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Common Drug Myths Debunked

drug myths
Written by Alexandra Hicks

While urban legends exist about all drugs, by far the most common and interesting ones are about psychedelics, LSD in particular. Let’s explore some of the more frequently circulated ones.

Drug myths have been around since people started using drugs. And I’m not talking about the kind of myths you hear during red ribbon week at school, but rather, the common fallacies that people who actually use drugs spread amongst themselves. Have you ever heard that LSD is forever stored in your spinal cord? Or that using it too many times can have you declared legally insane? How about the one where smoking too much pot will make you grow man boobs? Growing up, I’ve heard all of these and more, so let’s debunk some of the most common misconceptions about drug use.  

Urban legends  

An urban legend is a type of story or folklore consisting of various claims that are circulated as true. Often, it’s tales of something that has happened to a distant relative, or a “friend of a friend”, or some other random acquaintance, and they usually contain a combination of scary, humorous, embarrassing, or cautionary elements.   

Over the years, many misconceptions and urban legends about drugs have made the rounds, some of them dating back all the way to the 1960s that are still alive and well among today’s youth. And from what I’ve found on Reddit and when asking friends of mine, they’re pretty much universal in every state, even people in other countries have heard the same ones. These stories are generally related to long term side effects and adulterants.  

Although they can be fun, and sometimes downright laughable, the real-life problem with these tall tales is that despite how ridiculous they might sound, they are often repeated by organizations and politicians who oppose sensible drug reform, and the general public believes them! Plus, most of them just so happen to be about psychedelics and cannabis, substances with great safety profiles compared to other recreational (and even pharmaceutical) drugs. This causes the true effects of these substances to be wildly misunderstood.  

LSD remains in your spinal cord forever  

I’ve been using psychedelics since I was thirteen years old, and acid is definitely one of those drugs that has a lot of lore surrounding it. Something I heard quite often in my younger years was that if you take LSD, it will remain in your spinal cord forever, and if you crack your back too hard or suffer from a back injury, it will send you into a sudden and terrifying trip. This is 100 percent false. When used, LSD travels through the bloodstream and is rapidly metabolized into inactive compounds. And, like most drugs, it’s water soluble so it gets out of your system rather quickly, usually in about 1-4 days.  

Smoking weed can lead to the development of “man boobs”  

This one has always made me giggle, and who knows, maybe it successfully scared some boys into not trying weed too early. Either way, this rumor originated from some older studies on THC that found it can lead to increased levels of estrogen in the body – although these studies have been mostly debunked over the years. Some people in the medical community still like to promote the link between cannabis use and gynecomastia, but the fact is, there is no definitive evidence that this connection exists. 

Ketamine is a horse tranquilizer 

While ketamine can be used to anesthetize horses, it’s also used for small animals and humans. As a matter of fact, ketamine makes the list of essential medications for humans because it is the only anesthetic that doesn’t interfere with breathing. So, although it has been used for horses, the myth that it’s only used to treat livestock gives the implication that it’s too strong for people, or that it hasn’t been approved for human use – neither of which is true.  

If you use LSD more than 7 times you are considered legally insane 

Because LSD is viewed as one of the more potent hallucinogens, a belief came about that long-term use of it (typically categorized as 7 or more lifetime uses) can cause permanent brain damage and lead to someone being declared legally insane. As we know, given all the new research on LSD, this is completely untrue. Regardless, this misconception has been circulating since at least the 1980s. While sentencing guidelines for acid are unreasonably harsh compared to other controlled substances, the idea of a certain number of uses or accumulated dose of LSD being enough to declare a person mentally unstable is just absurd. A version of this story was even repeated as fact on TV’s Dragnet series in 1967, in an episode discussing the use of LSD, shortly before it was made illegal. 

Drug dealers are lacing Halloween candy with fentanyl and other drugs 

The concept of drug dealing is quite simple: dealers sell drugs to make money. There is no money to be made by lacing kids candy with an expensive drug like fentanyl. Over the years, numerous claims of laced Halloween candy have made the rounds, but all of these stories were investigated and found to be totally bogus. According to Joel Best, a professor from the University of Delaware who has been studying this topic since 1983, these ideas spread “primarily among people who have no idea what [drugs] cost.” 

Milk will stop a magic mushroom high  

I’ve heard this many times over the years, but there is no scientific data, or even enough anecdotal reports, to back up the claim that milk will stop a mushroom trip. The presumption is that the milk would coat the lining of the stomach and slow the absorption rate of the mushrooms, but theoretically, this would only work if you drink the milk very early in your trip, before you digest the shrooms. Some small scale studies have found that benzodiazepines can stop a psychedelic trip, but not only is this possibly unsafe, it’s also not common for people to have benzos on hand (at least, I don’t think it is).  

Man uses LSD and thinks he’s an orange  

As far as drug myths go, this one is an all-time classic. When I looked it up, the story was about an anonymous man, but when it was told to me, the man in the story was Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd! Either way, as the legend goes, someone took LSD and developed some form of permanent psychosis, forever thinking he was an orange and living in fear that his friends were going to peel him. Another version is that the man thinks he’s a glass of orange juice, rather than the whole orange, and he’s scared that someone will drink him. This story is straight up bonkers, but it’s been spread around since the 1960s and as recently as 2004-ish when I heard it.  

Molly puts literal holes in your brain 

Another one I heard quite often, especially when I went through my ecstasy phase, was that molly or E will put actual holes in your brain, or that you’ll end up “permanently fried” if you use it too often. While I must admit, at the end of a binge I definitely felt a bit slower mentally, and way out of focus, I can safely say the effects were NOT permanent (thankfully). However, some studies have made the claim that high doses of MDMA can damage nerve cells that contain serotonin, but these studies are from the 1980s and 90s, so they are quite dated and possibly inaccurate.

Final thoughts 

Drug myths can be fun, we’ve all heard at least a couple of them over the years. But they can also be dangerous when they start to spread as fact and influence the opinions of politicians and their constituents. What are some of the interesting drug-related urban legends you heard during your youth? Drop us a line in comment section below and let’s get the conversation going!

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.