued research into this type of substance gradually decreased.

Phencyclidine is a substance with analgetic and anaesthetic properties. Symptoms such as disturbed body-awareness, disorientation and vivid dreams occur. These symptoms occur after some hours at doses of 5-20 mg. At very high doses (>100 mg) there is a major risk for, e.g., respiratory depression and death. Phencyclidine is widely used by drug addicts who drench tobacco in this substance and then inhale it when smoking. Phencyclidine is easy to produce.

LSD is probably one of the most active of all known substances having psychotomimetic effects. However, its chemical stability is very low and it is probably of little use as a CW agent. Nonetheless, there are other chemical substances with effects similar to LSD. These substances are chemically similar to amphetamine and are also stable. Theoretically, this type of substance could be used as a CW agent in special circumstances and dispersed as an aerosol.

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Last modified 29 April 1997 by ICA Division, OPCW