10 Scariest Chemical Weapons

U.S. chemical cluster bomb, circa 1964. (Jack Riddle/The Denver Post/Getty)

The chemistry of life and the chemistry of death frequently reflect one another.

During the 1960s, free-thinking flower children took psychedelics and dreamed of a world without war. Meanwhile, U.S. Army researchers at Edgewood Arsenal studied some of the same hallucinogens in the name of psychochemical warfare.

They also sought weapons in the form of rejected drugs from major pharmaceutical companies - some 400 a month, each commercially useless due to undesirable side effects [source: Lee and Shlain]

Out of this whirlwind of psychedelics, failed medicine and human experimentation, one chemical weapon emerged as the U.S. Military's standard incapacitating agent: 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate or BZ.

A rejected gastrointestinal medication, BZ proved highly useful in warfare due to its potent ability to depress the central nervous system. It dulls several crucial cognitive functions, including memory, problem solving, attention, and comprehension - and does so for upwards of three days [source: Windrem].

The United States deployed BZ against the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, and allegedly explored its possible use as a contingency plan in the event of a civilian uprising [source: Lee and Shlain].

The U.S. ultimately abandoned the super-hallucinogen due to its unpredictability on the battlefield, but accusations of Iraqi BZ research, Syrian BZ use and even recreational use among insurgents continues to this day [source: Khatchadourian]

Symptoms: Dizziness, loss of motor control, vomiting, dry mouth, blurred vision, confusion, sedation, unpredictable behavior, delusions and hallucination.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.