Medicine:Montreal experiments

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Short description: 1957–64 Canadian schizophrenia treatments

The Montreal experiments were a series of experiments, initially aimed to treat schizophrenia[1] by changing memories and erasing the patients' thoughts using Donald Ewen Cameron's method of "psychic driving", [2] as well as drug-induced sleep, intensive electroconvulsive therapy, sensory deprivation and Thorazine. The experiments were conducted at the Allan Memorial Institute of McGill University between 1957 and 1964 by the Scottish psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron and funded by the CIA as part of Project MKUltra, which lasted until 1973 and was only revealed to the public in 1975.

The patients of this experiment expected positive changes from Cameron's treatment. However, these patients suffered severely under conditions that were not in accordance with human rights.[3] Not only the patients but also their families show long lasting effects on their mental health. Some of these symptoms include retrograde amnesia as well as impairments in everyday life abilities such as self-care.

To this day, the topic of the experiments of Montreal has been kept in the dark by the CIA, who actively prevent information about these experiments from being leaked to the public, whether that be through destruction of files or signing non-disclosure agreements.[4]

Whether or not Cameron was aware that funding for his experiments was coming from the CIA is unclear; it has been argued that he would have carried out the exact same experiments if funding had come from a source without ulterior motives.[5]

Donald Ewen Cameron

Donald Ewen Cameron, circa 1967

Donald Ewen Cameron was the key figure in the Montreal experiments. Cameron was born on December 24, 1901, in Scotland and graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1924. In 1929 he moved to Canada where he worked in the Brandon Mental Hospital in Manitoba as the physician in charge. In 1938 he received his diploma in psychiatry and became professor of neurology, psychiatry at University at Albany and began his research on sensory deprivation and memory.[2][6]

In 1953 he developed his theory of "psychic driving" to cure schizophrenia which he later used on his patients under the Project MKUltra, with the codename "Subproject 68"[1] for which he was recruited by the CIA in 1957. He was paid $69,000 through the front company "Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology"[7] from 1957 to 1964 to carry out these experiments, as well as receiving "more than $500,000 between 1950 and 1965"[8] from the federal government. He suddenly left the project four years before the end of his contract.[2][1]

In 1961 he became president of the World Psychiatric Association after he had already been the president of both the American Psychiatric Association as well as the Canadian Psychiatric Association.[2][9][10][11][12]

In 1967 he died of a heart attack.[2][13]


With the goal of inducing lifelong changes in humans, Cameron used different methods of depatterning and repatterning the brain. The procedures included psychic driving, drug-induced sleep, intensive electroconvulsive therapy, sensory deprivation and the administration of neuroleptic Thorazine.

Drug-Induced Sleep

Cameron used doses of thorazine to put patients into an artificial coma.

The drug-induced sleep, which took place in the "sleep room",[14] usually lasted from a few days up to 86 days; longer than expected by the patients. Cameron often combined the sleep periods with injections of hallucinogenic drugs (e.g. LSD), as well as administration of electroshocks and the playing of pre-recorded messages into patients' ears.[15]

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (also called electroshock therapy) is a procedure used to treat psychological disorders like treatment-resistant depression.[16]

Another way of depatterning the brain was intensive electroconvulsive therapy (electroshock therapy). Usually, 2 to 3 daily sessions were ordered, consisting of six 150-Volt shocks that lasted one second. After 30-40 daily sessions, Cameron progressively reduced the sessions and finished the treatment after a two-year follow up program with one session per month.[1]

Sensory Deprivation

Inspired by Donald Hebb's experiment on sensory deprivation and human cognition, Cameron included these techniques in his treatment program. Patients were deprived of their senses by covering ears, eyes and/or skin. Furthermore, patients were given little food, water and oxygen, and instead injected with drugs (LSD, curare) to keep them in a paralyzed state.[1][17]

Psychic Driving

In order to repattern the brain, patients had to listen to specific recordings of Cameron repeatedly. This process took place for up to 16 hours a day, and over the whole period messages could be repeated up to half a million times altogether. For the first ten days, recordings contained personal, negative messages, which were followed by ten days of positive messages.

Anxiety that would emerge in patients was countered with heavy doses of sedating drugs such as Sodium Amytal and Largactil.[18]


It is unknown how many people participated in the Montreal Experiments exactly, but over 300 people applied for compensation in 1992 with the Canadian Government.[8] The participants of the experiment mainly had mental health issues like depression and schizophrenia, and were hoping to get treated for these illnesses by Donald Ewen Cameron. None of them had given informed consent to the procedures, or were aware of the experiments being conducted. This was a gross violation of the Nuremberg Code, a code of ethics set up after World War II.[19] Children and adults from many social backgrounds were treated, most of them for up to three years.[20]

Participants often suffered from retrograde amnesia for the rest of their lives and had to relearn most skills they had. Many were in a childlike state and even had to be potty-trained.[21] Family described them as even more emotionally unstable as before and some of them were unable to live a normal life afterwards. One such patient was Jean Steel, whose daughter said that she never returned to be the same woman ever again. Jean would sit alone in the dark, write codes on the walls, and according to her daughter, "her emotions were stripped. It took away her soul."[20][22][4]


Project MKUltra officially ended in 1973, around the time that the Watergate scandal broke.

It was not until 1975 that the general public were informed about the extent of CIA meddling, largely due to the involvement of the Church Committee, which was tasked with the investigation of "the extent, if any, to which illegal, improper, or unethical activities were engaged in by any agency of the Federal Government,"[23]

During the 1977 Senate Hearing on MKUltra, Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy called for the release of all documents pertaining to MKUltra, saying "the best way to put this period behind us, obviously, is to have the full information…"[24] The Senate Hearing also allowed the CIA Director of the time, Stansfield Turner, to give his prepared statement and to elaborate on the discovery of seven boxes of information related to Project MKUltra, most of which turned out to consist of "approvals for advance of funds, vouchers, accountings, and the like - most of which are not very informative as to the nature of the activities that were undertaken."[24] This made it very difficult to judge the extent of CIA involvement with the Montreal Experiments.

More information was revealed in the Canadian CBC documentary series "The Fifth Estate". In 1980, they released a first episode about Project MKUltra, which not only held the testimony of two Canadian patients who'd undergone the treatment speaking out for the first time, but also the revelation that Ottawa had aided to suppress information that CIA officials had apologised to the Canadian government following the initial revelation of the experimentation.[25] The second episode, released in 2017, focuses on the present-day struggle of the victims to receive compensation, the hindrances made to prevent them from speaking out about their experiences, and the efforts of the CIA and Canadian government to keep their involvement hidden.[26] Mentioned in particular are a 1988 class action settlement made by the victims against world s most committed CIA, which they won, receiving 67,000 US dollars each,[26] and a 1992 compensation from the Canadian government, in which 77 individuals received 100,000 US dollars each, but signed away their right to sue the government or the hospital.[25] This compensation did not extend to 250 other victims, denied for not being "tortured enough, applied too late or because they couldn't produce medical records."[8]

To this day, neither the Canadian government nor the CIA have issued formal apologies for their involvement and funding of Project MKUltra or the Montreal experiments.[8] In 2017, the Canadian government reached an out-of-court settlement with the daughter of one of the patients, paying 100,000 US dollars in exchange for dropping the legal case, and signing a non-disclosure agreement which would prevent her from talking about the settlement.[4]


There is no clear evidence of what really happened in the Montreal Experiments. None of Cameron's personal files concerning his experiments survived. Other documents which would verify the Montreal Experiments either no longer exist or are still classified.[27] Most of the information on the experiments is rooted in reports of patients, especially their journals or court reports.[28]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "The Secret Montreal Experiments They Don't Want You To Know About" (in en-ca). 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Donald Ewen Cameron". Spartacus Educational. 
  3. Remnick, David. "25 years of nightmares". The Washington Post. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "After 60 years, Ottawa compensates daughter of CIA brainwashing experiments victim | CBC News" (in en-US). CBC. 
  5. Lemov, Rebecca (2011). "Brainwashing's Avatar: The Curious Career of Dr. Ewen Cameron" (in English). Grey Room (MIT Press) 45 (45): 61–87. doi:10.1162/GREY_a_00050. Retrieved 6 March 2021. >
  6. Cleghorn, R. A.; Silverman, B. (1967-10-14). "D. Ewen Cameron, M.D., F.R.C.P.[C."]. Canadian Medical Association Journal 97 (16): 984–986. ISSN 0008-4409. PMID 4861213. 
  7. Linville, Tani (2016-04-26). "Project MKULTRA and the Search for Mind Control: Clandestine Use of LSD Within the CIA". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Trudeau government gag order in CIA brainwashing case silences victims, lawyer says | CBC News" (in en-US). CBC. 
  9. Zilboorg, Gregory (July 1953). "D. Ewen Cameron M.D., President, 1952-1953: A Biographical Sketch". American Journal of Psychiatry 110 (1): 10–12. doi:10.1176/ajp.110.1.10. 
  10. "Past Presidents & Board Chairs - Canadian Psychiatric Association - Association des psychiatres du Canada" (in en-US). Canadian Psychiatric Association - Association des psychiatres du Canada. 
  11. "APPA: Presidents". 
  12. "World Psychiatric Association Chronology | World Psychiatric Association" (in en). 
  13. "Obituary Notices". British Medical Journal 3 (5568): 803–805. 1967-09-23. doi:10.1136/bmj.3.5568.803. ISSN 0007-1447. 
  14. Electroshock : the case against /Robert F. Morgan, editor.. Morgan, Robert F.. Fair Oaks, CA: Morgan Foundation Publishers. 1999. ISBN 1885679025. OCLC 44462221. 
  15. "1950s–1960s: Dr. Ewen Cameron Destroyed Minds at Allan Memorial Hospital in Montreal - AHRP" (in en-US). AHRP. 2015-01-18. 
  16. "Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - Mayo Clinic" (in en). 
  17. "What Extreme Isolation Does to Your Mind" (in en-US). Mother Jones. 
  18. "Full text of "George Cooper Report Ewen Cameron, 1986"" (in en). 1986. 
  19. "The Nuremberg Code". 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Brainwashed : The Secret CIA Experiments in Canada" (in en-US). CBC. 
  21. "CANADA WILL PAY 50's TEST VICTIMS" (in en-US). The New York Times. 
  22. "'She went away, hoping to get better': Family remembers Winnipeg woman put through CIA-funded brainwashing´" (in en-US). CBC. 
  23. "U.S. Senate: Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities". 
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Project MKULTRA, The CIA's Program Of Research In Behavioral Modification". 1977-08-03. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 "MK Ultra - Episodes - The Fifth Estate" (in en). 
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Brainwashed : The Secret CIA Experiments in Canada - Episodes - The Fifth Estate" (in en). 
  27. "Stunning tale of brainwashing, the CIA and an unsuspecting Scots researcher" (in en-US). The Scotsman. 
  28. "The toxic legacy of Canada's CIA brainwashing experiments: 'They strip you of your soul'" (in en-US). Ashifa Kassam.