Here’s Exactly What’s in Those Green Tranquilizer Pills Beth Takes in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

The Queen's Gambit

You may be wondering what the green pills are in The Queen’s Gambit. The Queen’s Gambit, based on Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same title, premiered on Netflix on October 23 and became an immediate success.

The seven-episode tars Anya Taylor Joy as Beth Harmon, a young woman and chess prodigy in the 1950s and ’60s who is determined to become the greatest chess player in the world. The miniseries follows Beth at different ages of her life, from 5 to 22, as she struggles with emotional issues, drug and alcohol dependency and her past as an orphan. The first and last shots of the pilot show Beth—once when she’s 9 years old and again when she’s in her 20s—surrounded by mysterious green pills. So what are the pills?

In an interview with The New York Times in 1983, Tevis explained that Beth’s drug dependency was inspired by a heart condition he had. ”I was born in San Francisco. When I was young, I was diagnosed as having a rheumatic heart and given heavy drug doses in a hospital. That’s where Beth’s drug dependency comes from in the novel. Writing about her was purgative. There was some pain—I did a lot of dreaming while writing that part of the story. But artistically, I didn’t allow myself to be self-indulgent,” he said.

"The Queen's Gambit"

Image: Rosetta Books.

In The Queen’s Gambit, the green pills are referred to as “xanzolam,” but according to Men’s Health, the pills are likely based chlordiazepoxide (a.k.a. “Librium”), which was patented in 1958. Librium falls into the the benzodiazepines category, a class of drugs used to treat anxiety and other conditions.

In the first episode of The Queen’s Gambit, we see that each child at Beth’s orphanage receives one pill per day and that some of the kids save the pills to use in the nighttime. The pills are also seen causing the children to become drowsy. After taking one, Beth is seen stumbling down the hall. When Beth goes without pills for a few days, her friend tells her about the “withdrawal” symptoms, which include itchiness and skittishness. When the pills are removed from the orphanage’s “vitamin” routine, Beth is told that the facility can no longer give kids “tranquilizers.” Though the inspiration for the green pills are associated with drowsiness, there’s no evidence that they lead to a better chest performance, according to Men’s Health. 

The Queen’s Gambit is available to stream on Netflix.

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