If you have watched Jacob’s Ladder, you might remember the end alluding to the unethical use of hallucinogenic and lethal drugs during the Vietnam War. These experiments conducted over 7,000 soldiers exposed them to 250 different chemical elements including LSD and other riot-control agents.
Soldiers on BZ could remember only fragments of the experience afterward. As the drug wore off, and the subjects had trouble discerning what was real, many experienced anxiety, aggression, even terror. (The New Yorker)
The film focuses on one of the veterans who took ‘The Ladder’ and experienced strong hallucinations, flashbacks, and memory loss in consequence. The chemical mentioned in the story, BZ or 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate impacts both peripheral and central nervous system and believed to cause vision loss, hyperthermia, signs of disorientation, agitation, tremor, ataxia, stupor, coma, and seizures. These experiments were done at Edgewood Arsenal Army facility in Maryland during the Cold War period and lacked the informed consent. Many innocent people died as a result and several others were afflicted with pathological diseases.
“In this same dream, I had a girl waiting for me down the hall. I wanted to go out and see her but the nurse wouldn’t let me so after trying to fight my way out and failing I called the MP’s who promptly arrested them. After that, I found out that they were going to beat me up so I tried to make friends with the one who appeared to be the leader. It must have worked because I don’t remember a beating.” — unknown male soldier volunteer at Edgewood 1963, dose: IM 7.0 ug/kg (mediaroots.org)
Tim Josephs, one of the veterans that underwent these secret experiments shared his experience in an interview with CNN, “Sometimes it was an injection. Other times it was a pill. A lot of chemicals were referred to as agent one or agent two.” When he questioned the staff after a week or so, he received a reassurance citing, “There is nothing here that could ever harm you.”
But these drugs were damaging him as he started to suffer from severe tremors. He believes that these symptoms followed him on and off throughout his adult life. Eventually, in his mid-50s, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease for which he blames these ‘psycho-chemical’ experiments at Edgewood. He never received any health benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration.
They’re hoping we die off, so you apply [for benefits], you get turned down. And it just goes on for years and years, and they just want to wear us down. They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away.
There were the lawsuits filed later on by Tim Josephs and other war veterans. As The New Yorker explained the arguments presented in these lawsuits in an article about James S. Ketchum, a psychiatrist who was involved in this secret program: that, whether out of military urgency or scientific dabbling, the Army recklessly endangered the lives of its soldiers — naïve men, mostly, who were deceived or pressured into submitting to the risky experiments. The drugs under review ranged from tear gas and LSD to highly lethal nerve agents, like VX, a substance developed at Edgewood and, later, sought by Saddam Hussein. Ketchum’s specialty was a family of molecules that block a key neurotransmitter, causing delirium. The drugs were known mainly by Army codes, with their true formulas classified. The soldiers were never told what they were given, or what the specific effects might be, and the Army made no effort to track how they did afterward. Edgewood’s most extreme critics raise the specter of mass injury — a hidden American tragedy.
Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the head of this secret Project MKUltra defended the actions by stating “…harsh as it may seem in retrospect, it was felt that in an issue where national survival might be concerned, such a procedure and such a risk was a reasonable one to take.”
There was an abrupt termination of the Program in 1975 and all residents had been removed from the Edgewood installation. The number of deaths and other important information about the experiments may never be known as the results had been destroyed by CIA.