An unusual death involving a sensory deprivation tank

J Forensic Sci. 2010 Nov;55(6):1638-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01469.x.


Deaths involving sensory deprivation tanks are very rare. We describe a unique case in which a previously healthy 50-year-old woman apparently died while floating in a sensory deprivation tank at her residence. Autopsy failed to reveal definitive anatomical abnormalities pointing to the cause of death. A thorough scene investigation, full medicolegal autopsy to include toxicological analyses, and a complete investigation into the equipment at the scene, were conducted. Blood toxicologic studies were significant for the presence of ethanol (0.27%) and a mixture of over-the-counter sedating medications and prescription drugs. The cause of death was ruled as acute mixed drug and ethanol toxicity combined with probable environmental hyperthermia; manner was accident. This case report will help the forensic community understand the intended use of flotation tanks, as well as possible risks associated with improper use.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Baths*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood
  • Confined Spaces*
  • Creatinine / analysis
  • Diphenhydramine / blood
  • Doxylamine / blood
  • Ethanol / blood
  • Female
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / blood
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Organ Size
  • Pulmonary Edema / pathology
  • Purpura / pathology
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / blood
  • Sensory Deprivation*
  • Sertraline / blood
  • Vitreous Body / chemistry


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Ethanol
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Doxylamine
  • Creatinine
  • Sertraline