"Wait, what the hell? This was supposed to be a truth serum, not a VOLUNTEER INFORMATION serum!"
The common term "truth serum" refers to any number of sedative/hypnotic drugs which are used to induce honesty in a subject. In fact, truthfulness is not guaranteed by the use of such drugs; while a person under the influence of a truth serum may become talkative, or may experience reduced inhibitions or even hallucinogenic fantasies, they are still quite capable of lying. For this reason, and the obvious human and civil rights issues (which are similar to those regarding torture), any statements obtained in this manner are inadmissible in court. Or, they're really disgusting concoctions used in crossing the line ceremonies
. The best that modern pharmacology can come up with is amobarbital (better known as sodium amytal) and is not all that useful at all.
Ah, but don't tell Hollywood
In movies and television, truth serums of all forms (be they actual drugs, spells or whatever) behave quite predictably, and will invariably have one or more of the following effects on the subject:
- A person becomes incapable of lying, though still fully conscious and otherwise able.
- In many cases, the subject seems compelled to not only tell the truth, but to talk, period. Simply shutting up and not speaking, which isn't a lie, never occurs to them — or, if they do try to shut up, they are physically unable to do so.
- As well, they have a tendency to go into far more detail than is necessary, when short, curt responses that aren't lies could still keep the secret. Compare I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You.
- Occasionally, they will be unable to lie, but quite able to be creative in telling the truth from a certain point of view.
- A victim almost always gives complete and accurate information, even though in Real Life, people who think they're telling the truth are often wrong.
If the trope-generator is positioned more towards the "Science Fiction" end of the scale, invariably the injectee will start babbling about the Killer Rabbit
/ Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot
/ Little Green Men
, and be instantly dismissed as crazy or, at best, programmed to spout gibberish under interrogation.
While the body of this entry deals mainly with traditional truth serums, in fiction there are actually many methods of getting the truth out of someone besides drugs. These, due to being Applied Phlebotinum
, can be excused
for behaving as described herein. Sometimes. Maybe.
For the more historically tried and true method of extracting information by getting the victim completely sloshed on cheap booze, see In Vino Veritas
May overlap with I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You
. See also Lie Detector
and Bad Liar
for cases where the subject can lie but can't fool anyone.
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Anime And Manga
- In Peorth's introductory arc in Ah! My Goddess, Urd gives her sisters a drug that will make them confess to any misdeeds they have ever committed in order to find out about an incident that made Peorth hate Belldandy. When Skuld takes it, she confesses to a variety of minor misdeeds. When Belldandy takes it, nothing happens.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, in one of the later chapters, as Negi was running away from his cute students who want to know the name of the girl he likes using every means necessary, He got an injection of "truth serum" up his... "back side". It still didn't work.
- Perhaps the most famous example is Wonder Woman's magic lasso, which forces others to tell her exactly what she wants to know. Originally it was portrayed without such powers, with the assumption an Amazon with her foot on your neck was a compelling enough tactic. The lasso was originally stated to have the power of forcing anyone bound in it to obey Wonder Woman's orders. This was written out, partly because it made things too easy for her and partly because it laid the Fetish Fuel on a bit too thick. The lasso is supposed to make you tell the truth; whether or not it forces you to speak at all is unclear.
- Subverted in an issue when Batman uses sodium thiopental on an opponent. The opponent is barely able to answer one question before passing out.
- Subverted another time when The Joker's henchmen gave him some truth serum in order to get him to tell them where he kept his money. Unfortunately for them, the Joker's state of mind isn't exactly normal at the best of times, let alone under hallucinogenic drugs. The henchmen didn't get anything for their efforts other than mad ramblings.
- Played with in 52 when Lex Luthor kidnaps a depowered Clark Kent and gives him an experimental truth serum which his scientists explain is a synthetic recreation of Wonder Woman's magic lasso (See above). He then asks Clark, who broke the story about new hero Supernova, why it is that Superman is toying with Luthor by pretending to be someone else. Clark, laughing madly, informs Lex that he does not know who is under the Supernova mask, but he is absolutely certain of one thing, that it is not Superman. Creator commentary in the trade-paperbacks points out that this scene, and perhaps the entire future path of DC comics, could have gone so differently if Luthor had simply known to ask the right question.
- Before that, soon after his wedding with Lois (when he was also depowered), he was kidnapped by a gangster, beaten up and drugged with a truth serum. He told he was Superman, but the gangster refused to believe and thought the serum wasn't working. Somewhat justified, as Clark, depowered, had several hematomas and was bleeding, something Superman isn't supposed to.
- In a Numbskulls strip, Brainy accidentally switched Ed's truth control from 'true' to 'false'. When the other numbskulls find out, he resets it to 'as truthful as can be.' Ed immediately insults an enormous violent thug.
- In the Tintin story Flight 714, Laszlo Carreidas is injected with a truth serum to try and pry the number of his Swiss Bank Account from him. He, however, starts confessing to every misdeed he has every done in his life. When Big Bad Rastapopoulos is accidentally injected with the same serum, he and Carreidas get into an argument about who is the most evil.
- Represented realistically in Diabolik, as lowering compulsions and possible to resist. Diabolik himself was once dosed with it and his interrogators got only a glare, and a man he kidnapped for information for a theft was revealed being an undercover cop who managed to lie without getting caught.
- Truth serum's inability to make someone tell the truth is a somewhat recurring plot point, sometimes due the interrogated being conditioned to resist, more often due him having a medical condition that would kill him if the truth serum is administered, the interrogated one having been administered something that, with the help of the truth serum, ends up killing the subject mid-interrogation, and, in at least one case, Diabolik misunderstanding the information (the combination of a safe that consisted in repeating twice a sequence of numbers. When the subject repeated it, Diabolik misunderstood and inserted the sequence only once and got caged).
- 1980's British Starblazer. P30M-90 is an extremely potent truth drug. Pentathax is used for the same purpose.
- The French comic Captain Biceps parodied this with Wonderbra Woman's lasso forcing people to tell the truth. Unfortunately, said truths are more along the lines of "You've gained weight recently, haven't you".
- In issue #12 of Ms. Marvel (2014) Loki put Asgardian truth elixir in the punch at the Valentine's Day ball. He didn't target it or anything, just counted on that, if everybody said what they really thought, he will be able to find if someone had other than relationship troubles. Hilarity Ensued. And by this we mean chaos. Which the local superheroine kind of took issue with.
- Liar Liar has a lawyer compelled to tell the truth (almost nonstop) for 24 hours by his son's birthday wish.
- In True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is injected with a truth serum by terrorists, which also allows his wife, who has also been captured, to question him about his double life as a secret agent. When the interrogator comes back, Arnie tells him all about the plan he had for escaping and killing him, reveals that he picked his handcuffs, then proceeds to do exactly what he said he would.
- True Lies is a comedy, so this scene is deliberately a bit over the top.
- Also consider the answer he gives to Helen's first question: "Are we going to die?" Answer: "Yep." (She didn't ask, "Are they going to kill us?")
- In Valiant, a British homing pigeon is given a truth serum by the German hawks who have captured him. While he tells the truth, he still refuses to actually tell them what they want to know, and instead babbles on and on, annoying them until he accidentally gives them information they wanted to know in the first place.
- In the film adaptation of Red Dragon, Agent Graham mentions that hospital staff tried Sodium Amytal on Hannibal Lecter to find out where he hid one of his victims. Lecter gave them a recipe for dip. Although considering his... tastes, that might have been his way of telling them without giving them anything useful.
- Parodied in Johnny English, when the titular inept super-spy gets two gadget rings mixed up. Instead of a strong sedative, he accidentally injects a mook with sodium thiopental. The mook becomes not only truthful but extremely helpful, happily obeying Johnny's request for safe directions out of the heavily guarded building before realising in horror what he's just done.
- In Meet the Fockers, Pam's father Jack, suspicious of Greg, injects him with sodium thiopental. Greg forgets after five seconds that he'd had a syringe jammed into his neck, and proceeds to get on the mic and spill his guts to the whole family reunion about his lust for Pam's mom, his (supposedly) illegitimate son, and Pam's pregnancy. Note that this is a reference to the lie detector scene from the first movie.
- Parodied in The Man Who Knew Too Little, where the truth serum works just fine, but because Wally is actually The Fool who's been Mistaken For A Spy, his interrogators don't believe him.
- Tank Girl. The Rippers try to use nitrous oxide as one to find out if Tank Girl and Jet Girl are spies for Water and Power. It doesn't work at all: the girls only give nonsense responses.
- The Guns of Navarone. When Major Franklin is critically injured, the Allied saboteur team contemplates letting the Germans capture him, but fear they may interrogate him with scopolamine and learn all of the plan. Finally, the leader uses the opportunity provided by a radio communication to feed him false "new orders", and abandon him. He's taken to a military hospital and spits out the false orders under the drug's effect.
- In Kill Bill Vol. 2, Bill uses this, his "greatest invention", on The Bride.
- Bullshot (1983). Having kidnapped Absent-Minded Professor Fenton, the dastardly villain Otto von Bruno tries to find out his secret formula with a device designed to cause "Involuntary Lingual Slippage". After several unfortunate slips of the tongue, the device begins to malfunction, but not before the Professor is forced to admit that the formula is with his daughter who's a pain in the ARRRRRGGGHH!
- In Return to the Planet of the Apes, Dr. Zira, a chimpanzee biologist who studied humans far in the ape-ruled future, where such things were commonplace, is given a dose of sodium thiopental by the locals after a slip of the tongue inadvertently reveals that she used to dissect human specimens. Her ramblings reveal that dissection was only the start of it, and things go sharply downhill from there. To be fair, she is warned that the truth serum will have the same effect as champagne she had earlier, which is true: she just got drunk and talkative both times.
- Jumpin Jack Flash. Whoopi Goldberg is injected with a truth serum by Jim Belushi, but she escapes. She then proceeds to say exactly what she's thinking to everyone she meets, including her Jerk Ass boss.
- Robert De Niro's period spy film The Good Shepherd subverts this trope in a disturbing, graphically realistic way. Edward Wilson, the head of the newly-formed CIA's counter-espionage branch, is confronted with a Soviet "defector" who may or may not be who he claims to be. In order to determine the man's real identity, Wilson has his men administer a brutal physical beating. When they still aren't sure, they use a newly-developed truth serum called "Lysergic Acid" (better known as LSD). Rather than the above-mentioned effects of "Hollywood" truth serums, the LSD does what you would expect from reality- the man babbles like an idiot and hallucinates. Later, when the drug begins to wear off somewhat, he delivers a "Reason You Suck" Speech to his interrogators... then jumps out the window to his death. In case you were wondering, he really was who he claimed to be, making the tragedy All for Nothing, and highlighting the ineffectiveness of the so-called "truth serum". This was based on a real incident where a man who was given LSD without knowing threw himself out of a window while hallucinating. He wasn't a Soviet defector, though, but a CIA agent given the drug by his own agency to test its effect on unsuspecting subjects.
- Subverted in Side Effects (2013). A psychiatrist gives a truth serum to a patient, but it's actually a placebo. When she acts groggy, he knows she's been faking her other symptoms as well.
- Firestarter mentions that among other things, Andy's ability to persuade people via mentally "pushing" them included the ability to get them to volunteer information they might otherwise keep to themselves, but that he had to keep from overdoing it. For instance, when chasing down the Shop agents who'd kidnapped his daughter, he was able to get a girl who'd seen them going by to reveal which way their van went by pushing her, but with just a light tap. As the novel explains, had he pushed her too hard, she would have told him (and truly believed) that the van had gone in any direction he wanted it to go, including straight up into the sky.
- The Harry Potter books feature a magical truth serum called Veritaserum. It's mentioned quite a lot, but the only time it's actually used was on an unconscious Barty Crouch Jr., disguised as Mad-Eye Moody. However, according to J. K. Rowling, all magical truth serums are fallible when used on a victim who is prepared for it, and its effects can be counteracted. Of course this still makes you wonder why they didn't administer it to more unconscious people, as that worked entirely well. In the film version of Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge uses veritaserum successfully on Cho Chang, off-screen. This serves to streamline the plot, giving Harry a reason to break up with Cho without having her ultimately responsible for the betrayal. It also writes out Marietta Edgecombe, the original (serum-less) tattle-tale, as well as Hermione's "SNEAK" jinx.
- Parodied in Life, the Universe, and Everything with a character named Prak, who was injected with too strong a dose of truth serum when asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in court. People had to flee his illuminated ramblings or go insane. He forgot most of it (except for the bits about frogs) but was able to tell Arthur Dent where to find God's Final Message to His Creation before dying.
- Spider Robinson wrote a short story, "Satan's Children", about the unexpected positive effects of a drug that made people permanently incapable of lying. It wreaked particular havoc among politicians and prominent religious leaders (although it didn't break *all* of them).
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga has a truth drug called fast-penta, which when it works properly fulfills this trope perfectly. Inducing honesty is not actually its primary effect, though: what it does is make the subject want to be helpful, allowing the interrogator to suggest that it would be helpful if they would answer a few questions. The distinction is illustrated in Ethan of Athos, in a sequence where fast-penta is used to interrogate a character who is actually entirely ignorant of the subject at issue; instead of explaining that he can't understand the questions, let alone answer them, he attempts to help out by tacitly translating them into questions he can answer and answering those instead, to the confusion of his captors.
- However, as fast-penta is a drug, not everyone reacts the same way. Most exceptions are fatal allergies. People whose work involves sensitive or classified information can have the allergy artificially induced, unless their lives are deemed more important than the secrets they know. Bujold often uses artificial allergies to keep the characters from learning too much too soon. Another exception to the norm is Miles Vorkosigan. Due to his screwed up body chemistry, fast-penta induces a temporary mania in addition to the typical long-windedness. He uses this to his advantage, forcing himself to be discursive and bouncing off the walls reciting Richard III until his interrogators give up and put him back in his cell.
- Fast-penta also removes its subject's inhibitions, making them voice whatever is on their mind. So when Ekaterin is under fast-penta, she talks about her sexual curiosity about Miles, to his embarrassment.
- Bruce Coville's The Skull of Truth (part of the Magic Shop series) has the main character come into possession of a talking skull that forces him to speak only the truth. He finds out, though, that there are different levels of truth (apparently jesters and poets are better at telling the truth more obtusely than others), and ultimately comes face-to-face with Truth him/her/itself, who describes itself as both destroyer and healer. At the end, the protagonist is gifted with the ability to compel people to tell the truth, whether they want to or not.
- The protagonist of one of Leo Gursky's detective comedy series is a Chew Toy Absent-Minded Professor pharmacologist. One of the substances he tested was claimed to be a "Super Truth Serum" and explicitly said to be pentothal derivative, and he has one capsule in his pocket he forgets about. Naturally, when the mafia captures him, the Mook ordered to search him is a drug addict, finds the capsule, and soon Hilarity Ensues. Still more believable than usual: apart from the nonstop talking, the Mook giggled, drooled and looked like the heavily drugged idiot he was, so even after he collapsed the boss didn't get what was going on until the protagonist explained it.
- In the Harry Turtledove novel ''Worldwar: In the Balance" the aliens try their truth drug on one of the protagonists, but all it does is make him rather giggly. With some difficulty, he manages to keep his cover story straight. The aliens don't know this, so they believe his story that he's an innocent civilian and let him go.
- This may be an illustration of what happens when you try to use truth drugs in real life- they work by lowering inhibitions (which sometimes helps), not by creating some kind of magical compulsive honesty.
- The fact that it was originally designed for use on aliens with reptilian/dinosaurian physiology (the Race, Rabotev, and Hallesi) instead of mammalian probably didn't help. The Race has had over 50,000 Earth years to work on it so it may work perfectly on themselves and subject species. The alien Fleetlord and Senior Shiplord are later seen discussing that the drug has not been working as well as it should be.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series, the Heralds have a two-stage Truth Spell. Stage one functions as a Lie Detector; stage two compels the bespelled person to answer any question truthfully.
- Unknown to Heralds in most time periods, the spell works by attracting a (previously bound to Heralds) nonsentient air elemental to the subject, and then inducing it to possess him or her. Based on the more detailed description, stage one is actually a slightly more focused polygraph, and there's nothing to prove it lacks the same weaknesses. We tend to see the Truth Spell used against people lying to hide powerful and violent feelings, and the spell tends not to show up in time periods where people who can resist possession are present.
- Phoenix Force uses scopalomine, administered by its team medic Calvin James due to the risk of possible heart failure. In one novel the prisoner has a heart condition, so they try hypnosis instead, getting enough details to work out the information they're looking for.
- No one can tell lies in close proximity to the griffins in Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. Their feathers have associated properties like dispelling magical illusions. However, truth spells can be fooled fairly easily, even when you don't have magic.
- Pierce's Circle of Magic books also have truth spells; most mages that can use them specialize in vision and related matters. ("See" the truth, you know.) Tris's teacher Niko is a highly respected one, which comes in handy when Tris's student is being held for "questioning" in Tharios.
- Combined with a Brown Note in the Star Trek New Frontier novel The Quiet Place. The Redeemer Overlord, along with a killing word, has a truth-telling word, that compels a person to spill his guts. In fact, it makes the victim tell every truth he's ever known, and then kills him. And then it's subverted in the fact that the victim was trying to get them to stop torturing another victim for information...but they keep going anyway because, even though he did tell the truth, the other victim still could be hiding something.
- The titular drug of Kallocain by Swedish author Karin Boye made people respond truthfully to all questions. Problem for the Universal State: It turns out everybody hates the system of government.
- In The Wheel of Time books, the Aes Sedai have an artifact called the Oath Rod, which binds the will of one who makes an oath while grasping it. Each Aes Sedai before becoming a full sister must swear three oaths using the Oath Rod, one of which is never to speak a lie. However, they tend to become skilled at (and widely distrusted for) making misleading statements while never saying anything technically untrue.
- In Henry Seslar's short story "Examination Day", when a child reaches the age of 12, they are made to take a Government Intelligence Test. To prevent cheating the child being tested is told to drink a Truth Drug in a form of a buttermilk-like liquid which tastes faintly like peppermint.
- The reason is that the drug compels the subject to answer the IQ tests truthfully, making sure they do not try to deliberately answer the questions wrong in case the child in question found out what happens to those whose intelligence quotient is higher than what the Government regulation allow: they are killed.
- Played fairly straight in the first book of the Blood of Kerensky trilogy set in the BattleTech universe during Phelan's interrogation by the Clans. The procedure (complete with IV drip for the truth drugs and sensors to monitor the subject's vital signs) was still involved enough to suggest that even (presumably) 31st-century medical science might be able to make this kind of thing effective, but not exactly safe.
- In Bored of the Rings, a parody of The Lord of the Rings, Goodgulf the Wizard used "one of his secret potionsnote " to get the truth about how he obtained the Ring out of Dildo Bugger.
- In the X-Wing Series, it is mentioned that CorSec officers undergo a chemical interrogation as part of their training. When it was done to Corran Horn, he ended up confessing to every childhood misdeed committed in his entire life, which would have been amusing even at the time had the interrogator not provided a transcript to his father (A fellow officer). While also amusing and somewhat disturbing to the reader, the existence of not only such drugs used by a police force but stronger ones available to groups like, oh, the Empire, makes one wonder about how Leia managed to hold up to an interrogation by Darth Vader, when the arguably less-vicious Ysanne Isard had methods that would (with only mild exaggeration) have Corran "spilling secrets his mother had forgotten while he was in the womb".
- Simon R. Green's Hawk And Fisher series contains a scene in which murder suspects are interrogated under a truth spell. The spell doesn't prevent them from withholding information or answering in a deceptive way, though, so all of them get away with saying "no" when asked if they committed the murders. Turns out there are two murderers, each of whom committed a different murder; when Hawk asks each of them if they killed Blackstone and Bowman, both murderers were able to truthfully answer no.
- Subverted in Thomas Pynchon's Gravitys Rainbow. Slothrop is administered sodium amytal twice in the course of the narrative. In both cases he is reduced to surreal babblings and squicky nightmares instead of volunteering information.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith offers us nitrobarb in the Family D'Alembert series. Nitrobarb eliminates the subject's ability to lie or withhold information, but it's difficult to use because the questioning has to be specific and directed. The other big problem is that it carries a 50% fatality rate. That's right - half the people who get given it die as a result. Lampshaded in-universe by one of the heroes, who makes it clear that generally speaking they all die, because the information extracted invariably leads to a successful conviction for treason, with the death penalty to follow. When the bad guys use it, the subjects all die because once they've milked you of what you know, you're too dangerous to leave alive.
On another occasion the heroes capture The Dragon and inject them with a conveniently-left-lying-around dose. The information they obtain turns out to be false, but their boss is quick to point out that the dose was too conveniently left lying around, and for all they knew they were injecting them with distilled water. Later, it's discovered that The Dragon is a humaniform android, and it could have been the real thing.
- Frank Herbert's Dune universe has Verite, a will-destroying narcotic from the planet Ecaz that renders a person incapable of falsehood.
- Robert A. Heinlein used this trope several times.
- "Methuselah's Children". The government uses a truth drug on members of the Howard Families to try to find out the secret of the Families' longevity. It works, but the investigators don't believe what the members tell them and assume they just know the truth.
- Friday. When Friday is captured by Boss' enemies, they use a truth drug on her to make her tell them about Boss' operations. The problem is that she couldn't tell her interrogators what she didn't know, as Boss keeps his employees on a "need to know" basis since anyone can be broken with sufficient torture. Unfortunately for Friday, the captors don't believe that she's telling the truth even after the serum, so they tortured her for information she couldn't give because didn't have it.
- In Between Planets, I.B.I. Agent Stanley Bankfield likes truth serums. As he explains to Don Harvey physical coercion can lead to the subject saying and confessing to anything if applied too zealously. The unnamed agent back on Earth who questioned Harvey in New Chicago disagreed, feeling proper application of pain would make him quite talkative while serums force him to wade through all sorts of irrelevant babble.
- In the first Quiller spy novel, the title character is injected with a drug designed to make him high and therefore talkative; they get some facts out of the subsequent Word Salad, but not enough. Quiller does reveal too much about his obsession for a girl he's met however, so they decide to use that angle to force his co-operation.
- The Rifter: Fathi, a drug used repeatedly in this novel, fits almost all the aspects of this trope. It makes a person feel relaxed and happy and willing to answer anything, and they also find themselves telling the truth even when they don’t intend to. Sometimes it doesn’t get the desired result because of a too literal answer, such as when John is asked where Ravishan is and says he doesn’t know (well, he doesn’t know exactly where, does he?) but more often it works all too well. This is how John lets it slip out that Lady Bousim has been practicing magic and gets her burned as a witch, cementing her son Fikiri’s hatred for John.
- In the Divergent series, the serum associated with the Candor faction is, of course, truth serum, used for trials, interrogations, and Candor initiation.
- In The Beyonders trilogy a rare jungle cobra has venom that not only makes the victim say out loud everything that comes to mind, it makes them remember everything in perfect detail, even the Key Word after they've spoken it. After Jason is captured by Maldor his interrogators slip the cobra into his cell. And in the second book Galloran uses small doses to restore some of the memories he lost during Maldor's torture sessions.
Live Action TV
- Long before Liar Liar, The Twilight Zone had an episode in which a used car salesman buys a car its previous owner claims is haunted, and finds himself supernaturally being forced to tell the truth, which is especially inconvenient in his line of work. Eventually, a local politician (who for obvious reasons doesn't want the car for himself either) helps him fob the car off as an all-American souvenir to a foreign politician who happens to be in town for a visit: Nikita Khrushchev.
- In V: The Final Battle, the hero Mike Donovan is injected with an alien truth serum and fulfills this trope completely. This is an alien formula, so...
- Though the initial injection apparently wasn't strong enough.
Diana: What color is your hair?
Donovan: Blue. (Diana injects him again)
- From a Steven Wright comedy routine:
"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" "Yes, I do. You're ugly. See that woman there in the jury box? I'd really like to sleep with her. Do I continue, or are you gonna ask me questions?"
- Get Smart
- Inverted when Maxwell Smart is given lying pills to foil any possible interrogation. He takes it at an inappropriate time and suddenly lies about every slightest fact, including his own name.
- In another episode, he is drugged and ordered to tell his interrogators "everything you know". Naturally, this results in a seemingly endless stream of trivia, including multiplication tables.
- In yet another, Max is tasked with drugging a suspected enemy spy with a truth pill, while she gives him a sleeping drug. A Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo later, he's talking to his boss...
- The Charmed episode "The Truth Is Out There And It Hurts" has one of the sisters casting a 24-hour "Truth Spell" which results in anyone who is asked a direct question having to answer with the truth. Unfortunately it also meant if anyone asked one of the sisters a question, they would have to answer with the truth.
- The Middle Man: The Middleman sets off a truth bomb to get Pip to confess he copied Wendy's paintings. Everyone else in the vicinity starts spontaneously confessing embarrassing truths. Wendy tries to take advantage of the truth bomb to find out the Middleman's name, but he manages to dodge the question by giving her an honest answer that says nothing.
- Star Trek
- Subverted in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where they inject Quark with 6 doses of sodium thiopental, with no effect. But that's a Ferengi's metabolism for ya. Quark ironically is only too willing to talk, to stop these mad humans from jabbing him with sharp needles.
- In Enterprise, Vulcans are apparently resistant or disciplined enough to defeat such measures. When a villain is interrogating T'Pol about the possibilities of time travel, she is able to respond using what is technically true: "The Vulcan science directorate has determined that time travel is impossible."
- Enterprise also revealed that the Andorrians have an interrogation device specifically designed for Vulcans which removes their emotional control, thereby making them a lot less capable of deceitfully telling technical truths the way T'Pol does. The one time we see it in action, however, Shran is using it on Soval to confirm that he really is telling them the truth about a planned Vulcan invasion. When Shran still Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer even after Soval has suffered a total emotional breakdown, Soval angrily berates him for being stupid and insists that he crank his device up further until he's convinced.
- UFO episode "Computer Affair". The "GL-7 serum", one of the "new anodynes", is used on a captured alien at Straker's orders to lower his resistance so he'll talk. Unfortunately it kills him instead, due to either his different biology or him somehow committing suicide to prevent himself from talking.
- Humorously used on Married... with Children after Kelly gets bitten by a swarm of poisonous Samoan beetles during a commercial she's filming for an extermination company. Bud discovers that the Samoan people use the bugs' venom to create a truth serum, and Kelly ends up repeatedly telling the truth at the worst possible times.
- Played straight on LOST when Sayid is restrained and given an unnamed drug by members of the Dharma Initiative, who believe him to be a hostile spy, and informed that he will have no choice but to answer their questions truthfully. When he does so, eventually revealing that he is from the future, the interrogator concludes that he used too high a dose.
- 24 has occasionally used "hyoscine pentothal" in the past (a fictional substance whose name is taken from the names of two real substances).
- The Dukes of Hazzard had an episode where Roscoe returns from a police convention with, among other things, a syringe filled with truth serum. Boss Hogg sits on the syringe about halfway through the episode, injecting himself with the serum. Hilarity ensues when he can't stop telling the truth, including calling the IRS and confessing to cheating on his taxes for several years.
- In the MI High episode "Spy Animals", a truth serum causes the teachers to start blurting out what they really think about the students and other members of staff, and causes Daisy to tell her friends that she is really a spy. They think this is a story to cover up the fact that she is going out with Blane. Blane attempts to get Daisy to say what she really thinks about him while she is still under the influence, but Lenny gives her the antidote before she can reply.
- Played fairly realistically in Farscape. When Aeryn is captured by the Scarrans and tortured for information, she is injected with truth serum (from a massive syringe): the drug merely lowers her resistance to questioning while also causing physical pain, disorientation, and eventual unconsciousness. After several rounds of torture and several lies, she finally tells the truth- though by then, she's barely able to speak coherently.
- Admittedly this didn't stop her from getting sarcastic with the torturers during the first session:
Aeryn: No, don't use that, I won't lie to you. I'll just tell you what you want to know.
(She injects Aeryn at the shoulder.)
- The Scarrans are also mildly psionic and can use their powers to force truth out of people, though it can still be an evasive half-truth. In the same series of episodes, when John is captured attempting to free Aeryn, he claims that he decided to because Aeryn was prettier than the nurse, and that once he had freed her he was going to have lots of sex and babies with her.
- An interesting example cropped up on Chuck. In the episode "Chuck Versus The Truth," the villain of the week uses a poison that has the side effect of inducing truth-telling tendencies in its victims. Chuck, Casey, and Sarah are all ultimately administered the drug. Since this is a comedy, it's mostly played for laughs, as when Casey admits Sarah is better at picking locks than he is. But at the end of the episode, Chuck asks Sarah if she has any real feelings for him. Her answer: No. At the very end of the episode, it's revealed Sarah has built up an immunity to truth serums.
- NCIS ("Truth or Consequences"). A terrorist leader injects DiNozzo with a concoction of his own design consisting of sodium thiopental And Some Other Stuff, causing DiNozzo to give an As You Know recap of the events leading up to his capture.
- In one episode of The Greatest American Hero, Maxwell is given a truth serum by the General Ripper villain of the story. The resultant babblings about Ralph's supersuit are dismissed as crazy talk.
- In the Quantum Leap episode "Star Light, Star Bright", Sam leaps into an old man obsessed with UFOs who is dosed with sodium thiopental by government Men in Black. Instead of telling them what his host knows about UFOs, he starts revealing top-secret information about himself and the Quantum Leap project. The Men in Black just assume it's gibberish and that they've given him too high a dosage.
- In The Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Foxes and Hounds Affair'', Napoleon and Illya are injected with truth serum to make them reveal the location of a device wanted by THRUSH. Napoleon, who is out of the loop this episode and legitimately doesn't know, just starts acting drunk; but Illya is compelled to give up the information after minimal resistance.
- In an episode of Human Target, the plan is for Ilsa to give the villain of the episode wine dosed with such a chemical so he'll tell them his password. Played with, in that to convince him that it isn't poisoned, she also drinks it herself, after which she tells him the whole plan.
- Red Dwarf: Lister injected the prison warden with sodium thiopental, which apparently caused him to come to a meeting late explaining that he had been shagging the science officer's wife and he hadn't had time to change out of his Batman costume.
- Supernatural has an episode in which anyone who asks for the truth gets it, in full, from everyone who talks to them. In this case it's not due to a truth serum but a truth curse.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Agents Coulson and Ward bring Skye in for interrogation. Coulson tells her about the top-secret truth serum SHIELD has access too—then injects Ward with it, and leaves the room, letting Skye grill Ward and satisfy herself that SHIELD is actually on the side of good. (And, in the process, learn embarrassing details about Ward.) In a later episode, Ward tells Skye that there never was a truth serum, and it was all a ruse to get her on board the team. Well, someone's lying, that's for sure. Given that Ward later turns out to be a HYDRA agent, it probably was fake.
- An episode of The Invisible Man has Claire accidentally injected with an experimental truth serum which causes constant babbling, paranoia, and loss of inhibitions. It's played for drama when she struggles to resist revealing secrets about the Quicksilver program and laughs when she starts trying to violate Darien.
- I Dream of Jeannie plays with this. Tony gets sick of Jeannie doing him favors and commands her that the next time he asks for anything, she deny it. He ends up getting kidnapped by terrorists, but due to his previous command Jeannie can't directly rescue him. The terrorists try to give him truth serum to make him talk, so Jeannie casts a spell on him that forces him to speak in a different language when under the effect of the serum.
- In an episode of Person of Interest, a government agent gives Root alternating injections of a stimulant in one arm and a sedative in the other. This is a real technique developed by the CIA MKULTRA project. It failed spectacularly on Root, and apparently wasn't so hot for the CIA either (it was supposed to induce a cooperative trance, but as often as not the subject would just fall asleep).
- In the Smallville episode "Truth", Chloe is exposed to a gas that makes others unable to lie to her. The only person able to resist is Clark, who doesn't answer when asked about his secret.
- The Smyrk's song "The Ballad of Fletcher Reede" is about a man whose girlfriend put sodium thiopental in his Coke, and how he insists that she doesn't want him to tell the truth when she asks him loaded questions.
Role Playing Games
- XERRD of Dino Attack RPG developed a substance called Veritaserum, named after the potion from Harry Potter, which shuts down the neurological pathways necessary for lying.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The spell Zone of Truth prevented anyone in it from knowingly lying. However, they are not compelled to answer, and can be evasive if they wish.
- For more fun, the 3rd Edition of Oriental Adventures (based heavily upon Legend of the Five Rings) has an improved version called "Truth is a Scourge" that also forces the victim to answer any question asked. Considering this is set in a land where honor is extremely important, it's rather common for victims to say something that insults themselves or their lord and be forced to commit seppuku to save face - which is the whole point of the spell.
- Magic items
- Both 2nd and 3rd Edition had a Potion of Truth that forced anyone who drank it to speak the truth. The 3rd Edition version allowed the drinker to make a saving throw to refuse to answer a question.
- Module Assault of Raven's Ruins. The Sceptre of Truth forces anyone to speak the truth for as long as they touch it.
- Ring of Truth. If a person wearing the Ring tries to lie, they speak the literal truth instead.
- Ring of Truthfulness. The wearer must provide full and completely true answers to any questions asked of them for as long as the ring is worn.
- White Wolf's Vampire: The Requiem has several methods of forcing somebody to tell the truth, from the gentle to the awesome. On the gentle side, "Majesty" can compel somebody to want to confess their innermost secrets to you. On the awesome side, the "Liar's Plague" causes bugs to swarm out of a subject's mouth when they lie.
- Changeling: The Lost likewise has a low-level Goblin Contract named Sight of Truth and Lies that lets you automatically tell when somebody is telling a lie. The downside is, if you lie while using it, you'll automatically believe anything but utter bullshit is true when coming from the speaker's mouth.
- There are a few in GURPS; the Truth potion from Magic as well as Sodium Pentothal and Sodium Amytal in High-Tech. There's also the standard "Compel Truth" spell, and an equivalent psychic ability. Again, despite the name it only prevents victims from lying (if it works...) It does not force them to say anything.
- The Traveller universe has Truth Drug. The recipient answers questions truthfully for two minutes, then falls unconscious for an hour and takes moderate damage.
- Paranoia supplement Acute Paranoia, section "Better Living Through Chemistry". The drug Telescopalomine actually works realistically. Clones under its effect answer questions reflexively (not necessarily truthfully) and will be agreeable to anything told them. Internal Security uses it for interrogations.
- Rifts (and the rest of Palladium Books Megaverse Setting) has the Words of Truth spell, which compels you to answer questions truthfully, but you get a save for each question.
- Played straight in KGB but with a slight twist. The serum used by the protagonist at one point is a new prototype and has very severe side effects. Namely, it's lethal, so PC must extract all necessary information quickly.
- Played straight in Board Game Online.
- Subverted during the first Splinter Cell game; at the end of a mission you are required to knock out a security guard between your extraction vehicle. Two of your allies keep him occupied by talking about interrogation techniques, the one mentioned involves a 'truth serum' that leaves them too drugged out to actually give up anything useful when they talk... but also too drugged out to remember what they actually said. You then convince them they already told you what you wanted to know, and thereby manipulate them into actually telling you.
- Near the end of Ultima VII, you acquire a magical artifact that can force the Fellowship's members to tell you the truth.
- Concentration Room begins when a group of kids visiting their parents at a drug research facility are exposed to a botched batch of the truth serum Pinenut.
- A variation; a tomb-robber in Ballerina Mafia is cursed to have an illusion of the mummy following him around, constantly announcing what he's thinking to all in earshot.
- In another comic a government agency accidentally dumps experimental truth serum in the water supply.
- In Girl Genius, the Sturmovarus family slips a truth serum into Agatha's soup. She had previously been hiding the fact that she was a Spark or a Heterodyne; the truth serum causes her to lose all inhibition and blurt out her entire backstory in one continuous spiel over three pages, then compliment her dessert, then fall face forward into said dessert before declaring "You're very cute!" to Tarvek as he cleans her up and his father wryly admits that perhaps a bit too much serum had been put in her food.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Word of God tells us that Antimony's contract of ownership over Reynardine means that he can't intentionally deceive Annie. He can, however, withhold information and refuse to answer questions.
- In The Order of the Stick, Zone of Truth works exactly like this. Taking insipiration from Burlew's work, Zone of Truth has the same effect in Murphy's Law.
- An episode of Kim Possible had Kim hit by a Truth Ray, with the full effect of the entire trope: not only could she not lie, she was compelled to say anything and everything, in far more detail than was needed. She confessed a crush to members of the sports teams, and told her dad's bosses everything her dad found annoying about them (one tells very bad jokes, one won't stop talking about his home country, and one obviously wears a wig). She ended up covering her mouth to suppress the truth compulsion. Ron, who was hit by the same ray, instead becomes more confident and popular. He does things like admitting to Mr. Barkin that not only did he not read the assigned book, but that it was boring and dumb, earning Barkin's respect by stating an opinion he'd secretly shared, and winning the heart of a beautiful girl by talking about the beauty of her eyes.
- Subverted in "The Incredible Mr. Brisby" episode of The Venture Bros., when Dr. Venture is given a truth serum to reveal what his research on cloning has yielded. Apparently, it has an antagonistic reaction with one of the multitude of pills Venture is taking, and makes him think he is some sort of country milk maid and recite lines from Rear Window (which might actually be a realistic reaction).
- Batman: The Animated Series
- The episode "The Lion and the Unicorn" has a double subversion: Red Claw injects Alfred with a truth serum to learn the launch codes for a British missile, but rather than submit to her demands, Alfred simply begins hallucinating and babbling incoherent rhymes. After hours of this (and constantly building frustration), Red Claw realizes that the nonsensical babble actually is the launch code. Also the source of one of Alfred's best lines:
Alfred: You'll get nothing but gibberish out of me, madam. <singing> I come from haunts of cootenfern and knicker sudden Sally. Uh...dee-dum dee-dum dee-dum dee-dum, and bicker down the valley.
Red Claw: (shakes her head) And people wonder why no one takes Britain seriously anymore.
- One rather brilliant episode later on had Scarecrow make up a gas that rendered people subjected to it incapable of fear. While this didn't exactly stop them from lying, it pretty effectively removed their motivations for keeping any socially inconvenient truths to themselves, leading them to do and say all kinds of things they normally wouldn't for fear of the consequences. When Batman himself fell under the influence of the gas, we learned, among other things, that his code of honor against killing is driven more by fear of disapproval than by any actual moral inhibitions.
- An episode of the Men In Black cartoon had Jay accidentally injected with a truth serum, which resulted in him speaking everything that popped into his head. He was perfectly capable of telling a direct lie unless asked a direct question-when first asked by some Muggles what's going on in this whole crisis here, he gives them one of the standard-issue weird-but-believable cover stories. When one of the bystanders finds himself impressed by this, he says, "Wow! Really?" and Jay admits that no, it's actually a cover story to hide the fact that he's a government agent meant to protect them from this threat and cover up the fact that it was ever there.
- In an episode of Rex The Runt Bob and Rex start drinking what they assume is a truth serum (it was actually orange juice) and, presumably due to their minds making it real started admitting to old lies they'd told in the past, revealing secrets and plenty of assorted lampshading ("Why do you wear that eyepatch anyway? You have two eyes!"). However at the end of the episode Wendy pours the real truth serum down the sink and we cut to a pair of rats in the sewer who start doing the same thing! Also, earlier on, Vince stumbled upon the real serum and drank some of it. It caused him to see two creepy live action guys with cameras, presumably the show's animators, and start babbling "The horror...the horror...". Yes, it's a weird show.
- This is the main point of the episode "Truth Ache" of The Penguins of Madagascar.
- The Fairly Oddparents episode "A Bad Case of Diary-Uh" has Vicky twice use it on Timmy.
- In the "Bottomless Pit" episode of Gravity Falls, Mabel's story deals with finding a set of Truth Teeth in the forest and forcing her great uncle Stan to wear them. Under their influence, Stan reveals far too many details about his personal life, including the fact that he regularly commits massive tax fraud.
- Happened to the first child who eventually accused Michael Jackson of sexually molesting him. Initially, his father Evan Chandler had been accusing Jackson of sexual abuse of his son, but the son, Jordan, himself wouldn't support the allegations. Eventually Evan, being a dentist, took his son in to pull a tooth and used sodium amytal as the sedative for the procedure. Sodium amytal is known "on the street" as a truth serum and is generally illegal to use in dentistry. Psychiatrists know the drug better for rendering users susceptible to suggestion and being able to induce false memories. It was during this event that Evan claims Jordan first spoke of being abused by Jackson, and it is after this point he began supporting his father's story.
- The closest things to a real truth serum we have... are alcohol and marijuana. Project MKULTRA found this out the hard way when they discovered that while the more "interesting" mind-bending substances they tried out on unsuspecting subjects were more likely to make such subjects want more substance rather than brainwash them, the FBI had actually gotten actionable intelligence on a bank heist by lacing a captured Mafioso's cigarettes with THC.
- Hypnosis was once thought to work like this. There is still a persistent myth that it provides perfect and accurate memory recall. Unfortunately, hypnosis is just as unreliable as any other real-life "truth serum," and the human brain is very prone to modifying or making up memories—this might be said to be the main issue with the very concept as a whole: it assumes that human memory is infallible. (However, it has been shown somewhat reliable in increasing someone's memory and recall of some kinds of information when objective proof of what the subject is trying to remember is on hand.)