Nembutal, for a well-behaved child

This Nembutal ad's depiction of a sedated, well-behaved child is refreshingly honest, in a glassy-eyed, Midwich Cuckoos sort of way.

Contest entry: Nembutal for that dilated childhood


  1. There’s a fantastic close-reading interpretation of that ad waiting for a grad student or a senior’s thesis. Depending on the treatment and the approach, could be a very good piece.

    In the mean time, I have looked but could not find a date for that ad. I’m guessing 60s based on the style of illustration, but sometimes I’m surprised at tendrils of styles writhing backwards into previous eras. Could possibly have been from the 50s. But as creepy as it is, and ignoring the qualitative aspect of the dilated eyes, I find something very engaging about the illustration style. Not in a comfortable way certainly, but it is very powerful.

    The washes are particularly interesting. I’m guessing that they suggest the shadows in which the child views the world. Shadows which will be lifted by the light brought into his consciousness by the “gentle” power of a child-sized dose of Nembutol.

    I must be answering a question from one of the comments on the linked article, but Nembutol would have been seen as a gentler medication for schizophrenic/psychotic kids in an era of Haldol and Thorazine. The anti-psychotics of the day were certainly not gentle by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. I wonder how many people would sign a petition to bring back barbiturates (though we can still get the weakest one, phenobarbital)? I would!

    @2, barbiturates and phenothiazines are two different classes of drugs.. I realize you’re talking about how it was in the 50s-60s, but it hasn’t changed much, or for the better. In the mental wards today it’s always a gonna be a hard tranq (seroquel, haldol, thorazine – the 3 major phenothiazines), except in cases where the patient has seizures and/or reactions to the above, then the first choice for fast sedation would be IV valium; though they could still use phenobarbital in some cases, for all I know.
    But child mental ward patients are generally started on seroquel today. They’d really be better off with a benzodiazepine instead, and even better off still with a short-acting barbiturate (if administered in a clinical setting)

    1. When I was a paramedic in the 90’s we would usually give Valium, we carried Ketamine for peds but it was only for field intubation where a paralytic was used.

  3. I love the old medicine ads I’ve been seeing. The Melachol ad posted earlier made me bookmark the thread where they’ve been having their vintage product ad contest…
    Jim Hogshire’s book “Pills-A-Go-Go” has dozens of great medical ads more like this; lots of so-called “head” drugs from from journals in the 50s-80s

  4. It breaks my heart. My own brother was the sort of kid who would get these “gentle” medicines, dispensed to desperate, blamed parents (mainly the mother).

    That hair, those eyes are also my son at three.

  5. Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal) is still occasionally used as a premedication for surgical procedures – and was near-universal before the introduction of benzodiazepines in the 1960’s. Does the ad read differently if you think of the kid a a patient about to face minor surgery?

    1. It does, but without that being stated I would never have inferred it.

      After all it does say EVERY NEED.

  6. First thing I thought of was The Clash. “The Right Profile” is their ode to Montgomery Clift, honey.

  7. Somehow, even before reading the ad copy, I read “nembutal” as “numb-it-all”. And, well, there ya go.

  8. Prozac does *not* have that effect. (I’ve been on it, and a few benzo’s as well… they are *quite* different). Prozac = no depressive sinking feeling. Lorazapam = kinda tired, but no anxiety.

  9. LENNY BRUCE: “So I asked him, ‘You get a kick out of that stuff (Nembutal suppositories)?’ And he said, ‘Are you kidding, Mary? Before you get your finger out of your ass, you’re ASLEEP!’ Wouldn’t that make a great slogan? ‘Before you get your finger out of your ass, you’re asleep! Nembutal!'”

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