Purported legal highs

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Purported legal highs include common foods and other substances which, if consumed in a certain way or in sufficient quantity, are rumoured to have psychoactive effects. Most frequently they are claimed to have similar effects to marijuana.

The reality of this ranges from urban legend, to some truth to the rumor, depending on the substance.

Urban legends[edit]

The placebo effect has a lot to answer for here. Keep in mind that if any of these really did have the claimed druggy effects, somebody would have made them illegal already. Mostly these are all a bunch of woo, for silly kids who can't get the real stuff because mommy won't let them out of the house.

Aspirin with Coca-Cola[edit]

Purportedly, consuming aspirin together with Coca-Cola gets you high. This is a rumor that has made the rounds from time to time among gullible teenagers. According to snopes.com,[1] this rumor goes all the way back to the 1930s, and like most of the others is baseless. The original Coca-Cola formula prior to 1904 however did contain alcohol and coca leaf extract.[2]

Banana peels[edit]

This was a hoax published in the Berkeley Barb newspaper in 1967, claiming the scrapings from banana peels contained a fictional drug called "bananadine", which would produce a brief marijuana-like high when smoked. It caused a brief shortage of bananas in Berkeley, California. Researchers have found the banana peel contains no intoxicating chemicals at all, but this has not stopped bored teenagers from continuing to conduct their own banana "experiments". You will probably have a more significant mind altering experience by listening to The Dead Milkmen.[3]


Trippy, dude!

Catnip's (Nepeta cataria) apparent druggy effects on cats have not translated into a druggy effect on humans,[4] but goodness knows some have tried smoking or ingesting it in an attempt to replicate the effect. Best leave the catnip for your furry feline companion, and enjoy a cold beer instead. The active chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, does exhibit very minor sedative effects in humans and has been used by herbalists in the past as a mild sedative or a treatment,[5] but this is nowhere near a "high".

Starting in 2018, a product marketed as "catnip cocktail" was found to not be actual catnip but to contain an illegal drug, 1,4-butanediol, which is actually psychoactive and toxic.[6]


Jenkem is a gas produced from fermented fecal matter and urine. First reported in Zambia, it was considered a popular "drug of choice" by US teenagers in the mid 2000's. It is widely believed to be a hoax after it went too far and ended up on an official Sheriff's Office memo.[7][8]

Peanut skins[edit]

Along the same lines as the banana peel legend, a rumor that smoking peanut skins could get you high started among the late 1960s counterculture. As with banana peel, it takes a lot of fiddly effort and any resulting "high" is pure placebo.

Salicylic acid[edit]

Mobilat is a salve containing salicylic acid, used for muscle aches. In Finland, there's a common urban legend that if you shave your head and cover it with Mobilat, you get high.[9][10] At least there's the practical joke dimension in this - to get the victim to shave their head.


Heimia salicifolia

Sinicuichi is a brew formed from plants of the genus Heimia and was used ceremonially by the Aztecs. Some publications by Victor Reko and others spread the rumor that it was an auditory hallucinogen, but almost everyone who has tried it reports that it's extremely subtle (read: indistinguishable from placebo) and not worth the effort. Oh, and it generally causes severe muscle aches the day after.[11]

Marketing ploys[edit]

Brainwave woo[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Brainwave woo

There are various quack products or methods that are purported to bring you to a "higher state of consciousness" or replicate a legal high based on dubious claims about adjusting, manipulating, or synchronizing brainwaves. I-Doser is probably the most common of these.


See the main article on this topic: I-Doser

Can you get "high" just by listening to sounds? Only if they synchronize your brainwaves and cost $4 a time.

Actual legal and semi-legal highs[edit]

While many, if not most “legal highs” are bullshit, there are many legal substances that in fact can induce intoxication and altered states of consciousness. These drugs vary widely in terms of safety and even legality (as many substances are legal for research purposes but not for human consumption). Some of these highs are listed here.

Research chemicals[edit]

In drug culture, research chemicals (also known as “RCs” or “designer drugs”) are substances designed as functional analogues of illicit or controlled substances with little to no well-studied effects or history of medical use.[12] By creating substances that are chemically different but functionally similar to an illegal drug, and calling these substances “research chemicals” while selling them in bags labelled “not for human consumption”, many RC vendors are able to bypass existing drug laws.[13] Given the untested nature of these substances, it is impossible to accurately determine the safety or even exact effects of these chemicals. Instead, drug users often rely upon firsthand anecdotal experiences of previous users, in forms such as “trip reports” posted on websites such as Erowid.[14] Because of this, there have been several deaths and serious illness caused by many research chemicals. Some of the substances that have caused such deaths include the psychedelic 25x-NBOME series,[15] synthetic cannabinoids (aka “spice”) such as MDMB-FUBINACA,[16] opioids such as various fentanyl analogues[17] and stimulants such as MDPV (aka “bath salts”).[18] While some RCs (such as 1P-LSD and various other LSD analogues) do not appear to be any more dangerous than the drugs they are mimicking, one should consider whether it is really wise to consume any substance based only on the anecdotes of other drug users on the internet.

While these general safety issues are likely obvious to many or most drug users, the simple fact is that people are gonna get high no matter what the state says. The RC industry is a direct result of drug criminalisation, and every time a certain RC class or substance is banned, another new, untested, but currently legal version takes its place. Until all drugs are legalised or decriminalised, there is no reason to believe any action of the state can mitigate the constant development and sale of more and more obscure and potentially dangerous substances.


The term “inhalants” refers to any drug that is inhaled as a pressurised gas or volatile vapour. Drugs that are smoked or vapourised by a heat source (such as meth, weed, etc.) are not considered under this class. Once again, the safety of these substances varies widely, with some substances being almost harmless, and others causing effects that are completely inseparable from brain, nerve and organ damage.[19] For example, nitrous oxide (commonly known as “laughing gas” or “whippets”) is safe enough on its own that it is often used as an anaesthetic for young children (though long term, extremely heavy use can lead to some nasty nerve damage as vitamin B12 is stripped away).[20] Alkyl nitrites, often referred to as “poppers”, are another example of a relatively safe inhalant (much to the relief of bottoms all around the world). In contrast, volatile substances such as toluene (found in many types of glue and paint thinner), acetone (found in nail polish remover) and petroleum are so inherently, dangerously toxic that they can even lead to instant death due to something called “Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome”.[21] That’s right, your deodorant can is not even slightly exaggerating about the dangers of solvent abuse. Sadly, this type of drug use is alarmingly common in young people, particularly homeless children, as it is an easily accessible and usually legal way to escape from reality.[22] Given the difficulty of criminalising these substances which are present in a vast range of normal consumer products, it seems that inhalant abuse in impoverished and marginalised communities and groups is unlikely to be solved without eradicating the poverty and marginalisation causing the problem in the first place.


The term “deliriant“ refers to a class of hallucinogen different from psychedelics like LSD and dissociatives like ketamine.[23] As the name suggests, taking these drugs generally causes one to become delirious — extremely confused, with suppressed short term memory, completely lifelike hallucinations, and full-on delusions (such as that one is talking to a person, but they are in fact a fully solid delirious hallucination). In addition, these drugs often have extremely uncomfortable physical effects, such as extremely dry mouth, shaking, blurry vision (often to the point of blindness which, in some cases, can last several days after the drug has worn off). Basically these drugs fucking suck, so the government does not tend to restrict them in the same way that drugs which are actually enjoyable might be restricted.[24] Some examples of deliriants include diphenhydramine (aka DPH, or the OTC antihistamine commonly sold as “Benadryl”), as well as plants such as datura and deadly nightshade, and even the antidepressant Mirtazpine. Despite the fact that these drugs are obviously terrible, and nobody in their right mind would take them, the lack of legal restrictions on most of these drug leads many people (especially young people) to experiment with them — there are even entire communities based on the use of deliriants such as DPH.[25] It should go without saying that these drugs are extremely dangerous — not only due to direct physical effects such as tachycardia and hyperthermia,[26] but also due to the extremely disorienting mental effects and hallucinations, frequently leading to accidents and extremely dangerous behaviour.[27][28] Long story short, even if you apply all the usual harm reduction strategies for hallucinogens (having a trip sitter, being in a good environment, etc.), these drugs are extremely dangerous in any situation, and tend to have extremely unpleasant, unsatisfying effects, just going to show that the level of legality of various drugs does not in any way correlate with the safety of the drug.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Legal highs.


  1. http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/aspirin.asp
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Coca-Cola formula.
  3. The Dead Milkmen — Smokin Banana Peels
  4. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=experts-how-does-catnip-work-on-cats
  5. Chemistry.About.com — Nepetalactone
  6. ‘So bizarre’: People are getting high off Catnip Cocktail and going wild, New Jersey police say by Antonia Noori Farzan (March 11, 2019 at 6:02 AM) The Washington Post.
  7. Salon.com - Smoke This!
  8. Fox News — 'Drug' Made From Human Waste Causing Stink on Web, in Law Enforcement
  9. https://murobbs.muropaketti.com/threads/urbaanilegendat.507735/page-6
  10. https://murha.info/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1967&start=255
  11. Erowid Sinicuichi Experience Vaults
  12. Research Chemical FAQ - Experimental and Research Chemicals used as Psychoactives by Erowid & Murple v 1.6 - Jun 4, 2010 (Erowid) | https://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/research_chems/research_chems_faq.shtml
  13. Interview with a Ketamine Chemist By Hamilton Morris (Vice) | https://www.vice.com/read/interview-with-ketamine-chemist-704-v18n2
  14. Experimental & Research Chemicals (Synthetic Drugs, Novel Psychoactive Substances, New Psychoactive Substances, NPS, Replacement Psychoactives) (Erowid) | https://www.erowid.org/psychoactives/research_chems/
  15. 25I-NBOMe (2C-I-NBOMe) Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid | https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/2ci_nbome/2ci_nbome_death.shtml
  16. Identification and analytical characteristics of synthetic cannabinoids with an indazole-3-carboxamide structure bearing a N-1-methoxycarbonylalkyl group. | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25893797
  17. Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. "Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs warns about acetyl fentanyl: drug caused at least 50 fatalities in 2013 in Pennsylvania.". Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. | http://www.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/document/1345188/department_of_drug_and_alcohol_programs_warns_about_acetyl_fentanyl
  18. MDPV Fatalities / Deaths by Erowid | https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/mdpv/mdpv_death.shtml
  19. The Effects of Toluene on the Central Nervous System https://academic.oup.com/jnen/article/63/1/1/2916394/The-Effects-of-Toluene-on-the-Central-Nervous ] (DOI)
  20. Flippo, T. S., & Holder, W. D. (1993). Neurologic degeneration associated with nitrous oxide anesthesia in patients with vitamin B12 deficiency. Archives of Surgery, 128(12), 1391-1395.
  21. Sudden Sniffing Death and Fetal Solvent Syndrome| https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51161983_Two_Serious_and_Challenging_Medical_Complications_Associated_with_Volatile_Substance_Misuse_Sudden_Sniffing_Death_and_Fetal_Solvent_Syndrome
  22. Nicholas Kozel et al. (Ed.) Epidemiology of Inhalant Abuse: An International Perspective, National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA Research Monograph 148, 1995
  23. Duncan, D. F., and Gold, R. S. (1982). Drugs and the Whole Person. New York: John Wiley & Sons
  24. Grinspoon, Lester and Bakalar, James B. (1997). Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. The Lindesmith Center
  25. For example, the DPH subreddit
  26. Kathleen M Beaver, Thomas J Gavin, Treatment of acute anticholinergic poisoning with physostigmine, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Volume 16, Issue 5, September 1998, Pages 505-507, ISSN 0735-6757, 10.1016/S0735-6757(98)90003-1. (ScienceDirect) | http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735675798900031
  27. Datura Items | http://www.lycaeum.org/mv/mu/datura.html
  28. Consider, for example, this absolutely wild datura trip report