The Real Story of Jacob’s Ladder: Government Drug Tests and “The Ladder”


By David Ian McKendry, 13th Floor, 8/8/2016

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In 1990, movie audiences were captivated by director Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror film JACOB’S LADDER. The story of a Vietnam veteran whose combat experience left him suffering from flashbacks and strange hallucinations, the film put a spotlight on the American military’s use of chemical and biological weapons during the Vietnam War. In the film, they talk about a drug referred to as “the Ladder”, a powerful hallucinogen they believe the government was testing on them. Although only a movie, the premise behind the types of chemical warfare and drug tests discussed in the film isn’t all that far from truth, and “the Ladder” bears a striking resemblance to a real chemical weapon/drug known as BZ.

BZ, also known as 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, is a what the military refers to as an incapacitating agent. A strong hallucinogen, BZ was designed to render combatants confused and lethargic, as well as cause severe, but temporary, memory loss. It was originally developed by a Swiss Pharmaceutical company as a possible ulcer treatment. The company quickly decided that it was unsuitable for ulcers due to excessive hallucinations.

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