Disturbing new documentary examines ‘nightmarish’ Cold War drug experiments conducted on US soldiers
Dr. James S. Ketchum, who died in 2019 at the age of 87, is remembered for his role in the Edgewood experiments — a series of top-secret Cold War-era experiments that tested psychochemical drugs on U.S. soldiers during the 1950s, 1960 and 1970s. Those experiments, conducted at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, are the focus of the new documentary “Dr. Delirium and The Edgewood Experiments.”
Journalist Radheyan Simonpillai, reporting on the documentary in an article published by The Guardian on June 9, explains, “In a decade-old, never-before-seen interview conducted by ‘Dr. Delirium’ Director and Executive Producer Nick Brigden, Ketchum appears frail but lucid. He’s aware of naysayers who can trot out unflattering details about Edgewood, like how he was working alongside Nazi ‘talent’ recruited for their expertise on human experimentation. But he’s confident that he’s on the right side of history with experiments that were harmful to test subjects while serving a greater good.”
Simonpillai notes that at the Edgewood Arsenal, a U.S. Army facility, recruits “were subjected to sarin, VX, teargas, LSD and PCP” as part of the experiments.
“There, Ketchum was administering psychotropic drugs on young soldiers,” Simonpillai explains. “Brigden’s film unearths archival footage of men going temporarily blind, reduced to babbling or completely dysfunctional logs —
or worse, ready to commit violence upon themselves.”
Simonpillai adds that the Edgewood experiments also included “BZ, a potent concoction that would keep subjects in a state of nightmarish delirium for up to three days.”
“We’re only discovering the traumatic and lingering physical effects that those drugs had in recent years because a tight lid had been kept on what went down at Edgewood,” Simonpillai notes. “For decades, the veterans suffered in silence.”
Brigden expressed mixed feelings about Ketchum during an interview with The Guardian, saying, “He was a brilliant scientist, but he had some blinders on — stuff that he didn’t want to see, or he couldn’t see of his own actions and behaviors, and how that affected a great number of people.”
Some of the military veterans who participated in the Edgewood experiments, Brigden notes, were vehemently critical of the way they were handled.
“From their point of view,” Brigden told The Guardian, “they weren’t properly informed of the experiments that they were signing up for. They were told that they were going to be testing Army equipment. There was no mention of drugs. But once they got into Edgewood, from what I’ve heard from these vets, they were threatened with court martials if they didn’t participate.”
Watch a trailer for "Dr. Delirium and The Edgewood Experiments" below:
Dr. Delirium and the Edgewood Experiments | Official Trailer | discovery+ youtu.be
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