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The term narco-analysis is derived from the Greek word narkē (meaning "anesthesia" or "torpor") and is used to describe a diagnostic and psychotherapeutic technique that uses psychotropic drugs, particularly barbiturates, to induce a stupor in which mental elements with strong associated affects come to the surface, where they can be exploited by the therapist.

Narco-analysis appeared in the mid-1930s as a result of the discovery of quickly acting barbiturates with a short-term effects. The term analysis is used in Pierre Janet's sense of a process that, by means of a partial dissolution of consciousness, undoes the complex syntheses of waking mental life and accesses mental content that is more automatic. Other terms have also been used, such as "narco-synthesis," "chemical psychoanalysis" and "psychosomatic narco-analysis."

The procedure was mainly intended for neurotic and psychosomatic patients, and it met with a certain success in treating traumatic pathologies and conditions charged with strong emotions. Applications of the technique in forensic medicine have been questioned. Narco-analysis has been used mainly in Anglo-Saxon countries.

Similar to narco-analysis is the use of other substances, such as amphetamines or psychodysleptics, with a view to creating a shock (amphetamine shock) that lifts inhibitions and reticence and promotes the emergence of major transference phenomena. In France these procedures have been used by Jean Delay at Sainte-Anne Hospital, and the good results reported related mainly to cases of hysterical conversion pathologies, hypochondria, and alcoholism. The psychoanalysts working with his department presented and commented on the effects of this treatment (Green, 1961).

Vassilis Kapsambelis

See also: Sainte-Anne Hospital.


Green, André. (1961). Chimiothérapies et psychothérapies. Encéphale, 50 (1), 29-101.