This article appears in VICE Magazine's Stupid Issue, which is dedicated to the entertaining, goofy, and just plain dumb. It features stories celebrating ridiculous ideas, trends, and products; pieces arguing that unabashed stupidity can be a great part of life; and articles calling out the bad side of stupidity. Click HERE to subscribe to the print edition.
Drugs and stupidity are longtime friends. Over the past century, as more drugs have been made, sold, consumed, and outlawed across the globe, stupidity has never been far behind.
But I’m not suggesting that taking drugs is a de facto dumb thing to do—there are plenty of studies out there that suggest responsible drug use can help alleviate stress and that MDMA, for example, could be useful in dealing with PTSD. And let’s not forget, the reason most people get high is not to escape pain or for self-improvement, it’s to let go and be carefree, to just act stupid for a little while. (Or a long while if you’ve dropped an acid tab.)
No, the lion’s share of foolishness and bad decisions comes from people who probably don’t take drugs at all, unless they are the legal kind. In fact, the use of certain plants and chemicals has, throughout modern history, elicited some pretty brainless responses from humans and entire countries. Some are ridiculous, some are shocking, and some are just plain stupid. Here are my picks for the dumbest drug moments in history.
Released in U.S. theaters a year before new anti-cannabis laws were introduced by the commissioner of narcotics Harry J. Anslinger—who once said, “If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face-to-face with the monster of marihuana, he would drop dead of fright”—this propaganda movie begins with a doctor warning parents about the evils of weed. Five kids do not take heed, and by the end of the film, Jimmy has hospitalized a pedestrian with his car, Jack has shot Mary, Blanche has killed herself, and Ralph has gone insane and beaten Jack to death. All because they smoked some weed.
The CIA’s LSD brothels
Named “Operation Midnight Climax,” the CIA set up safe houses in New York and San Francisco with two-way mirrors, paying prostitutes to dose clients with LSD-laced drinks so that agents could observe the effects of the drug on unconsenting members of the public. This illegal spying and drugging of what is estimated to be a large number of innocent Americans over the course of 13 years was uncovered by a CIA inspector in 1963, and the operation was shuttered in 1966.
Scientology launches its own drug wing
Narconon: “a worldwide network that helps people recover from the devastation of drug addiction.” Sounds pretty legit—like a corporate Narcotics Anonymous. But a quick Google search reveals something… interesting. Narconon, which runs rehab centers and provides drug education to schools, is endorsed and run by the Church of Scientology. In other words, the last people on earth you would want to help you out of a drug addiction. Unsurprisingly, a study of the methods used by Scientology and Narconon to treat addiction found little evidence they worked. A series of unhinged booklets published by a Church of Scientology–linked group, Foundation for a Drug-Free World, include a series of ridiculous claims. Needless to say, drug charities and authorities have queued up to discredit them.
Tripped-out hippies try to levitate the Pentagon
In October 1967, around 50,000 antiwar protesters marched to the front steps of the Pentagon to protest the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnam War. But this wasn’t your average demonstration: a group of Haight-Ashbury acid heads in attendance attempted to exorcise and “raise the Pentagon 300 feet in the air.” The building never left the ground, but the march, depicted in Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, became a defining moment in the counterculture movement.
Did you know that if you bake banana skins you can extract a substance called “bananadine” and that if you smoke it, you can get high? It’s not true, but what started as a prank in a California underground newspaper called the Berkeley Barb has become something of an urban legend. It was noted as an entry in the Anarchist’s Cookbook, a drug and bomb-making manual for loners, and even sparked an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration into “the possible hallucinogenic effects of banana peels.”
The blue star tattoo
One of the first viral drug scares was the “blue star tattoo” myth, which claimed that drug dealers soaked lick-and-stick transfers in LSD and sold them to unknowing children. Thought to have originated from an erroneous flyer distributed by a Seventh Day Adventist church community in New Jersey, the myth was circulated repeatedly by schools, police forces, and hospitals across America and the UK. It bred similarly baseless allegations, such as the Strawberry Quik myth about pink strawberry-scented crystal meth that was being sold to kids as Pop Rock–style candy, leading senators to draft a new law, never enacted, to increase jail sentences for people caught selling drugs designed to look like sweets.
This Is Your Brain on Drugs
Possibly one of the worst drug metaphors of all time, this U.S. government anti-drugs commercial featured a man holding up an egg (“This is your brain” he told viewers), then pointing to a frying pan (“This is drugs”), before cracking the egg into the hot pan. As the egg sizzles, he brings the pan up to the camera and says: “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” To which most of America said: “WTF are you talking about?”
“E’s are good”
At first, the BBC and anyone over 30 thought nothing of the fact that a song called “Ebeneezer Goode” had reached number one on Britain’s music charts. But then again, they couldn’t have been listening very closely. At a time when MDMA (known as E’s or ecstasy in the UK) was public enemy number one, the song’s chorus, “Eezer Goode, Eezer Goode” became a running joke: the tune’s lyrics were all about how brilliant the drug was. The penny dropped and the song was banned by the BBC. The Shamen, who performed it on the BBC’s Top of the Pops TV show, were branded a “disgrace” for spreading pro-drug vibes.
Tricked by “cake”
Seeing the knee-jerk media hype that accompanies every new drug on the scene, the satirical British TV show Brass Eye convinced an MP and celebrities to campaign against a made-up drug called “cake.” Blinded by their own ignorance, public figures were hoodwinked into endorsing the fictitious anti-drugs groups B.O.M.B.D. and F.U.K.D. and earnestly telling viewers about a young cake user who “cried all the water from his body,” and another who “threw up her own pelvis bone.”
“A Drug-Free World—We Can Do It”
This was the slogan of a 1998 United Nations declaration on global drugs control, which pledged to rid the world of drugs by 2008. More than 20 years down the line, drugs are more prevalent and diverse than ever before.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore published research in the academic journal Science claiming that MDMA could cause Parkinson’s disease, causing widespread alarm. A year later, the research team realized the monkeys they had been testing had instead been given methamphetamine, and had to issue a retraction before they got sued by MDMA.
My son the dealer
One of the only recorded examples of the urban myth that drug dealers peddle narcotics to children outside school gates didn’t take too long to unravel. In an article published in the British tabloid the Sunday People, journalist Stewart Fowler revealed how “Rev,” a drug dealer “dressed in ripped jeans and a leather jacket,” was caught on camera “cynically targeting youngsters with pills.” But it turned out that Rev was in fact the teenage son of the paper’s photographer who’d been roped into the scam. The boy’s mother recognized him and called the paper to complain. Fowler and the photographer were fired.
“Squirrels on Crack”
Stories about animals on drugs are like catnip for humans. But this front page headline in the South London Press, once one of London’s biggest newspapers, detailing how a squad of squirrels in Brixton were addicted to crack they had pilfered from dealers’ stashes, was unfortunately untrue. The story was taken from a joke on an internet chat forum suggesting squirrels were digging up hidden rocks of crack.
In which a young man’s stoned-looking face becomes a viral meme called “10-Guy,” named after the highest number on a Reddit forums 1–10 scale of intoxication. His face is captioned with confused and stoned themes, like “Marilize Legajuana” and “How Would You Like Your Burger Cooked? Bacon.”
Ireland accidentally legalizes drugs
For 24 hours in March 2015, the Irish government accidentally legalized a bunch of drugs, including ketamine, ecstasy, and crystal meth. The mistake, celebrated in clubs across the country but later rectified by emergency legislation, occurred when judges ruled the country’s main drug law to be unconstitutional.
New Zealand’s false meth evictions
More than 1,000 tenants were evicted across New Zealand after the government wrongly accused them of cooking or using meth. The massive blunder, in which public housing tenants were kicked out without their possessions, with some ending up homeless, occurred due to faulty testing of their homes.
Snorting a line on Pablo Escobar’s grave
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but snorting cocaine off Pablo Escobar’s grave turned out to be a stupid one. British tourist Steven Semmens said he did it as a “mark of respect,” but after a video clip of the incident went viral he was kicked out of Colombia and received death threats on Facebook.
Sending hazmat teams to handle fentanyl overdoses
In the latest form of drug hysteria, hazmat teams across the U.S. are being sent to deal with suspected fentanyl overdoses, despite scientists’ insistence that it’s highly unlikely someone will overdose on fentanyl by touching it, being in the same room as it, or touching someone who has OD’d on it.