Send to

Choose Destination
Brain Res Bull. 2008 Dec 16;77(6):388-403. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2008.09.002. Epub 2008 Oct 10.

The role of psychopharmacology in the medical abuses of the Third Reich: from euthanasia programmes to human experimentation.

Author information

Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Alcalá, Campus Universitario, Ctra. Madrid-Barcelona Km 33,600, 28871 Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.


German psychiatry and pharmacology both enjoyed an extraordinary international reputation prior to the promulgation of the Third Reich. However, with the triumph of eugenic ideas and the imposition of a "racial hygiene" policy by the Nazi regime, various organs of the German health system saw themselves involved in a perverse system of social control, in which the illicit use of psychopharmacological tools became customary. In the present work, we review, from the historical perspective, the factors that helped to bring about this situation and we analyze the abuses (known and documented) committed through the specific use of psychotropic drugs during the Nazi period. Among such abuses we can identify the following illegitimate activities: the use of psychoactive drugs, mainly sedatives from the barbiturates family, in the different euthanasia programmes implemented by the Nazi authorities, in police activity and various types of repression, and for purely criminal and extermination purposes within the so-called "Final Solution"; psychopharmacological research on the mentally ill, without the slightest ethical requirements or legal justification; and the use of psychotropic agents in research on healthy subjects, recruited from concentration camps. Finally, we refer to the role of poisonous nerve agents (tabun, sarin and soman) as instruments of chemical warfare and their development by the German authorities. Many of these activities, though possibly only a small portion of the total - given the destruction of a great deal of documentation just before the end of World War II - came to light through the famous Nuremberg Trials, as well as through other trials in which specific persons were brought to justice unilaterally by individual Allied nations or by the authorities of the new German government after the War.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center