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From 1955 to 1975, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps conducted classified medical studies at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. The purpose was to evaluate the impact of low-dose chemical or biological warfare agents on military personnel and to test protective clothing, pharmaceuticals, and vaccines. About 7,000 soldiers took part in these experiments that involved exposures to more than 250 different chemicals, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). Some of the volunteers exhibited symptoms at the time of exposure to these agents but long-term follow-up was not planned as part of the DoD studies.[1]

The chemical agents tested included chemical warfare agents and other related agents:[1]

  • Anticholinesterase nerve agents (VX, sarin and common organophosphorus (OP), and carbamate pesticides)
  • Mustard agents
  • Nerve agent antidotes atropine and scopolamine
  • Nerve agent reactivators (ex., the common OP antidote 2-PAM chloride)
  • Psychoactive agents (LSD, PCP, cannabinoids, and BZ)
  • Irritants and riot control agents
  • Alcohol and caffeine

Nature of experiments

The Edgewood Arsenal experiments took place from approximately 1952 to 1975 at the Medical Research Laboratories, which is now known as the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense of the Edgewood Area, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The experiments involved at least 254 chemical substances, but focused on mainly on midspectrum incapacitants, such as LSD, THC derivatives, benzodiazepines, and BZ. Around 7,000 US military personnel and 1,000 civilians were subjects.[2][3][4] A concrete result of these experiments was that BZ was weaponized, although never deployed.[5]

In the mid-1970s, in the wake of many health claims made from exposure to such agents, including psychotropic and hallucinogenic drugs administered in later experiments, the U.S. Congress began investigations of misuse of such experiments, and inadequate informed consent given by the soldiers and civilians involved.

According a DOD FAQ, the Edgewood Arsenal experiments involved the following "rough breakout of volunteer hours against various experimental categories":[6]

Experimental category Percentage of volunteer hours
Incapacitating compounds 29.9%
Lethal compounds 14.5%
Riot control compounds 14.2%
Protective equipment and clothing 13.2%
Development evaluation and test procedures 12.5%
Effects of drugs and environmental stress on human physiological mechanisms 6.4%
Human factors tests (ability to follow instructions) 2.1%
Other (visual studies, sleep deprivation, etc.) 7.2%

An "Independent Study Course" for continuing medical education produced by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Effects from Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Weapons (Oct. 2003),[7] presents the following summary of the Edgewood Arsenal experiments:

Renewed interest led to renewed human testing by the Department of Defense (DoD), although ultimately on a much smaller scale. Thus, between 1950 and 1975, about 6,720 soldiers took part in experiments involving exposures to 254 different chemicals, conducted at U.S. Army Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal, MD (NRC 1982, NRC 1984, NAS 1993). Congressional hearings into these experiments in 1974 and 1975 resulted in disclosures, notification of subjects as to the nature of their chemical exposures, and ultimately to compensation for a few families of subjects who had died during the experiments (NAS 1993).

These experiments were conducted primarily to learn how various agents would affect humans (NRC 1982). Other agencies including the CIA and the Special Operations Division of the Department of the Army were also reportedly involved in these studies (NAS 1993). Only a small number of all the experiments done during this period involved mustard agents or Lewisite. Records indicate that between 1955 and 1965, of the 6,720 soldiers tested, only 147 human subjects underwent exposure to mustard agent at Edgewood (NRC 1982).

According to the 1984 NRC review, human experiments at DoD's Edgewood Arsenal involved about 1,500 subjects who were experimentally exposed to irritant and blister agents including:

  • lachrymatory agents, e.g., CN;
  • riot control agents, e.g., CS;
  • chloropicrin (PS);
  • Diphenylaminochlorarsine (DM, Adamsite);
  • other ocular and respiratory irritants; and
  • mustard agents.

For example, from 1958 to 1973 at least 1,366 human subjects underwent experimental exposure specifically with the riot-control agent CS at Edgewood Arsenal (NRC 1984). Of those involved in the experiments:

  • 1,073 subjects were exposed to aerosolized CS;
  • 180 subjects were exposed dermally;
  • 82 subjects had both skin applications and aerosol exposures; and finally
  • 31 subjects experienced ocular exposure via direct CS application to their eyes.

Most of these experiments involved tests of protective equipment and of subjects' ability to perform military tasks during exposure.

Similarly, cholinesterase reactivators antidotes such as 2-PAM were tested on about 750 subjects. These agents are still used today as antidotes to organophosphorus nerve agent poisoning, including accidental poisoning by organophosphorus pesticides. About 260 subjects were experimentally exposed to various psychochemicals including phencyclidine (PCP), and 10 related synthetic analogs of the active ingredient of cannabis (NRC 1984). The NRC report also mentions human experiments involving exposure of 741 soldiers to LSD (NRC 1984). Finally, from 1962 to 1972, a total of 123 irritant chemicals were tested on only two subjects each exposed using a wind tunnel (NRC 1984). These irritant chemicals were selected for human testing following preliminary animal studies.

The "Independent Study Course" cites mainly a three-volume study by the Institute of Medicine (1982-1985) for its data and conclusions, Possible Long-Term Health Effects of Short-Term Exposure to Chemical Agents.[8] Some additional information in the section cited from the Course was based on a 1993 IOM study, Veterans at Risk: Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite.[9]

A significant omission from the Course summary above is the number of subjects on which BZ and related compounds were tested. According to the memoirs of James Ketchum, who also cites the IOM study for the data, "24 belladonnoid glycolates and related compounds" were "given to 1,800 subjects". The IOM study also concluded that "available data suggest that long-term toxic effects and/or delayed sequellae are unlikely" for this type of compound.[10]


In 2009 a lawsuit was filed by veterans rights organizations Vietnam Veterans of America, and Swords to Plowshares, and eight Edgewood veterans or their families against CIA, the U.S. Army, and other agencies. The complaint asked the court to determine that defendants’ actions were illegal and that the defendants have a duty to notify all victims and to provide them with health care. In the suit, Vietnam Veterans of America, et al. v. Central Intelligence Agency, et al. Case No. CV-09-0037-CW, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal. 2009), the plaintiffs did not seek monetary damages. Instead, they sought only declaratory and injunctive relief and redress for what they claimed was several decades of neglect and the U.S. Government’s use of them as human guinea pigs in chemical and biological agent testing experiments.

The plaintiffs cited:

  • The use of troops to test nerve gas, psychochemicals, and thousands of other toxic chemical or biological substances.
  • A failure to secure informed consent and other widespread failures to follow the precepts of U.S. and international law regarding the use of human subjects, including the 1953 Wilson Directive and the Nuremberg Code.
  • A refusal to satisfy their legal and moral obligations to locate the victims of experiments or to provide health care or compensation to them
  • A deliberate destruction of evidence and files documenting their illegal actions, actions which were punctuated by fraud, deception, and a callous disregard for the value of human life.

On July 24, 2013, United States District Court Judge Claudia Wilken issued an Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court resolved all of the remaining claims in the case and vacated trial. The Court granted Plaintiffs partial summary judgment concerning the Notice claim: summarily adjudicating in Plaintiffs’ favor, finding that “the Army has an ongoing duty to warn” and ordering “the Army, through the DVA or otherwise, to provide test subjects with newly acquired information that may affect their well-being that it has learned since its original notification, now and in the future as it becomes available.” The Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to the other claims.[11]

Safety debate

The official position of the Department of Defense, based on three-volume set of studies by the Institute of Medicine mentioned above, is that they "did not detect any significant long-term health effects on the Edgewood Arsenal volunteers".[4] The safety record of the Edgewood Arsenal experiments was also defended in the memoirs of psychiatrist and colonel James Ketchum, a key scientist:[12]

Over a period of 20 years, more than 7,000 volunteers spent an estimated total of 14,000 months at Edgewood Arsenal. To my knowledge, not one of them died or suffered a serious illness or permanent injury. That adds up to 1,167 man-years of survival. Statistically, at least one out of a thousand young soldiers chosen at random might be expected to expire during any one-year period. By this logic, Edgewood was possibly the safest military place in the world to spend two months.

Even a book critical of the program, written by Lynn C. Klotz and Edward J. Sylvester, acknowledges that: "Unlike the CIA program, research subjects [at Edgewood] all signed informed consent forms, both a general one and another related to any experiment they were to participate in. Experiments were carried out with safety of subjects a principal focus. [...] At Edgewood, even at the highest doses it often took an hour or more for incapacitating effects to show, and the end-effects usually did not include full incapacitation, let alone unconsciousness. After all, the Edgewood experimenters were focused on disabling soldiers in combat, where there would be tactical value simply in disabling the enemy."[3]

Other media coverage

The Vanderbilt University Television News Archive has two videos about the experiments, both from a July 1975 NBC Evening News segment.[13] In one, NBC newsman John Chancellor reported on how Norman Augustine, then-acting Secretary of Army, ordered a probe of Army use of LSD in soldier and civilian experiments. In a separate piece, by reporter Tom Pettit, Major General Lloyd Fellenz, from Edgewood Arsenal, explains how the experiments there were about searching for humane weapons, adding that the use of LSD was unacceptable.

Journalist Linda Hunt, citing records from the U.S. National Archives, revealed that eight German scientists worked at Edgewood, under Project Paperclip.[14] Hunt used this finding to assert that in this collaboration, US and former Nazi scientists "used Nazi science as a basis for Dachau-like experiments on over 7,000 U.S. soldiers."[15]

A Washington Post article, dated July 23, 1975, by Bill Richards ("6,940 Took Drugs") reported that a top civilian drug researcher for the Army said a total of 6,940 servicemen had been involved in Army chemical and drug experiments, and that, furthermore, the tests were proceeding at Edgewood Arsenal as of the date of the article.

Two TV documentaries, with different content by confusingly similar titles have apperead, Bad Trip to Edgewood on ITV Yorkshire (1993)[16][17] and Bad Trip to Edgewood (1994) on A&E Investigative Reports.[18][19]

Two auto-biographical books from personnel conducting the experiments have been self-published. Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost forgotten (2006) was written by Ketchum who was a key player after 1960. The other, Men and Poisons (2005), was written by Malcolm Baker Bowers Jr, who went on to become a prof of psychiatry at Yale.[20] Bowers' book is a fictionalized account.[21]

In 2012, The Edgewood / Aberdeen Experiments were featured on CNN and in The New Yorker magazine.[11]

  • Primary Sources: Operation Delirium (The New Yorker; 12/26/12)[22]
  • Operation Delirium: Decades after a risky Cold War experiment, a scientist lives with secrets (The New Yorker; 12/17/12)[23]
  • High Anxiety: LSD in the Cold War (The New Yorker; 12/16/12)[24]
  • War of the Mind (The New Yorker; 12/12/12)[25]
  • Manufacturing Madness (The New Yorker; 12/11/12)[26]
  • Secret Army volunteer’s widow blames VA for spouse’s death (CNN; 3/3/12)
  • Vets feel abandoned after secret drug experiments (CNN; 3/1/12)

Government reports

A Government Accounting Office May 2004 report, Chemical and Biological Defense: DOD Needs to Continue to Collect and Provide Information on Tests and Potentially Exposed Personnel (p. 24),[27] states:

During the 1962-74 time period, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted a classified chemical and biological warfare test program,called Project 112, that might have exposed U.S. service members and others including DOD civilian personnel, DOD contractors, and foreign nationals to chemical or biological agents employed in these tests.

While there is no database that contains information concerning the biological and chemical tests that have been conducted, we determined that hundreds of such classified tests and research projects were conducted outside Project 112 while it was ongoing. In addition, information from various sources shows that personnel from all services were involved in chemical and biological testing.

We learned during this review that hundreds of chemical and biological tests similar to those conducted under Project 112 were conducted during the same time period... This study listed 31 biological field tests performed at various military installations including Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Ft. Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Detrick, Maryland; and Edwards Air Force Base, California. The study did not quantify the number of test participants nor did it identify them. In addition, we reported in 1993 and 1994 that hundreds of radiological, chemical, and biological tests were conducted in which hundreds of thousands of people were used as test subjects.

We also reported that the Army Chemical Corps conducted a classified medical research program for developing incapacitating agents. This program involved testing nerve agents, nerve agent antidotes, psycho chemicals, and irritants. The chemicals were given to volunteer service members at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland; Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; and Forts Benning, Bragg, and McClellan. In total, Army documents identified 7,120 Army and Air Force personnel who participated in these tests. Further, GAO concluded that precise information on the scope and the magnitude of tests involving human subjects was not available, and the exact number of human subjects might never be known.

The report indicates that only 6% of those potentially exposed by the land based tests of Project 112 have been identified while 94% of the participants of the ship based testing or project SHAD have been identified.

Partially as a result of the report by GAO, Congress passed Public Law 107-314 or the National Defense Authorization Act of 2003 which included Section 709 entitled Disclosure of Information on Project 112 to Department of Veterans Affairs. The law required the identification and release of not only Project 112 information to VA but also that of any other projects or tests where a veteran might have been exposed to an agent and directed The Secretary of Defense to work with veterans and veterans service organizations to identify the other projects or tests conducted by the Department of Defense that may have exposed members of the Armed Forces to chemical or biological agents.[28]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Edgewood / Aberdeen Experiments". United States Department of Veterans Affairs. April 1, 2013. Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  2. Malcolm Dando; Martin Furmanski (2006). "Midspectrum Incapacitant Programs". In Mark Wheelis. Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945. Harvard University Press. pp. 245–246. ISBN 978-0-674-04513-2. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lynn C. Klotz; Edward J. Sylvester (2009). Breeding Bio Insecurity: How U.S. Biodefense Is Exporting Fear, Globalizing Risk, and Making Us All Less Secure. University of Chicago Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-226-44407-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Edgewood Arsenal Chemical Agent Exposure Studies 1955 - 1975". United States Department of Defense, Force Health Protection & Readiness, Medical Countermeasures website. Retrieved 2013-06-19. 
  5. Researchers tested pot, LSD on Army volunteers Richard Willing, USA TODAY, 4/6/2007
  6. Edgewood Arsenal Chemical Agent Exposure Studies FAQs. What types of tests were conducted at Edgewood? September 08, 2008
  7. "Health Effects from Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Weapons", U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (October 2003), page 6.
  8. Possible Long-Term Health Effects of Short-Term Exposure to Chemical Agents, Commission on Life Sciences. The National Academies Press. In three volumes:
  9. Veterans at Risk: Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1993, 427 pp.
  10. James S. Ketchum (2006). Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, A Personal Story of Medical Testing of Army Volunteers with Incapacitating Chemical Agents During the Cold War (1955–1975). Santa Rosa, CA: ChemBooks Inc.. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-4243-0080-8. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Vietnam Veterans of America, et al. v. Central Intelligence Agency, et al. Case No. CV-09-0037-CW, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal. 2009)". Morrison & Foerster. August 7, 2013. Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  12. Lynn C. Klotz; Edward J. Sylvester (2009). Breeding Bio Insecurity: How U.S. Biodefense Is Exporting Fear, Globalizing Risk, and Making Us All Less Secure. University of Chicago Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-226-44407-9.  citing James S. Ketchum (2006). Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten, A Personal Story of Medical Testing of Army Volunteers with Incapacitating Chemical Agents During the Cold War (1955–1975). Santa Rosa, CA: ChemBooks Inc.. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-4243-0080-8. 
  13. "July 17, 1975 NBC Evening News segment",, July 17, 1975.
  14. Secret Agenda: the United States Government, Nazi Scientists and Project Paperclip" St. Martin's Press, 1991; ABC PrimeTime Live, Operation Paperclip, 1991, and hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, 1991.
  15. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. September 1992. p. 43. 
  21. Neuropsychopharmacology (2008) 33, 3248; doi:10.1038/npp.2008.26
  22. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (December 26, 2012). "Primary Sources: Operation Delirium". Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  23. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (December 17, 2012). "Operation Delirium: Decades after a risky Cold War experiment, a scientist lives with secrets". Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  24. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (December 16, 2012). "High Anxiety: LSD in the Cold War". Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  25. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (December 12, 2012). "War of the Mind". Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  26. RAFFI KHATCHADOURIAN (December 11, 2012). "Manufacturing Madness". Retrieved October 1, 2013. 
  27. Chemical and Biological Defense,, May 2004, p. 24.
  28. "107th Congress Public Law 314, BOB STUMP NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2003". U.S. Government Printing Office. December 2, 2002. Retrieved October 1, 2013. 

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