A Brief Survey of Ridiculous Anti-Drug Propaganda


Yesterday, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-level group that’s been studying drug usage and policing around the world, came to the somewhat unshocking conclusion that the war on drugs has utterly failed “with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” Not only has the decades-long war cost world governments untold trillions of dollars, it has taken the lives of countless people, innocent and guilty alike, all while doing nothing to stop the global spread of illegal drugs. The comission, which includes former international presidents, U.S. Secretaries of State and Federal Chiefs, recommended that we simply stop fighting, legalize marijuana at the very least, and experiment with the legalization and regulation of other drugs.

In celebration of this news, we present you with a some of the best (and worst) anti-drug propaganda the media has to offer. We hope that future drug education takes on a tone that is less about fear-mongering and more about providing real facts, but while we wait for that to happen, we may as well laugh at the absurdity of these campaigns.

The 1960s was a wonderful time for anti-drug propaganda. The establishment, losing the deathgrip of conformity that was easily maintained in the ’50s, felt seriously threatened by the rising tide of counterculture, and they prepared plenty of PSAs to prove what kind of threats it posed. This one is especially convincing. It tells the tale of a woman tragically seduced into trying LSD, who now has to live forever with the guilt of murdering the father of a family of hot dogs.

Apparently the “darker side to coke” is your nostrils taking on the personalities of two annoying British people. Sounds pretty bad to us. Also, if there was a drug that really made dogs talk, we’d be totally into it.

We understand the logic behind this billboard: who wants to put something in their body that’s been in someone’s butt? On the other hand, we have a feeling it isn’t going to deter a junkie from continuing his extremely detrimental habit. Mostly, it makes us uncomfortable to imagine how someone managed to carry that much of anything up their ass.

Lest we forget, alcohol is a drug, and probably the one most widely used. Though it’s legal almost everywhere, alcoholism is a huge problem the world over. Russia has had a particularly hard time with combating it — the word “vodka” comes from a Russian word meaning “little water,” after all. When the Russian Health Ministry tried to cast drinking in a negative light with this frankly terrifying PSA featuring a CG squirrel, concerned citizens were quick to react… by making said squirrel the mascot for a new brand of vodka.

Brass Eye, a UK series that aired in the late ’90s, debuted around the same time as The Daily Show and used a similar format, creating spoof documentaries and interviewing real political figures — which, in a fashion familiar to any fan of fake news, ended up making those politicians and their views look totally ridiculous. One memorable episode featured a new drug supposedly legal in Czechoslovakia called “cake.” The plate-sized yellow pills were taken around to politicians, many of whom were totally taken in by this fake drug that was said to affect the part of the brain known as “Shatner’s Bassoon” and caused a lethal condition called “Czech Neck.” David Amess, a conservative political representative, went so far as to bring up the drug in Parliament. So, although it was meant to be a joke, Brassy Eye‘s segment inadvertently crossed over into the world of anti-drug propaganda. This prank has to be seen to be believed (but remains pretty unbelievable).

This ’80s anti-drug ad is of the scared-straight variety. It’s very effective at making you afraid — so afraid that you want to change the channel and forget about it as quickly as possible. Probably by doing some drugs.

In a variation on the classic “This is Your Brain On Drugs” ad, this postcard was released after research done at Johns Hopkins University “proved” that high levels of MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, when injected into primates, significantly raised the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. The postcard was misleading: the dark areas of the scan do not represent the “holes in the brain” that became a popularly mythologized side affect of ecstasy use. But the study itself, which was used to justify much of the condemnation of the drug, has been completely invalidated. It was discovered years after the study took place that the researcher had accidentally dosed the monkeys with methamphetamine instead of MDMA. So really, all this study showed was the negative impacts of meth on the brain, which is probably not news to anyone. Yet the “holes in the brain” misconception remains, and ravers continue to not die in massive numbers from recreational ecstasy consumption.

Pee-wee Herman tells us why we shouldn’t try crack, backed by heartbeats and insanely ominous music. What more can we ask for?

Reefer Madness is probably the most famous piece of anti-drug propaganda ever shot. In recent years, the campy film was even made into a musical, which was adapted in 2005 as a Showtime movie starring the brilliant Alan Cumming. It’s fun viewing for anyone, whether you like to indulge in “special” cigarettes or not.

This ’90s anti-pot commercial is trying to drive home the point that 13-year-olds can’t do anything without having someone offer them weed. That’s not quite how we remember middle school, and this doesn’t seem like such a bad day to us.

Finally, a video that actually makes us not want to do drugs. We featured this brilliant and depressing Funny Or Die video a few weeks ago, but we haven’t forgotten about “Successful Alcoholics.” Featuring an amazing performance from Lizzy Caplan, the film is guaranteed to actually put you off alcohol. At least until the weekend.