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What is a Chemical Cosh?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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"Chemical cosh" is a term that is used primarily by the British. To cosh someone means to bang them on the head, resulting in the person being sedated or knocked unconscious. A chemical cosh, then, refers to sedating someone with a chemical, or medication. The term is generally used to refer to a situation in which sedation is unnecessary, but it has also been used to describe the effects certain similar drugs that are prescribed to children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Overmedicating Patients

Most frequently, the term "chemical cosh" is used to refer to overmedicating prisoners or the elderly with strong antipsychotic drugs. Some studies have been conducted to research this problem as it relates to the older dementia patients who take certain medications. The results suggest that these medications might be prescribed not so much for the purpose of treating the dementia but rather to serve as tranquilizers — to calm or sedate the patients. The trouble with this practice, according to some research, is that many antipsychotic drugs have exceptionally heavy side effects, including a doubling of the risk for stroke in the elderly.

Concerns Raised

Other research has uncovered some realities that cause great concern in both the medical community and the general public. To some people, the study showed that chemical coshes were practiced to intentionally shorten the lives of people who have dementia. Those who defend the practice of prescribing antipsychotics to dementia patients argue that these medications are prescribed only when absolutely necessary — to help patients who cannot be controlled by other means. Research has raised questions about the long-term use of these medications, even for patients who might truly need them. Some critics argue that the prescription of these drugs is akin to a long-term form of euthanasia.

Use on Prisoners

Some countries are believed to routinely sedate prisoners with chemical cosh drugs. Especially because of the potential side effects of the drugs, some critics consider this practice as a form of torture. Some have adamantly argued for these practices to cease.

Treating Children

Referring to the use of ADD medication as a chemical cosh is usually done in the pejorative. Such statements generally are made to express the attitude that this is a practice of drugging otherwise healthy children into sedate behavior just because they don't behave in the preferred way. There are arguments for and against the use of ADD and ADHD medications, and some medical experts have said that these medications might be overused in some areas and underutilized in others.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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