List of misconceptions about illegal drugs


List of misconceptions about illegal drugs

Many urban legends and misconceptions about classified drugs have been created and circulated among children and the general public, with varying degrees of veracity. These are commonly repeated by organizations which oppose all classified drug use, often causing the true effects and dangers of drugs to be misunderstood and less scrutinized. The most common subjects of such false beliefs are LSD, cannabis, and MDMA. These misconceptions include misinformation about adulterants or other black market issues, as well as alleged effects of the pure substances.

Contents

LSD

Some of the strangest urban legends told are those about lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), a potent psychedelic drug that gained popularity in several countries in the 1960s and 1970s, and experienced a brief resurgence in the mid to late 1990s before declining from 2000 onward. The drug's relation to the 1960s counterculture was likely part of the reason for such legends.

Attempted murder

"Anyone caught selling LSD can be charged with attempted murder." This is a common[citation needed] urban legend that the psychotropic effect of LSD is such an extreme danger to human life that the seller could face charges of attempted murder.[citation needed] No state or federal law allows for a seller of illegal drugs to be charged with that crime under any relevant legal theory. This myth may have origins in stories about long prison sentences for possession or sale of LSD, that may have been comparable to sentences given to those convicted of murder.

Babysitter places baby in the oven while high on LSD

This is an unverifiable drug-scare story dating to the 60s of a hippie babysitter girl putting a baby in the oven and a turkey in the bassinet. It has been debunked [1] by Snopes.com. This myth is parodied in The Simpsons episode "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson",[2] where the kids go on a school field trip to a "scared straight" wax museum at the local police station. One exhibit contains a wax dummy of a hippie woman eating a sandwich with a baby in it. Chief Wiggum says "That's right, she's got the munchies for a California Cheeseburger!"[3]

In May 2009, partial ostension of this legend may have occurred when an Ohio man high on PCP allegedly tried to put his 28 day old son into a conventional oven, only to be stopped in time by the child's mother.[4] Also, in March 2010, a Kentucky man put his five week old baby in an oven (without turning it on, and without any injury) while very drunk and high on marijuana that he believed was likely laced with PCP; he was also sleep deprived from working.[5] There have also been a few other (rare) cases of babies put into microwaves that were not known to involve any drugs.[6][7] These were often deliberate infanticide attempts. However, there have been no known cases of microwaving (or baking) babies involving LSD specifically, or any other psychedelic drug (including cannabis) alone. There are, however, many reported cases of psychotic violence under the influence of PCP (see below). PCP is not related to LSD.

Bad LSD

A "bad trip" is easily caused by an expectation or fear of ill effects, which may later be blamed on "bad acid". This legend was made famous at the 1969 Woodstock festival, when concert-goers were warned to stay away from "the brown acid", which was allegedly bad.[8]

One possible reason people believe that they had "bad acid" could be because they were simply sold a much higher dose than usual, which is not uncommon due to the inherent lack of quality control of illicit drugs. The stronger the dose, the stronger and potentially more anxiety-provoking the trip can get.

However, drugs described as LSD the 1970's occasionally actually contained PCP, amphetamine, or other drugs that have quite different effects from LSD.[9] There are now many research chemicals (DOB[10][11] 2C-I,[12][13] DOC,[13] DOI,[14][15] etc.) that can be nearly indistinguishable from real LSD, and thus can be easily confused with "bad acid". Some of these are even potent enough for psychoactive doses to fit on blotter paper, and may occasionally be sold as LSD when the latter is scarce. The idea of adulterating blotter LSD with these chemicals, however, has no known basis in fact. There is also potential for byproducts of incomplete synthesis and purification to remain in solutions containing LSD after leaving the laboratory. Such impurities would be mostly ergoline compounds - like ergotamine and lysergic acid - which are present in the ergot fungus from which LSD is usually made. Some of these compounds have undesirable side effects, like vasoconstriction and nausea, but such effects would be vanishingly minute at normal doses of LSD. Very high doses, or very poor synthesis, increases the likelihood of experiencing the side effects of ergotism.

"Bananadine" LSD

The false claim states that it is possible to synthesize LSD or some similar hallucinogenic drug called "bananadine" from banana peels or other common household foods and chemicals. The actual synthesis of LSD usually requires advanced knowledge and experience in organic chemistry and requires both expensive laboratory equipment and expensive, carefully controlled precursor chemicals.

Originating from a recipe originally published as a hoax in the Berkeley Barb in March 1967,[16] variants of this legend often circulate on the Internet and were popular on BBSs well before the widespread availability of Internet access through William Powell's "The Anarchist Cookbook". This book claimed "Musa sapientum Bananadine" was a mild psychoactive drug found in banana peels. The slang terms "mellow yellow" and "saffron" (for the color of the peels) were borrowed from the 1966 Donovan song, "Mellow Yellow", perhaps because the phrase "electrical banana" is mentioned in one of the lines. According to The Rolling Stone Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Donovan claimed he was actually referring to a banana-shaped vibrator.[citation needed] The song itself, despite its "psychedelic" feel, was written about Donovan's bout with hepatitis (which causes jaundice).[citation needed]

Blue star tattoos

A document warning about tattoos that are drugged, possibly inspired by the legend.

One popular legend is the blue star tattoo legend. This legend frequently surfaces in American elementary and middle schools in the form of a flyer that has been photocopied through many generations, which is distributed to parents by concerned school officials. It has also become popular on Internet mailing lists and websites. This legend states that a temporary lick-and-stick tattoo soaked in LSD and made in the form of a blue star, or of popular children's cartoon characters, is being distributed to children in the area in order to get them addicted to LSD. The flyer lists an inaccurate description of the effects of LSD, some attribution (typically to a well-regarded hospital or a vaguely specified "adviser to the president"), and instructs parents to contact police if they come across the blue star tattoos. No actual cases of LSD distribution to children in this manner have ever been documented. LSD is not addictive,[17] and it is unlikely to be abused by an unwitting user. Therefore, there is no plausible motivation for a drug dealer to distribute LSD in this manner.[18]

Legally insane

There is an urban legend that a person who has used LSD more than seven times is automatically declared legally insane. The same claim is often suggested with large doses, the difference being that the person is considered psychotic only for the duration of the trip. An extension of this legend is that a person who does LSD more than "X number of times" is permanently disqualified from the military as a result of being "legally insane," a version which was likely inspired by wishful thinking of drug-using draft dodgers in the 1960s. However, no such law exists, at least not in the United States.[19][20]

A version of this legend was repeated as fact on TV's Dragnet series in 1967, in an episode revolving around the use of LSD before it was made illegal. The script described a shipment containing "one pound of LSD [tabs], enough to turn the entire population of Los Angeles into dangerous psychotics" on the premise that one dose made a person legally insane due to the recurrence of completely unpredictable flashbacks throughout the user's life after a single dose.

LSD causes genetic mutations

Beginning in 1967, studies raised concerns that LSD might produce genetic damage[21] or developmental abnormalities in fetuses. However, these initial reports were based on in vitro studies or were poorly controlled and have not been substantiated. In studies of chromosomal changes in human users and in monkeys, the balance of evidence suggests no increase in chromosomal damage. For example, white blood cells of people who had been given LSD in a clinical setting were examined for visible chromosomal abnormalities; overall, there appeared to be no lasting changes.[21] Several studies have been conducted using illicit LSD users and provide a less clear picture. Interpretation of this data is generally complicated by factors such as the unknown chemical composition of street LSD, concurrent use of other psychoactive drugs, and diseases such as hepatitis in the sampled populations. It seems possible that the small number of genetic abnormalities reported in users of street LSD is either coincidental or related to factors other than a toxic effect of pure LSD.[21] A 2008 medical review concluded, "The available data suggest that pure LSD does not cause chromosomal abnormalities, spontaneous abortions, or congenital malformations."[22] However, this refutation has not stopped this perennial legend from being told, nor has it stopped the jokes about such "mutations" allegedly messing up the children of the Baby Boomers.

*According to a more recent study conducted in 2008

   In regard to toxic chemicals, sperm damage, gene alteration, chemicals, damage and overgrown prostate, infertility problems, kidney problems,
possible affects of beer, cigarettes, exposure on male sperm and birth defects, childhood cancers, increased rates of spinal bifida in children of
Vietnam Veterans (baby boomers), sperm abnormalities, and more, please see: Drink and Drugs Can Damage Men's Sperm, Study Suggests *Alok Jha, science
The Guardian, Monday 18 February 2008

Man permanently thinks he is a glass of orange juice

Another common legend, again dating back to the 1960s, was that a man who took LSD went insane and permanently thought that he was a glass of orange juice. Because of this, he could never bend over, slept upright and did not make any sudden movements. Alternative versions sometimes have the man thinking he is a glass of milk or a whole orange. This particular tale is now considered to be unfounded.[23] However, it is possible for an LSD (or other strong psychedelic) user to experience extended psychotic breaks after ingesting these chemicals. The majority of scientists now agree that the people who do experience this typically have a predisposition for mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.[citation needed]

Police officer unwittingly drinks LSD

In this legend, which dates back to 1970, a police (or customs) officer pulls over a driver believed to have been drinking, sees that the driver has a water bottle, and demands a taste of it to see if it contains alcohol. The officer does not taste any alcohol, so the driver either gets off completely or merely gets a speeding ticket. Shortly afterward, the officer begins tripping very hard and stares into space, since the swig of "water" he took actually contained numerous "hits" of LSD. In some versions of the legend, the officer consumes enough LSD to actually go insane. According to Snopes.com, there are no verifiable reports of this ever happening, even decades after the legend was first told, and it is thus considered spurious.[24] However, there have been recent accounts of officers dosed while on the job.[25]

Retention of LSD in spinal fluid

A legend which falsely instills a fear of a non-existent effect of LSD is that the body stores crystallized LSD in spinal fluid or in fat cells, which at some point dislodges and causes horrific flashbacks, perhaps years later.[26]

This legend may have its foundation in the fact that chronic use can result in persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).[27] However, all of these conditions are now considered to be psychological phenomena and not due to drug residues.[1]

There remains no consensus regarding the nature and causes of HPPD or flashbacks. A study of 44 HPPD subjects who had previously ingested LSD showed EEG abnormalities.[28] Given that some symptoms have environmental triggers, it may represent a failure to adjust visual processing to changing environmental conditions. There are no explanations for why only some individuals develop HPPD. Explanations in terms of LSD physically remaining in the body for months or years after consumption have been discounted by experimental evidence.[28]

Although the body does store some toxins in fat tissue, and residues of some drugs and toxins can be found in spinal fluid, LSD is not among these. LSD is metabolized by the liver, and has an elimination half-life of around 3–5 hours, and is insoluble in fats, being an alkaloid.[citation needed]

Strychnine

Anti-drug educators frequently tell their students some variant on the theme of inevitable strychnine poisoning through LSD use, for example, that strychnine is commonly sold as a cheaper substitute for LSD by unscrupulous drug dealers; that strychnine is a byproduct of LSD synthesis; that the body produces strychnine as a result of LSD metabolism; or that strychnine is used as a preservative to prevent the otherwise natural, rapid decomposition of LSD, allowing it to be stored; or that strychnine is somehow necessary to bond LSD to blotter paper.[29] None of this is true.[30] These claims may even be believed and propagated by drug users themselves. In reality, most hallucinogens cause some degree of mental or physical discomfort after the "trip" is over. This is an indirect effect of the drug,[30] not strychnine or any other adulterant. Additionally, strychnine itself is one of the most bitter substances known. The bitter taste can be detected at 1 part per million, which is well below the toxic level.[30] Finally, the dangerous dose of strychnine is too high to be contained in a blotter square, even if the entire square were composed of the poison.[30]

Strychnine has indeed rarely been discovered mixed with LSD and other drugs in a few samples recovered by law enforcement agencies, but these were all found in murder or attempted murder investigations where someone was being specifically targeted for poisoning, and not associated with recreational LSD use.[30]

A related myth is that a new type of gang initiation requires the initiate to put a mixture of LSD and strychnine on the buttons of as many payphones as possible. This too, is debunked by the urban legends website Snopes.com.[31]

Sungazing while tripping

A popular legend dating back to the 1960s, it has been claimed that several people took LSD and stared at the sun, going blind as a result. This myth appeared in 1967 on the cop show Dragnet, and twice in the mainstream news media. The legend is considered to be unfounded,[32] despite case reports in the medical literature which describe this phenomenon temporarily occurring.[33][34]. It is, however, potentially harmful to gaze at the sun while under the influence of LSD, because of pupil dilation caused by the drug.

Cannabis

For further information about the toxicity of cannabis, see Tetrahydrocannabinol toxicity.

Many misleading urban legends about cannabis exist. Like LSD rumors, many were spread during the 1960s and '70s at the height of recreational drug use, and are believed to continuously circulate today. These widespread legends claim that it is easy to overdose on the smokeable variant of cannabis and that it is extremely dangerous and addictive when compared to alcohol and nicotine, when in fact alcohol and nicotine, the drugs that are claimed to be safer, are actually considered by the scientific community[35] to be hard drugs in comparison to cannabis. Furthermore, scaling up from animal studies, an average human would need to ingest over a kilogram of cannabis to die of an overdose.[36]

Withdrawal from heavy, chronic cannabis use does not usually exceed 3–4 days, but it has the potential to be psychologically addictive.[37][38][39][40] Withdrawal symptoms are generally mild, opposite the effects of use - loss of appetite, insomnia, feelings of uneasiness/anxiety, tension, stomach ache, headache and irritability all being common symptoms.[41] There are studies that show no actual increased risk of cancer from smoking marijuana, even when duration of use is expanded over several years.[42] In fact, some studies indicate THC to have anticancer properties, with studies showing tumor reduction in mice.[43]

Confusion with Jimson weed

Historically, and possibly related to the above "Reefer Madness" legend, some people (particularly Americans) had confused cannabis with Jimson weed (Datura stramonium). Jimson weed, which grows wild in the United States and several other countries, is a potent deliriant which can cause true hallucinations and delusions that are believed by the user to be real, as opposed to the pseudohallucinations and perceptual distortions typically caused by cannabis.[44] Confusion could have resulted from the fact that Datura's common name contains the word "weed," which is also a slang term for cannabis, and the fact that both plants (as well as others) have been given the moniker "loco weed" in the first half of the 20th century. Aside from these superficial similarities, the two plants are not related and have very little to do with one another, and thus should not be confused. Jimson weed is highly toxic and can cause delirium, confusion, hallucinations, blurred vision, photophobia, dry mouth, urinary retention, hyperthermia, incoordination, hypertension, and rapid heartbeat among other effects. An overdose (or suspected overdose) on this substance is a medical emergency, as it can cause seizures, coma, or death by cardiac arrest.[45][46]

"Flashbacks" due to release from fat cells

Similar to one of the most enduring myths about LSD, and also somewhat related to the "multi-day impairment" legend described further down on this list, this legend claims that residual THC stored in fat cells gets released spontaneously into the bloodstream in enough quantities to get one high again long after the last use of cannabis, be it days, weeks, or even months later.[47] This legend is typically accompanied by anecdotal evidence of people who experience a "high" after doing exercise of some sort. While somewhat more biologically plausible than the discredited LSD legend due to the fat-solubility of THC, this phenomenon remains scientifically unproven. A 2009 study of rats that involved injecting them with large quantities of THC (equivalent to 5-10 joints per day in humans) each day for ten days straight, then subjecting them to simulated severe stress or food deprivation led to double the blood levels of THC-COOH two days after the last THC exposure compared to rats that were neither stressed nor deprived of food.[48] If such results occurred in humans, then it is theoretically possible for a chronic cannabis user to fail a drug test long after the usual detection time due to exercise, dieting, or severe stress shortly before the test—and several anecdotal reports of this exist. However, there is currently no hard evidence that enough active THC would be released to get one "high" or cause "flashbacks". One should also note that flashbacks from psychoactive drugs in general are now known to be psychological phenomena, and drug residues typically play no significant role in their occurrence and recurrence.

As for the anecdotes about exercise, they likely experienced a "runner's high" due to their bodies releasing endorphins, which are endogenous opioid agonists, along with anandamide and other endogenous cannabionoid agonists[49]. These flashbacks have also been reported after one has stretched or stood up/sat or laid down abruptly.[50] In addition, some studies find that the body produces endocannabinoids such as anandamide during exercise, which may also explain such effects since they activate the same receptors as THC.[51][52]

George Washington smoked cannabis

A legend that is particularly popular among cannabis users in the United States is that George Washington (and/or other Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson) used it as well.[53] This legend even made its way into popular films such as Dazed and Confused. While it is well known by historians that both Washington and Jefferson grew hemp, and used the fibers for rope, clothing, etc., there is no credible evidence that they smoked or otherwise consumed the psychoactive parts of the plant.[54]

Marijuana causes cancer; e.g., one joint equals a whole pack of cigarettes

Many school programs today teach that cannabis users are at a much higher risk of getting lung cancer or other diseases than tobacco cigarette smokers. While unburned cannabis or THC is not a known carcinogen, it is true that cannabis smoke, like any smoke, contains carcinogens. However, the largest study of its kind by the University of California - Los Angeles found that people who smoke marijuana are no more likely to develop lung cancer or head and neck cancers than non-smokers.[55][56] In fact, some studies have shown that marijuana may actually reduce the risk of some cancers by as much as 61%.[57] Part of this misconception may stem from people who smoke both tobacco and marijuana receiving lung cancer from tobacco use, then blaming it on their cannabis use rather than the tobacco. Also, in many countries (outside of the US and small areas in Canada), tobacco and cannabis are commonly mixed together in joints, making it very difficult to disentangle the effects of each[citation needed].

Related to this is the idea that one joint equals 10, 20, or even more tobacco cigarettes in terms of cancer risk, lung damage, and/or various toxins. This is based on a few studies that used small sample sizes and/or looked at one specific lung area. However, this is highly misleading due to differences in chemical constituents, additives, weight, smoking style (such as breath-holding), smoking frequency, and cumulative quantity. Also, while some constituents (such as ammonia and PAHs) are somewhat greater in cannabis smoke, others (such as polonium-210, lead, arsenic, nicotine, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines) are either lower or non-existent.[58][59] In addition, while prolonged heavy use of cannabis may lead to bronchitis and similar respiratory complaints, there is little evidence (aside from a few anecdotes) that cannabis alone can cause emphysema, a degenerative lung disease typically linked to tobacco smoking.

Marijuana killed Bruce Lee

A legend from the 1970s was that action film star Bruce Lee's untimely (and controversial) death was somehow due to cannabis. He died of cerebral edema shortly after taking the painkiller/muscle relaxant Equagesic. At the autopsy, they also found traces of cannabis in his stomach, though this does not prove causation since it was far below the theoretical lethal dose.[60][61] The preliminary opinion of the neurosurgeon who saved Lee's life during his first seizure, Peter Wu, was that the cause of death should have been attributed to either a (possibly allergic) reaction to cannabis and/or Equagesic. However, Dr. Wu later backed off from the idea that cannabis was responsible for his death.[62] Though an (albeit very rare) allergic reaction to cannabis is impossible to completely rule out, there has never been a single proven death that can be unambiguously linked to the direct effects of cannabis alone.[63] Thus, this legend is indeterminate but unlikely to be true.

Marijuana today is 10–20 times more potent than in the past

An oft-repeated legend is that today's cannabis is at least an order of magnitude stronger than in the past (and by implication much more dangerous). THC levels are allegedly 10, 20 or even 30 times higher than in the 1960s or 1970s. Although potency levels have risen in several countries (such as the US and UK), the actual increases have been much more modest (almost threefold from 1982 to 2007 in the US) and high-potency strains have always existed, as have various concentrated forms of cannabis.[64][65] Furthermore, potency of seized samples was not tested before 1971, leaves were not distinguished from buds by testers at first, and samples from before the early 1980s (when testing and storage procedures were changed) were often degraded, making comparisons going that far back inaccurate. Non-representative sampling was also an issue.[66][67] Since most of the increase happened after 2000, this legend can be considered an example of ostension (people have been making such claims as far back as the 1970s).

A related claim, especially in the UK, is that the cannabidiol/THC ratio has decreased over the past few decades, resulting in a new and presumably more dangerous form of cannabis that never existed before (since CBD is thought to attenuate some of the negative side effects of THC). While there is little to no reliable data before 2005 on such ratios in the UK, making comparisons to the past impossible, the US data going back to the 1970s shows little to no clear trend, and there have always been strains with extremely low ratios.[65] Ratios are also known to vary widely between strains and growing/harvesting methods.

Some versions of this legend claim the potency change is due to "genetic modification," a term which often evokes fear in the popular consciousness, but there is no hard evidence that anything other than selective breeding and enhanced growing techniques are behind the change. "Genetic modification" insofar as attempting to emphasize desirable traits by the practice of selective breeding is standard practice across many areas of farming, including the production of cannabis. It is likely that the term "genetic modification" is used by people who do not understand that selective breeding is not the same as genetic engineering.

Marlboro Greens

One popular myth is that (at least in the USA) tobacco companies such as Philip Morris are eagerly waiting for cannabis to be legalized so they can sell it, and thus they have patented certain strains of cannabis and/or trademarked brands of cannabis (or cannabis/tobacco) cigarettes. The most common alleged brand is "Marlboro Greens." Another popular myth is that Marlboro and Philip Morris have purchased the rights to common names of cannabis strains, such as Maui Wowie, Purple Haze, and Trainwreck.[68] This myth has absolutely no evidence to back it up. Images depicting such cigarettes on the Internet are digitally manipulated.[citation needed]

Multi-day impairment

Another claim by anti-drug organizations about cannabis is that impairment due to smoking it lasts many days after using it, since THC is stored in the fat cells, leading to a low-grade haze long after the primary high is gone.[67] This myth is based primarily on anecdotal evidence and the known fact that urine drug tests remain positive for at least several days after using, and longer for regular users. But the drug tests measure non-psychoactive metabolites, not active THC.[69] And the blood levels of THC generally fall well below the psychoactive threshold within 2–4 hours of smoking (4–8 hours after oral use).[70] A cannabis equivalent of a hangover may occur the morning after taking high doses, but even that ends much sooner than the legend suggests. While someone who smokes cannabis on Friday night would most likely come out positive in a urine test on Monday morning, he would no longer actually be impaired by that point.[71][72]

Permanent memory loss or brain damage/destruction of brain cells

Another claim by many anti-drug organizations is that marijuana smoking causes permanent memory loss and/or brain damage. When told, it is often paired with anecdotal evidence about someone the teller supposedly knows of whose mind has become (presumably permanently) "fried" or "burnt" from it. While under the influence of cannabis, there is short-term memory loss but long term, persistent memory loss has not been found conclusively in any rigorous, carefully controlled scientific study.[73] However, evidence of subtly altered brain structure in heavy users of marijuana does exist.[74] The difficulty of determining damage due to heavy or chronic marijuana use in youth or adults arises because of covariates related to heavy marijuana use, including alcohol use or other drug use, making causality difficult to prove. Additionally, the politics and legal issues surrounding marijuana make detailed research difficult, and long-term funding unlikely, except in very few cases.

The idea of brain damage from cannabis may have had its origins in, or was at least popularized by, the results of a few studies on monkeys and rodents in the 1970s.[75][76] However, the rodent studies involved 200 times the psychoactive dose of THC, and the monkey studies involved insufficient sample sizes and controls, and misidentification of "damage." In fact, the most (in)famous study finding evidence of brain damage involved forcing the monkeys to inhale huge amounts of cannabis smoke over several minutes straight, every day, causing potentially confounding oxygen deprivation and carbon monoxide poisoning.[77] More recent studies, however, failed to show any brain damage from cannabis in monkeys when better experimental techniques were utilized.[78]

Reefer madness

Originating in the 1930s, this myth was the basis for films like Reefer Madness, and used by Harry Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics as justification for outlawing cannabis. The allegation was that even the calmest, most normal person could be transformed into a psychopathic killer or rapist solely from smoking a joint. No relationship has ever been proven linking such crimes to the acute intoxication of cannabis alone, and marijuana's psychological effects tend to be more associated with pacifism and inactivity than with aggression. For example, studies of the Jamaican working class showed no difference in the crime rates between users and non-users of cannabis.[79]

Smoking or chasing cannabis with tobacco increases the high

In many places, cannabis is routinely mixed with tobacco when rolled into joints. In North America cannabis in any form is also often "chased" with a tobacco cigarette, and hollowed-out cigars filled with cannabis (blunts) are also popular in some subcultures. Some users say that smoking tobacco increases the cannabis high, and this is often attributed to either the nicotine or additives such as menthol. Until recently this was based solely on anecdotal evidence. There may be at least some truth to this legend, as a 2005 study found that a transdermal nicotine patch modestly enhanced the subjective "high" of cannabis relative to a placebo patch—but only in males. Females actually saw a slight reduction in subjective effects.[80] Reasons for the enhancement are not well understood, and this study appears to be the only one as of 2010 that found such effects. However, another study found a significant downside to the practice. It appears that tobacco, which is known to be highly addictive, also enhances the likelihood of developing cannabis dependence symptoms when the two substances are used concurrently.[81] In addition, when cannabis is mixed with tobacco, the combination may act as a "Trojan horse" for nicotine dependence in some users.[82]

Some Lucky Strike cigarettes contained Marijuana

It has been claimed the cigarette brand "Lucky Strike" is so named because every so often, a consumer of the product would have a "lucky strike", finding a marijuana spliff in a pack of cigarettes. The rumor varies in how often the marijuana cigarette would be included, from one in every thousand cartons to one in every pack and many other frequencies in between. It's unclear when this myth originated, although snopes.com claims it to have been floating around for "many years". Lucky Strike's slogan "It's Toasted" fueled belief in the myth further, toasted being marijuana-user slang for intoxicated. Despite the popularity of the myth, there are no reliable reports of Lucky Strikes having ever contained marijuana. The name "Lucky Strike", in reality, is only a marketing ploy, implying to customers that obtaining their brand is a "Lucky Strike". The "It's Toasted" slogan refers to the product's tobacco being toasted instead of sun-dried, making a supposedly better tasting product.

Other urban legends offshoot from this one. One of the explanations for the origin of flipping a "lucky" cigarette upside down claims the practice originated from the Lucky Strike myth; it's presumed the superstition arose from flipping the marijuana-containing cigarette upside-down in order to save it for last.[83]

The U.S. Constitution was written on hemp paper

Often paired with the aforementioned legend about the U.S. Founding Fathers, this one is also somewhat popular among American cannabis users and legalization advocates. However, it is false—the United States Constitution (as well as the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights) was actually written on parchment, which is treated animal skin. While it is true that hemp can be made into paper, parchment typically lasts much longer than paper of any type, making it a better choice for writing a master copy of a document of such great importance. However, the drafts of these documents were written on hemp paper, as that was the most common type of paper at that time.[84]

MDMA (ecstasy)

The third most common illicit drug that is the source of urban legends is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), better known as "ecstasy". In the United States, this substance was banned in 1985, and other countries followed suit as well. Among American youth, MDMA was most popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, peaking in 2001 and declining thereafter.[85] It was during this time of rather faddish use that numerous urban legends and misconceptions began to surface and be spread through the media, and not all of them necessarily originated from anti-drug organizations.

MDMA impurity

Much street MDMA is actually deliberately impure (as opposed to being mis-sold as pure, though that sometimes happens as well). While opinions vary on the allegation that ecstasy (MDMA) is often found on the street in an impure form, it is based on the fact that the majority of ecstasy pills tested in laboratories[86] contain a mixture of several compounds: amphetamines, caffeine, DXM, dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), or other stimulants, depressants, anesthetics, psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. It is believed these 'impurities' are actually added to enhance effect, and terms like "speedy" (contains amphetamines) and "dopey" (contains opiates) are often used to describe different concoctions. Therefore, this makes the urban legend correct, but misunderstood. Some pills don't even contain MDMA at all, however, and in most places it is impossible to know for certain what one is getting since quality control is nonexistent for illegal drugs.

Holes in the brain

Another common legend that surfaced around the year 2000 was that ecstasy can put holes in the brain, akin to Swiss cheese, which are presumed to be permanent. Actually, no known drug is capable of creating physical holes in the human brain, though some substances (e.g., neurotoxins) can still do significant damage.[87] The possible neurotoxicity of MDMA is still not entirely known, and may very well exist, but several studies on the matter have been discredited as flawed by independent researchers.[88]

The concept of "holes" most likely comes from a misinterpretation of SPECT (and other) scans which show the levels of activity (or lack thereof) in certain areas of the brain, by measuring glucose usage, blood flow, and other proxies for activity. Such scans do not, however, show the physical structure of the brain. This misconception was likely popularized by an episode of MTV's True Life, "I'm on Ecstasy" (2000), which featured a former poly-drug user (including heavy use of MDMA) whose brain scan showed several areas of greatly diminished activity.[89]

Another possible source for the "holes in the brain" myth would be Olney's Lesions. These are actually tiny holes in the brain—they have been found in the brains of rats, not humans, who have been heavily dosed with PCP or ketamine, not MDMA.[citation needed]

MDMA causes Parkinson's disease

Another legend, often mentioned together with the "holes in the brain" myth discussed above, is that MDMA causes Parkinson's disease, possibly with even one night of exposure. This was partially based on an animal study that found neurotoxicity to dopaminergic neurons after administering the drug to monkeys. However, the study has been retracted by the researchers who conducted it because they had accidentally given methamphetamine instead of MDMA to the animals, given the similar chemical names (MDMA stands for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine).[90] Ironically, it is now being investigated as a possible treatment for Parkinson's disease.[91][92]

The drug from which this myth may have had factual inspiration is 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine(MPTP).[93][94] The neurotoxicity of MPTP was first hinted at in 1976 after Barry Kidston, a 23-year-old chemistry graduate student in Maryland, synthesized MPPP (a synthetic opiate related to pethidine and the prodines) with MPTP as a major impurity, and self-injected the result. Within three days he began exhibiting symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The National Institute of Mental Health found traces of MPPP, MPTP, and other pethidine analogues in his lab. They tested the substances on rats, but due to rodents' tolerance for this type of neurotoxin nothing was observed. Kidston's parkinsonism was successfully treated with levodopa but he died 18 months later from a cocaine overdose. Upon autopsy, destruction of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra was discovered.[95]

In 1982, seven people in Santa Clara County, California were diagnosed with Parkinsonism after having used MPPP contaminated with MPTP. The neurologist J. William Langston in collaboration with NIH tracked down MPTP as the cause, and its effects on primates were researched. Eventually the motor symptoms of two of the seven patients were successfully treated at Lund University Hospital in Sweden with neural grafts of fetal tissue.[96]

Like MDMA, MPPP is a designer drug, but its effects are more akin to morphine or other opiates. Despite the similarity in name, MDMA and MPPP are unrelated and should not be conflated.

MDMA drains spinal fluid

This myth appears to be derived from research in 1994 in which serotonin breakdown products were measured in the spinal fluid of ecstasy users. However, it was the researchers, not the drug, who drained the fluid (for the purpose of testing).[97][98] Nonetheless, this legend (and related ones about it damaging one's spinal cord and/or spinal column, which is also false) was popularized by Eminem's 2000 songs "Drug Ballad" and "The Kids".[99]

"Stacks" - Single, double, triple etc.

Many ecstasy users describe the potency of various ecstasy pills in terms of their stack such as double stack or triple stack pills. These claims are dubious as there is no way to verify potency objectively without expensive testing. The term "stack" is not intended to measure potency of ecstasy pills, but it is used as a measurement of mass. Single stacks weigh in at 0.10 grams, doubles at 0.20 grams, and triples at 0.30 grams. Furthermore, a high percentage of what is sold as "ecstasy" may contain a combination of MDMA and one or more other substances or may in fact contain no MDMA at all. For these reasons, the "stack" system of strength description is not necessarily trustworthy - as is commonly the case in the underground drug market.

Methamphetamine

Though initially there were not very many urban legends about methamphetamine ("crank", "crystal meth", "ice"), the "meth epidemic" of the late 1990s and early 2000s (especially in the USA) led to quite a few new legends.

Lung damage from recrystallization

Perhaps the best-known of the meth legends refers to the method of administration in which the user will heat/melt crystal methamphetamine and inhale the resulting methamphetamine vapor. The legend states that the drug, once inhaled, will re-crystallize in large amounts inside the lungs, damaging them in the process. This is a false claim as crystallized methamphetamine is always in the form of a salt (usually methamphetamine hydrochloride), which is highly soluble in water, as well as hydrophilic, and is instantly absorbed into the user's blood stream via the alveoli.

However, intravenous methylphenidate (Ritalin) use results in a type of lung damage commonly known as "Ritalin Lung". Methylphenidate tablets are crushed and dissolved into solution for IV injection. The tablets contain talc and other particulates which can deposit in the lung (talcosis) and result in severe emphysema affecting all the lobes of the lung.[100] The "Ritalin Lung" effect could be a possible source of how rumors about methamphetamine damaging the lungs could have surfaced.

Strawberry Quick

Another meth legend is that dealers are selling colored and flavored meth resembling candy (often with names like Strawberry Quick, originating from an idea that dealers would mix the drug with strawberry-flavored Nesquik) to entice children to buy it. It was first reported in 2007 in the western United States, and children were allegedly ingesting it thinking it was candy, and ending up in the ER. While it is true that some dealers are adding coloring to their products, according to Snopes.com there is no hard evidence as of October 2008 that they are adding flavorings, handing it out in schoolyards, or that children are mistaking it for candy.[101]

Heroin

Cotton fever

Cotton fever is a high fever supposedly caused by injecting cotton fibers into the blood stream when shooting up heroin. Cotton is sometimes used as a crude filter for particulate matter prior to IV injection. Other commonly blamed substances include fiberglass if a cigarette filter was used (cigarette filters do not contain fiberglass), or dirt if Mexican heroin was injected.[102] In general, cotton fever refers to a fever that users believe is caused by inanimate particulate matter injected into the blood stream. In reality, the particulate matter causing cotton fever is bacteria from lack of sterile technique. Most cases of cotton fever resolve as the body clears the infection. Users will often seek medical attention when cotton fever persists. Persistent cotton fever is often infective endocarditis. Although endotoxin shed by the bacteria Enterobacter agglomerans, which colonizes cotton plants, has been implicated as the cause of cotton fever,[103] most clinical cases demonstrate blood cultures positive for skin and fecal bacteria.

Anthrax-tainted heroin

Since December 2009, there have been reports of street heroin contaminated with anthrax, a deadly bacterium used as a biological weapon, in the UK and Germany.[104] Such a contaminant is not only extremely deadly, but it is generally undetectable until it is too late. As of May 2010, there have been 14 reported deaths associated with anthrax contamination in the UK (mostly Scotland) and one in Germany, and the "bad batch" may still be in circulation in Scotland. Strange as it sounds, this "legend" is in fact true, but it is not thought to be deliberate.[105] No other countries have been reported to be affected. Posters advertising this threat can be seen in some Scottish cities, such as Dundee.

"Cheese"

"Cheese" or "Tylenol with Smack" is a heroin-based recreational drug that came to the attention of the media inside and outside[106] the United States after a string of deaths among adolescents in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, between 2005 and 2007. It is generally reported to be a mixture of heroin and Tylenol PM (an OTC acetaminophen and diphenhydramine combination) or its generic equivalent, in varying ratios.

It seems likely that the concept was originally created as a joke, and after seizures of low purity heroin cut with paracetamol (acetaminophen) "validated" the claims, the DEA issued a warning.[107] Although the source of the original hoax is gone, newspapers and media outlets continue to reference each other with no mention of any primary sources, perpetuating the myth of cheese as "starter heroin" for children. However, there may have been some ostension of this legend in 2007 involving a few individuals in Texas.[108]

Cocaine

Rotting flesh from adulterant

An increasingly common cocaine adulterant is levamisole, a veterinary de-worming agent that is known to be toxic to humans, and can reportedly cause the outer layer of skin to die, as well as cause agranulocytosis (a lack of white blood cells). Some experts believe that as much as 80% of cocaine on the street contains it, at least in the United States.[citation needed]. Levamisole is difficult to filter from cocaine due to similar solubilities; the most common street wash for cocaine, an anhydrous acetone wash, will not remove levamisole. It is also not easily evident during common street tests of cocaine purity, such as observing a small sample of the drug when added to bleach. As a livestock wormer, levamisole is available in the agricultural regions where coca plants are grown and processed into cocaine. So while to most levamisole would seem a very odd choice of cutting agent for drugs, this "legend" is nonetheless true.[109]

PCP

Embalming fluid

A commonly held misconception is that phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust) is the same as (or is synthesized from) embalming fluid. In truth the PCP molecule has no relation to embalming fluid, though the latter is often used as a slang name for the former due to the feelings of numbness and dissociation.[110] Some people, believing this myth, have actually attempted to smoke cigarettes or cannabis dipped in real embalming fluid (i.e. formaldehyde), which is highly toxic. Conversely, some users of PCP-laced cannabis believe (and are often told) that it contains embalming fluid proper and not PCP, or that the slang term "dust" really means embalming fluid proper. Sometimes, the two substances are even mixed together, in a further ostension of this legend.[111][112] Such concoctions are often called "fry", "wet", "illy", "sherm", "worm", "water-water", "amp," dust(ed)", "(hy)dro", or other names.

Rodney King was on PCP

The Rodney King police beating case in Los Angeles was a source of much controversy and outrage, as well as urban legends. Because King resisted arrest, with several officers needed to subdue him, he was assumed to be on PCP at the time since the drug is notorious for inciting violent and unpredictable behavior coupled with an inability to feel pain (often misinterpreted as "superhuman" strength). However, toxicology results show that the only drugs found in his system were alcohol and traces of marijuana.[113][114] A high BAC level alone is known to reduce sensitivity to pain in many individuals, and can also significantly reduce inhibitions.

Cannibalism

Another legend about PCP is that some people who have taken it have engaged in cannibalism and other bizarre acts of violence, and this one has actually occurred. In 2002, for example, rapper Big Lurch did in fact do exactly that while under the influence of this substance, killing an acquaintance and eating her lung.[115][116] He was subsequently convicted and is currently serving a life sentence for murder. This incident then inspired an episode of the television crime drama CSI, in which an otherwise unassuming high school girl cannibalized a fellow student while on this drug. Another more recent case involved a California man eating his 4-year-old son's eyeballs in 2009 while on PCP, leaving the child blind.[117] Though relatively rare, extreme and bizarre violence such as these do in fact occur on occasion among PCP users.[118]

Man slices off his face and feeds it to dogs

Somewhat related to the cannibalism legend above is another one about a man who, while under the influence of the drug, thoroughly sliced off pieces of his own face, including his eyes, to feed to his pet dogs. Some versions of this tale say he suffered permanent brain damage as well. This legend is remarkably similar to what the character Mason Verger did in Thomas Harris' 1999 novel Hannibal. The legend, however, dates back earlier than 1999, and can be traced to former New York homicide detective Vernon J. Geberth, who writes about it in his book Practical Homicide Investigation. According to Geberth, this actually did occur to at least one man, presumably in the 1980s, and the story is said to be found in "closed medical records." A 1989 book by Dr. Joseph Sacco also mentions this story, albeit with a few differences in the details. However, this legend has not been independently verified, and while it may be true it is considered by Snopes.com to be of undetermined veracity as of 2007.[119]

Psilocybin mushrooms

Mushrooms contain LSD

Psilocybin mushrooms, the primary type of psychedelic mushrooms, naturally contain psilocybin which is broken down by the body into Psilocin, a tryptamine psychedelic. That is the active principle of the mushrooms, not LSD, and it is unnecessary to add anything to them. Occasionally, however, dealers may sell common, non-psychoactive mushrooms laced with LSD, particularly in areas where LSD is cheaper and/or more plentiful than real psilocybin mushrooms.[120]

Mushrooms make your brain bleed

An urban legend circulating the net is that Psilocybin mushrooms make your brain bleed and that is what causes hallucinations. Psilocybin is structurally very similar to serotonin and DMT which are both natural neurotransmitters. It simply pushes serotonin to the side and makes use of its receptors (specifically, the 5-HT2A receptors) until the body's monoamine oxidase enzymes break the psilocin down as it courses through the blood.[121] This is similar to the way other psychedelic drugs work.

Inspiration for Super Mario powerup

One legend that is popular among both the drug and video gaming subcultures is that the mushroom powerup in Super Mario games is actually based on psychedelic mushrooms. However, there is no evidence to back up that claim. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Super Mario series, it was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, a story in which eating specific mushrooms cause one to change size (although this, in turn, may have been inspired by psychoactive mushrooms[122]). In fact, Miyamoto decided to call it a "Super Mushroom" instead of a "Magic Mushroom" in part to avoid the likely association with the psychedelic variety, which often goes by the latter nickname.[123][124] However, the mushrooms depicted in the game (white circles on red caps) has a similar appearance to the Amanita mushroom, which has psychoactive properties, though is quite distinct from psilocybin mushrooms, as it is a deliriant as opposed to a psychedelic.[125] There is debate over whether Lewis Carroll intended to draw an allusion to psilocybin-containing or Amanita mushrooms in his book.

General

In addition to legends about specific drugs, there are also some more generic ones that are often applied to several types of drugs. Typically, these legends involve rather morbid themes and/or targeted children, but some are told with more levity for the purpose of humor.

Drugs smuggled in baby's corpse

This legend, dating back to the early 1970s and first appearing on the Internet in 1996, claims that drug traffickers are smuggling illegal drugs (typically cocaine) in hollowed-out dead babies to avoid detection.[126] Allegedly, tourists' babies are kidnapped, killed, cut open, filled with drugs, and sewn shut so the contraband can be more readily sneaked over the border. However, according to U.S. Customs and other law enforcement agencies, there are no verifiable reports of this ever happening, and thus this myth is unfounded.[127] While smugglers have been known to be quite creative in devising new methods to get their wares over the border undetected, this is not one of them.

Drug-laced candy or lollipops given to schoolchildren

This legend, which surfaced on the Internet just in time for Halloween in October 2004, claimed that drug dealers were giving lollipops laced with drugs, typically a combination of THC and PCP, to unsuspecting children and causing them great harm. Such suckers are allegedly referred to as "dro pops" or something to that effect, and various towns around the country have had their own versions of the legend.[128] According to the U.S. DEA, suckers containing THC and/or PCP have been found and confiscated in Chicago in the spring of 2004. They also report that in 2003 and 2004 some psilocybin mushroom chocolate candies were seized near Amarillo, Texas, and that hollowed-out lollipops filled with heroin have been seized in New York City.[129] The goal of doing so was likely to evade detection by law enforcement by disguising the drugs as candy. However, there is no evidence that these were ever given to children, much less that any such children were harmed, or even that such lollipops have been found outside of these specific locations or anywhere since early 2004.[128] Thus, this legend can be considered to be in a similar vein as the infamous Blue Star Tattoo legend.

Drug-related Halloween legends

Related to the above legend, various drugs have also found their way into the more general and perennial Halloween poisoning legends. Allegedly, unsuspecting trick-or-treaters are given candy (or sometimes fruits) laced with poisons, needles, razor blades, and drugs by strangers. However, virtually all reports of this happening are now known to be either hoaxes, events unrelated to Halloween candy, or non-random poisonings by relatives made to look random.[130] The latest manifestation of drug-related Halloween legends was a prediction by Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles that cannabis edibles (from medical marijuana dispensaries) would possibly end up in the hands of trick-or-treaters on Halloween in 2010. Baca even went so far as to confiscate cannabis edibles from circulation in an attempt to prevent this from happening, and displayed them on television two days before Halloween. Again, there is no evidence that cannabis-laced treats were ever given out to trick-or-treaters in 2010 or in any other year.[131][132]

"Gnome" legend

Another legend involves a group of teenagers who, while drunk and/or tripping on some sort of hallucinogen, find what they perceive to be a gnome (sometimes a dwarf or hobgoblin), capture it, and bring it home. They sleep off the drug's effects, and the next morning they find out that the "gnome" was really a lost (and very frightened) child. Though the story may be told by some tellers in a negative light, it may also have a positive spin in that the teens become unwitting heroes in finding a missing child whose parents (as well as the police) had been unable to find. According to Snopes.com, the legend had first surfaced in 2004, and as of 2007 the legend's truth status remains undetermined and unverifiable.[133] In some versions of a legend the "gnome" is not a child but a midget or a person with Down Syndrome, some have even gone as far to say it was a dead baby.

"Homeopathic" drug water

In 2004-2005, an Internet rumor was going around that said that LSD (and other drugs) were being diluted with water to extremely low concentrations, which allegedly made the drugs more powerful, yet cheaper and undetectable.[134] This is related to the "Law of Infinitesimals", one of the principles behind homeopathic medicine. However, there is no hard evidence that this actually has effects different from a placebo, or that a significant number of users or dealers were ever actually doing this.

Drug testing

The increasingly common practice of drug testing, especially urinalysis, has led to an increase in the number of drug users looking for ways to beat the tests, and has spawned a number of urban legends as a result. One should note that the only scientifically proven method for certainly passing a test is time, apart from not consuming any substances at all that are likely to be tested for. However, this does not stop users from getting creative in their attempts to somehow shorten the detection times and/or mask the contents of their fluid specimens, with varying degrees of success or lack thereof.

Drinking vinegar will help you pass

This legend is one of the oldest ones in the history of drug testing, and is only partly true. Consumption of vinegar will lower the pH (i.e. increased acidity) of the blood and urine[citation needed], and drugs that contain amine groups (such as amphetamines) will be cleared out somewhat faster as their water solubility increases due to protonation. Also, the reduced pH can potentially throw off the pH-sensitive enzymes in a particular type of bioassay (EMIT) often (but not always) used as the initial screening test, even for non-amine-containing drugs such as THC. However, vinegar is not necessary to do so, as there are other things (such as high doses of vitamin C) that can do the same thing, but without the almost inevitable diarrhea and vomiting that vinegar can produce after consuming large quantities. Also, the effects of urine acidification on detection times (for any substance) are modest at best, often practically insignificant, and drinking vinegar is thus not very reliable as a standalone measure for beating a drug test.[135]

Secondhand exposure will cause you to fail

This legend is technically true but highly misleading. According to a U.S. Army study, the amount of secondhand cannabis smoke needed to cause a false positive result (failure) is quite large indeed, and would require being sealed in an unventilated car or small room filled with marijuana being actively smoked for several hours (often referred to as a "hotbox").[135] Hair testing, however, is a different matter, particularly with passive exposure to crack/cocaine, which can deposit onto hair and be readily incorporated into it.[135] Though for cannabis, typically only metabolites (produced by the body and thus not found in smoke) are tested rather than THC, so failure is unlikely to result from non-extreme passive exposure.[136][137]

High doses of niacin will help you pass

This legend has been around for at least a decade. Niacin, also known as Vitamin B3, is speciously claimed by some to "burn it out" of one's system when taken at high doses (250–500 mg per day). While some Internet (and other) sources often claim that it works wonders, there is zero scientific evidence that it even works at all.[138] Very high doses can also cause adverse side effects.[139]

This legend may have been (inadvertently) inspired by Narconon, a Scientology-based drug rehabilitation program that uses exercise, saunas, and high doses of niacin (and other vitamins) to detox. It is also part of L. Ron Hubbard's general Purification Rundown, which can supposedly remove pollutants as well as drug residues. However, there are currently no peer-reviewed scientific studies to back these methods up.[140]

Ibuprofen causes false positives for THC

While this was true in the past, newer versions of the EMIT bioassay are much less sensitive to ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), and this has become relatively uncommon as of 1998, at least in the United States. However, abnormally high doses of ibuprofen can still potentially cause a false positive in not only THC but other drugs such as barbiturates. Nonetheless, this no longer works as an alibi for THC since GC/MS can now distinguish between the two.[135]

Poppy seeds cause false positives for opiates

This partially-true, but exaggerated, legend has been featured in several movies and television shows, such as Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory. Poppy seeds do contain trace amounts of the protein used to identify opiates, but foods containing only a sprinkling of seeds on top, not enough to show up in a test. For example, it would require about 100 poppy seed bagels to reach enough to cause a positive (failed) test result at normal cutoffs.

On the other hand, poppy seed-filled pastries (such as hamantashen), do in fact contain enough to potentially cause a false positive, even when a fairly high cutoff is used.[135]

However drug tests rarely screen for the actual drug used, instead they detect metabolites or increased enzyme levels as markers indicative of drug use. When substance use has been established (and the drug type i.e.: Opiate or Amphetamine) one can then be tested to identify the specific substance by means of more expensive Gas Chromatography drug screens.

An episode of MythBusters tested this legend and found that as little as three poppy-seed bagels was enough to cause a positive result for the remainder of the day they were eaten (though participants tested clean the following day).[141] The results of this experiment are inconclusive, however, because a test was used with an opiate cutoff level of 300 ng/mL instead of the current SAMHSA recommended cutoff level used in the NIDA 5 test, which was raised from 300 ng/mL to 2,000 ng/mL in 1998 in order to avoid such false positives from poppy seeds.[142]

Despite these measures, false positives do still occur, such as in the case of a mother whose newborn baby was taken into care after she tested positive for opiates because of an "everything-bagel" from Dunkin' Donuts.[143] [144]

In addition, poppy seeds do not serve as an alibi for heroin: a unique metabolite (6-monoacetylmorphine) is produced from heroin use that is never produced from consuming any other substance, let alone poppy seeds. Modern tests can thus readily determine whether it was heroin, should someone try to claim he merely ate poppy seeds. It is widely believed that there is no way to distinguish between poppy seeds and any other kind of opiate.[141] However a study published by the University of Connecticut's Department of Chemistry, proposed that Thebaine could be used as a marker of poppy seed consumption. They examined the urine of test subjects given 11grams of poppy seeds, the urine of heroin users and clean urine spiked with thebaine, as a reference for GS-MS. They also tested street heroin, 1 morphine tablet and 1 codeine tablet. Urine specimens were screened by EMIT and confirmed for thebaine by GS-MS using a solid-phase extraction method. Only the subjects who had consumed the poppy seeds had thebaine in their urine, with concentrations ranging from 2 to 81 ng/mL with a limit of detection of 0.5 ng/mL. Thebaine was not detected in any of the tested powdered drugs (street heroin, morphine tablet, codeine tablet) or the urine of the heroin users.[145]

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