This post was originally published on January 29, 2015.
Just about the time when I was hitting puberty (and also starting to drink and take drugs), Woodstock and the drug culture were taking off and the dangers of drug use were starting to show up in news reports. What followed were a number of crazy-ass drug stories circulated in the pre-Internet popular culture that sent the message that if you take drugs, this (insert horrifying story here) will happen to you. The best ones involved LSD, and there were multiple bizarre accounts, the most popular one being that people who took LSD were jumping to their deaths out of windows and off tall buildings because they thought they could fly.
The other (and much more) frightening one involved a teenage girl that was babysitting and decided to drop some acid. According to the tale, she was supposed to cook a turkey and put the baby to bed, but she allegedly tucked the uncooked turkey into its crib, then put the baby in the oven and cooked it. The parents came home and were devastated and the girl was sent to a mental hospital for the rest of her life. There were no documented cases of either of those scenarios actually happening, of course, but they probably kept a lot of kids from doing acid, at least until we got to college.
Since those days and even well before (if you’ve never seen the Reefer Madness trailer, it’s a scream) there have been a number of stories that are just as alternately disturbing (if they were true) as laughable (because they’re mostly not). Here are some of my favorites:
1) Vodka-Soaked Tampons Being Inserted Rectally to Get Teens Drunk
This urban legend originally started out as a Reuters news story in 1999 when an anti-drinking group said they had heard of accounts of teenage girls inserting vodka-soaked tampons, but of course there was no documented evidence, and it seems more likely that it was just a zealot weirdo’s teen girl fantasy. The phenomenon popped up in other media over the years before exploding onto the national scene as a “craze” in 2011 when no less of an authority than (what appears to be) a high school security guard re-fired up the story with the help of the always journalistically sound local TV news station.
The location of the tampon insertion had now been relocated to the poop chute, possibly to include boys in the mix (how’s that for gender equality?) and the TV news report even had an emergency room doctor weighing in to give it validity (although you’ll notice in the video that he never says he actually treated anybody for the disorder). Google “Vodka Soaked Tampons” and see how many stories come up. There’s also a pretty funny music video about the “trend” on YouTube.
2) Butt Chugging
This one came about the same time as the VST’s did, and it’s just as ridiculous. It gained national attention when a 20-year old University of Tennessee student went to the hospital after an alcohol overdose, allegedly caused by fellow frat boys pouring wine into a funnel that was connected to a tube that was jammed up his ass to get him intoxicated. The student, his father and the fraternity denied the incident, but UT instituted reforms to outlaw the practice anyway. I can’t imagine this gaining popularity as a way to get high for anyone, but the media ran with the threat of alcohol enemas as a nice little companion piece to the VSTs. It’s hard to take this “fad” seriously when you see Steve-O from Jackass doing it in a video (before he got sober), so it was probably never a serious threat to keggers as a preferred party activity for college kids.
3) Vodka Eyeballing
Like the rectum-based boozing options, this one, while idiotic and not particularly practical if you want to get hammered, falls more into the Jackass/frat boy drunken double-dare category than any kind of threat to public health. The lure is an allegedly intense high, because as the moronic thinking concludes, the vodka theoretically interacts with the eye’s blood vessels to get you drunk faster. But mostly it just results in a sharp pain in your eye without getting you buzzed. Based on the amount of YouTube videos of college kids doing it, it apparently was a fad—not one that lands you in rehab, but more of a goldfish-swallowing-with-corneal-damage stunt. So much so, that The American Academy of Ophthalmology decided to issue a statement, even though there was no indication in the release that any of them had ever actually treated anybody as a result of the Smirnoff eyewash.
4) Pharm Parties
Pharm parties are apparently another media creation, and they sound eerily similar to the wife-swapping parties that swingers from the 70’s allegedly engaged in. At those parties, the story goes, husbands would throw their car keys into a bowl and then got to (or had to in some cases) fuck whoever picked out their keys.
According to quite a few prestigious newspapers like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle, pharm parties are gatherings where teenagers or young adults raid parental medicine cabinets, throw every pill they find in a bowl and mix it up, creating a “trail mix” of drugs. Which may make for a good fake news story because of the so-called danger involved, but honestly, how much trouble could you get into by eating a fistful of pills made up of Zoloft, Aspirin, birth control pills, Ex-Lax and Tums? If you’re lucky there might be some Xanax or Percs in there, but why wouldn’t you just go get your drug of choice instead?
Like so many of these crazy drug stories, everything is based on hearsay, with no journalist ever being present at the parties they report on, according to Jack Shafer’s excellent article.
5) Poop Sniffing
Okay, so this didn’t get the ink that some other stories did, but it did make the press. Allegedly following the lead of some Zambian children who put their feces and urine a jar, let it ferment in the sun and then inhaled it, American school kids were doing this substance called Jenkem. The high was said to be “similar to ingesting cocaine but with strong hallucinations of times past.” I imagine those “times past” they recalled were back when the kids were sitting in an unchanged diaper, but I’m just guessing here.
Snopes, the urban myth debunking website, said the stories were false. It turns out that much like the other stories, it was just a case of shitty reporting.