“Catatonic cases after intravenous sodium amytal injection”


Film title: “Catatonic cases after intravenous sodium amytal injection (videotape)”.
Producer: W. J. Bleckwenn
Site of production: Univ. Wisconsin at Madison
Year: 1930
Current Location: National Library of Medicine Washington, D.C., NLM ID8501040A

This film was made by neurologist William Jeferson Bleckwenn (1895-1965), to show the effects of very large doses of sodium amytal (amobarbital) on individuals suffering long-term catatonia. He and his colleague William Lorenz found that these extreme treatments produced what they called a “lucid interval,” during which time patients could converse normally, carry out the tasks and actions of ordinary life, and provide information about themselves that were impossible during their “normal” (undrugged) states of mind. At the beginning of the film the patients, who have each suffered from catatonia for months or years, appear drugged; the footage allows viewers to see the strange phenomenon by which the intravenous injection of a powerful sedative results, in these unusual cases, in a brief period of what seems to be self-control and sobriety, before the drugs wear off and the patient sinks back into catatonia.

Related films: Combat Exhaustion

Further reading:

Bleckwenn W. J. (1930). “Sodium amytal in certain nervous and mental conditions”. Wisconsin Medical Journal, 29: 693–696.
Bleckwenn W. J. (1930). “Narcosis as therapy”. JAMA 95: 1168–1171.
Bleckwenn WJ (1930). “Production of sleep and rest in psychotic cases”. Arch Neurol Psychiatry 24: 365–375.
Naples M, Hackett, T. P. (1978). “The amytal interview: history and current uses”. Psychosomatics 19 (2): 98–105.
Tollefson, G. D. (1982). “The amobarbital interview in the differential diagnosis of catatonia”. Psychosomatics 23 (4): 437–438.
Fink, M. (2009). “Catatonia: a syndrome appears, disappears, and is rediscovered”. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 54 (7): 437–445.


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