Army leaders in various countries have trialled compounds that can keep soldiers awake and alert, or send them to sleep. Drugs that reduce anxiety, tiredness and memory loss — all associated with the treatment of dementia — could be used “off—label” as cognitive enhancers by military personnel, according to the Royal Society report.

While caffeine and nicotine are used routinely to reduce fatigue, British armed forces prohibit other stimulants. The US air force still allows amphetamines in some cases. The military in several countries have tested modafinil, a drug licensed to treat sleepiness in narcoleptics, and found it effective at maintaining performance in the sleep-deprived.

More controversial are drugs that could be used against opponents. The report highlights a natural compound called oxytocin that is released during childbirth and lactation, and is involved in trust and bonding. Drugs based on oxytocin might potentially make adversaries more trusting and willing to give up information.

The report calls on the UK government to clarify its interpretation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The authors say the coalition has shifted its interpretation of the onvention, suggesting that incapacitating chemicals are permitted for law enforcement. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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