Pentagon’s New Drug Weapons: “Calmatives”

Pentagon’s New Drug Weapons: “Calmatives”

August 26, 2007

They’ve got Skunk, they’ve got Special K, they’ve got Angel Dust, they’ve got Aceeeeed….and they’ve also got a whole pharmacy of extra special stuff that they’re not going to tell anyone about. They’re heavily armed, and the law can’t touch them. Because they’re the Pentagon’s own nonlethal chemical weapons developers.

While the CIA and military drug experiments of the 50s and 60s might be written off as just a phase they were going through, a new report from the Bradford Nonlethal Weapons Research Project shows that the interest in psychoactive substances has continued right up until the present day. It’s called ‘Off the Rocker’ and ‘On the Floor’: The Continued Development of Biochemical Incapacitating Weapons.

Author Neil Davison explains the title:

Broadly speaking agents were colloquially divided into “off the rocker” agents having psychotropic effects and “on the floor” agents causing incapacitation through effects on other physiological processes. “Off the rocker” agents prevailed since the safety margins for other agents, including anaesthetic agents, sedatives, and opiate analgesics, were not considered sufficiently wide for them to perform as ‘safe’ military incapacitating agents. Writing in 1971, Perry-Robinson noted:


“The psychomimetics in fact seem to be one of the very few classes of incapacitating drug which have sufficient selectivity to give a wide enough margin of safety. Some of them are sufficiently potent for CW purposes.”

In fact, it looks like the military are all set to start deploying a new generation of – well, as the report points out, they carefully avoid calling them chemical weapons. The preferred terms are nonlethal techniques, riot control agents, or, more commonly, calmatives.

How’s that? Calmative originally meant something quite specific, but researchers at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center have started using their own definition:

A calmative agent can be defined as an antipersonnel chemical that leaves the victim awake and mobile but without the will or ability to meet military objectives or carry out criminal activity.

So anything from tear gas to LSD to a dozen tequilas would count as a calmative. However, although the report describes work looking at a whole range of substances including THC (the active ingredient in cannabis), LSD, PCP, Valium and Ketamine – as well as ‘selected club drugs’ – the biggest development recently seems to have been in the area of Fentanyl derivatives.

Fentanyl is an opiate which was used as an intravenous analgesic in the 1960’s. It’s classified as a narcotic in the US, with effects said to be similar to heroin. It’s first known use a weapon was in the Moscow Theater siege , when a Fentanyl derivative called Kolokol-1 (believed to be carfentanil) was pumped into the building. All of the terrorists were overpowered without firing a shot, but over a hundred hostages died as a result of respiratory depression.

US work is said to involve a Fentanyl derivative combined with an antagonist which will counter the respiratory depression. According to the Bradford report, it may already be in use:

Since the 2003 National Research Council (NRC) report confirming renewed US Military research on incapacitating agents there has been no further openly available information on the programme, due to likely classification of the ongoing work….It is unclear whether these types of chemical weapons can now be accessed for US military operations. Two unconfirmed reports in 2003 quoted Rear Admiral Stephen Baker, the Navy’s former Chief of Operational Testing and Evaluation, as saying that US Special Forces had “knock-out” gases available for use in Iraq.

By a bizarre coincidence, the report comes outjust as we’re getting stories of campers being rendered unconscious by thieves using some sort of gas, but that’s probably just a silly season story. Any such gas is probably in (fairly) safe hands. Stay calm….but don’t overdo it.


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