That one time the Army drugged three soldiers and locked them in a room

In May 1962, four soldiers walked into a makeshift communications outpost outfitted with maps, food, medicine, and a chemical toilet. For the next 72 hours, the men would attempt to operate as a normal communications team while cameras rolled. Oh, and three of them were high on a powerful hallucinogenic drug.

Edgewood Arsenal

Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

It reads like a reality TV show, but it was an actual experiment conducted by U.S. Army researcher John Ketchum. An Army colonel who retired in 1976, Ketchum spent most of his career researching potential chemical weapons, primarily weapons made from drugs like LSD and PCP.

Ketchum wanted to test the effects of another drug called 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, or BZ. BZ was originally developed as an ulcer drug but was scrapped when it started causing hallucinations and mental distress. Army tests indicated BZ would lower a soldier’s ability to perform simple tasks like an obstacle course. In 1962, the Army was ready to see how it would affect operations.

That May, they allowed Ketchum to create the fake outpost and drug the volunteers. The experiment began on a Friday morning and continued for 72 hours.

Edgewood Arsenal army drug experiments

Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

During these 72 hours, the men responded according to the quantity of the drug they had received.

The leader of the group, identified only as L in Ketchum’s book, was given a placebo and spent most of his first 36 hours keeping the soldier who received the highest dose from hurting himself.

H and C, two soldiers who received low doses of the drug, spent the first day trying to get it out of their system with opposing methods. H began doing pushups repeatedly, while C went to sleep. Neither approach seemed to accelerate recovery and it took both men 24 hours to recover. Despite their recovery, neither H or C would help L much with their military tasks. But, they did help supervise Pfc. Ronald Zadrozny, an Army intelligence soldier who got the largest dose.

Zadrozny received a delirium-inducing dose of BZ. Within two hours of his arrival, he needed the assistance of L to stand up, and he would push people away who tried to help. He said he didn’t want to be treated like a little kid, according to Ketchum.

The Army wasn’t content just leaving the men in the room. The team had missions, primarily compiling information radioed and called into the outpost, before they needed to relay information to a fake rear headquarters. L would handle nearly all of these tasks while H and C read or slept. Zadrozny, once he could stand and walk around, spent most of his weekend staring into camera lenses whenever they were exposed or attempting to leave the locked area.

Edgewood Arsenal army drug experiments

Credit: US Army via The New Yorker

He would pace the walls of the outpost, checking for exits. Then he would grab his hat and jacket, put them on, tell the rest of the men goodbye, and attempt to leave through the door. Every time he found it locked, he would get confused and try the handle for minutes. He attempted escape through the medicine cabinet until H pulled him away. Finally, he’d begin another repetition, starting by putting on his hat and jacket and saying goodbye to everyone.

In his book, Ketchum wrote that it was only after hours of this process that Zadrozny finally put it together. He tried the door a final time and turned to the room, telling the rest of the subjects, “We’re trapped!” H then looked up from a magazine and told the room, “He’s getting better.”

The whole time Zadrozny was trying to find a way out, the one sober member of the team was getting engrossed in a game against the research team. The researchers had scripted the radio calls the drugged soldiers would receive, but they ran out of script and had to start improvising. Signal soldiers assigned to the researchers came up with a plot involving a chemical train that was going to be ambushed and crafted a nonsense code for it using poker terms like “The Dealer.” L spent the latter half of the exercise trying to figure out what “Full House” meant and who “The Dealer” was as a fictional train came barreled towards its death.

Eventually, the drugs wore off and the 72-hour experiment ended. The team was released back to the barracks and left with some truly odd stories of the Cold War.

Ketchum would go on to test BZ in an open air environment, but the weapons were never deployed in combat. As further tests showed, maintaining effective concentrations of the gas in a real world scenario proved difficult and military opinion eventually swung away from the use of drugs as weapons.

(h/t to The New Yorker‘s , who discovered many of the archive documents from Edgewood and wrote stories about this and other experiments at the arsenal.)

NOW: Watch a soldier return from Afghanistan to surprise a total stranger >

OR: 5 Army myths that just won’t die >

TOP ARTICLES
SpaceX launching a third top-secret satellite

SpaceX is launching a secretive mission this month. The mission, shrouded in secrecy, has some considering it may be for the CIA or the NSA.

This is how the Air Force will use prop planes on high-tech battlefields

The Air Force is looking toward a light-attack aircraft program, known as OA-X, to produce a plane that meets its needs and gets the job done.

A retired SEAL commander on how to stop thinking and 'get after it' every day

This former Navy commander has some excellent advice on how to jump start your day, and "get some" in order to make it as productive as possible.

Marines return to battle in 'old stomping grounds'

The Marines recall their "old stomping grounds" as they return to Fallujah and the surround areas of Al Anbar Province to battle a new enemy.

How Chinese drones are set to swarm the global market

China has stepped up it's drone game, and even though United States technology can still compete, China's drones are kind of really in demand.

That time two countries' Special Forces squared off in combat

In an area the size of the Falkland Islands, British and Argentine special operators were bound to run into each other at some point – a lot.

5 times pilots got in trouble for having fun in the sky

When pilots decide to do some fancy flying in their high-performance fighters, it can land them in trouble once they're back on the ground.

This is why Nazis dubbed these paratroopers 'devils in baggy pants'

"American paratroopers – devils in baggy pants – are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night," wrote one German commander.

9 ISIS weapon fails that you have to see to believe

Many bad guys just want record themselves laying rounds down range for social media purposes — and we're glad they did. Laugh away, America!

US Army recruitment campaigns, ranked from worst to best

Advertising can really impact recruitment for the military. For better or for worse, here are some of the Army's most memorable slogans...