Waking the brain: The sedative paradox

IN MAY this year, something amazing happened to 24-year-old Australian man Sam Goddard – he started to speak. 

Having experienced a severe brain injury 15 months previously, what was striking about Sam regaining his speech was the means by which he achieved it.

Sam is the first Australian brain injury patient to have learned to speak after taking the hypnotic zolpidem (sold in Australia as Stilnox, among other brand names).

However, Sam, whose story was screened on ABC TV’s Australian Story in June,1 can only speak while the drug is active. 

Strong case evidence is emerging to show that zolpidem can initiate short-lived responses in some patients with serious brain injury. 

Early results from numerous trials suggest that between 6% and 10% of patients with disorders of consciousness (in a coma, or a persistent vegetative or minimally conscious state), some months or even years after acquired