What Makes Tranquilizers Such A Formidable Weapon?

You’ve almost certainly seen or heard about tranquilizers at some point in your life, most likely in reference to the capture of wild animals, or even humans (in special cases). Also, if you’ve seen movies like Jurassic Park or have a thing for Animal Planet, you would be well aware of the most impressive weapon that humans use to tame ferocious animals: tranquilizers.

That’s what we learn from the movies, but what is it about tranquilizers that makes them so effective? Why is it that even the largest animals in the wild are seemingly helpless against a small prick of a needle containing a tranquilizer?

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What is a Tranquilizer?

A tranquilizer is a drug that induces a sense of tranquility (or sedation) in the victim (or the individual upon whom it is being used). In other words, a tranquilizer significantly slows a body down.  It is rather improbable for a human to approach a wild beast and seek its permission to inject a tranquilizer, so there are specialized tranquilizer guns that do the trick. These guns are loaded with syringes of sedatives to shoot into the animal, but not kill it. These tranquilizers will sedate the beast, making it far less likely that it will attack, charge, or even kill. These powerful knockout shots aren’t only used for big and scary animals like lions, tigers, leopards, and rhinos, but also on small ones like pigs, rabbits and rats. These animals all require different doses of sedatives, but the basic principle is the same.

Tranquilizer darts (Credit: Anan Kaewkhammul/Shutterstock)

Tranquilizer darts (Credit: Anan Kaewkhammul/Shutterstock)

Types of Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers come in two main types: minor tranquilizers and major tranquilizers.

Minor tranquilizers are used to reduce anxiety, as they have a mild calming effect on the nerves. One of the most popular minor tranquilizers is benzodiazepine, which enhances the action of GABA by reducing nerve-impulse transmissions in the brain. However, depressing the part of the brain that controls activity within the body can render one drowsy, or in stronger variants, can knock a person out entirely.

Major tranquilizers are usually used to treat patients with severe mental illnesses or as a way to help reduce hallucinations and delusional episodes. Phenothiazines are the most popular tranquilizers in this category; they block dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and reduce psychotic symptoms. However, some of the side effects of these drugs include spasms and tremors.

Secret to a Tranquilizer’s Invincibility


You have likely heard the old adage that to conquer an opponent, one has to defeat it mentally before ever tackling it on a physical front. Tranquilizers are ideal examples of this particular tactic, as they defeat a target on a mental and physical level!

Tranquilizers slow down the body by suppressing the functions of the Central Nervous System. The CNS consists of millions of neurons that are linked by synapses; any impulse that is generated in the brain travels through these synapses to reach the destination muscles or glands. The thing about tranquilizers is that their molecules bind to GABA receptors. GABA receptors are responsible for inhibiting the impulses of the brain to a certain degree, so once these drug molecules bind with GABA receptors, their combined power has a calming effect on the brain impulses. In turn, this makes the victim slow down, become milder in behavior/aggression, and in some cases, lose consciousness (depending on the type of the tranquilizer and the dosage used).

In Animals

Credits: Villiers Steyn/Shutterstock

Credits: Villiers Steyn/Shutterstock

In order to perform certain activities on animals, such as relocation or medical treatment, which are essential in conservation efforts for wild animals, they must be sedated. Tranquilizers calm these animals and induce a feeling of fearlessness or indifference to their surroundings. However, special care has to be taken to administer the right drug in the right amount to the appropriate animal, as these powerful drugs can have drastically different impacts on different species.

Given all that you now know, perhaps you understand why it would be a good idea to carry a tranquilizer gun if you happen to stumble into a park teeming with dinosaurs!

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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