Pill Pushing©

The Best of Pill Pushing - Faux drugs - They're so tasty too - (5/21/2017)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Drugs have popped up in books, movies and TV. They are usually pivotal to the plot. What else would Aldous Huxley’s 1932 futuristic Brave New World stand for if not for Soma, a hallucinogen that takes users on enjoyable, hangover-free "holidays"? The book was set in the year 2540. Soma was a State-produced drug that people used to self-medicate when they are depressed, which thereby eliminates the need for religion or other personal allegiances outside or beyond the World State.
More faux drugs: how about Jammitin, the erectile dysfunction drug once mentioned in The Simpsons and is a play on words (doh!)?  Or Fukitol, the fictional anti-depressant created by Robin Williams with his slogan “When life sucks, Fukitol (get it? heh). 
Arguably, the most famous fake drug was Vitameatavegamin (vita-meat-a-vega-min), a fictional tonic that was created for a 1952 episode of I Love Lucy for CBS and was played by that hilarious, hapless heroine Lucile Ball. The product was supposedly a concentrated elixir of vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals and promised to help people who are "tired, run-down, and listless" [Ardin, 1988]. By definition, an elixir such as Vitameatavegamin would use ethyl alcohol for the purpose of keeping the active ingredients in a solution. This is where the merriment ensues. In this episode entitled “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” Lucy – always willing to mug for the cameras even though Lucy Ricardo was deficient in talent that crippled her show-biz career. 
According to the “Everything Lucy” website at youns.com, Lucy conspires to appear in a commercial on the "big TV show" her husband Ricky is emceeing. To prove to Ricky how good she is doing commercials, she removes the "works" from their TV set, installs a window shade where the picture tube was, and, when Ricky arrives home, proceeds to do an impromptu Philip Morris cigarette commercial. Ricky is not impressed with her performance. And less than pleased to learn she has removed the workings of the set piece-by-piece instead of just sliding out the chassis. The following morning, Lucy gives Ricky the silent treatment, still trying to win the commercial job. She has a better idea: she'll tell the girl Ricky did hire that Ricky's "already hired another girl." Standing before a backdrop that reads "Join the Parade…Buy Vitameatavegamin Today," Lucy rehearses her speech at the TV studio: "Hello, friends. I'm your Vitameatavegamin girl. Are you tired, rundown, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular? The answer to all your problems is in this little bottle: Vitameatavegamin. Vitameatavegamin, contains vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals. Yes, with Vitameatavegamin, you can spoon your way to health. All you do is take a tablespoon after every meal (Lucy samples product). It's so tasty too. Just like candy. So why don't you join the thousands of happy peppy people and get a great big bottle of Vitameatavegamin tomorrow? That's Vita..Meta..Vegamin." After repeated rehearsals, Lucy gets soused because the liquid tonic is 23% alcohol (even though she was actually drinking apple pectin). Further attempts to polish her performance prove uproarious, with Lucy garbling her words and slurring her speech. Another failed performance by Lucy Ricardo. 
Vitameatavegamin was apparently based on a real product, Geritol, an iron and B-vitamin elixir formulated in 1950 that was 12% alcohol. Still hilarious after 63 years!
"Mellow Yellow" is a song written and recorded by Scottish singer/songwriterDonovan. In 1966, it reached #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and #8 in the United Kingdom in early 1967. The song was rumored to be about smoking dried banana skins, which was believed to be a psychoactive drug, which would get the smoker high. An excerpt follows: 
I'm just mad about Saffron
Saffron's mad about me
I'm just mad about Saffron
She's just mad about me
They call me mellow yellow
(Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow
(Quite rightly)
They call me mellow yellow
Electrical banana
Is gonna be a sudden craze
Electrical banana
Is bound to be the very next phase
"Mellow Yellow" as written by Donovan Leitch
Lyrics © Peermusic Publishing
A recipe for the supposed hallucinogen was obtained from The Anarchist’s Cookbook, written by William Powell: 
1. Take 15 lb. of ripe yellow bananas. 
2. Peel the bananas and eat the fruit. Save the skins. 
3. With a sharp knife, scrape off the insides of the skins and save the scraped material. 
4. Put all scraped material in a large pot and add water. Boil for 3 to 4 hours until it has attained a solid paste consistency. 
5. Spread this paste on cookie sheets and dry it in an oven for about 20-30 minutes. This will result in a fine black powder (bananadine). Usually one will feel the effects of bananadine after smoking 3 or 4 cigarettes.
What you may feel is not groovy as much as woozy from eating 15 pounds of bananas. 
Will bananas get you high? Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope wrote an article in 2002 that explained “the whole thing was a hoax first publicized in the Berkeley Barb in March 1967. The wire services, and after them the whole country, fell for it hook, line, and roach clip. Smokeouts were held at Berkeley. The following Easter Sunday, the New York Times reported, ‘beatniks and students chanted 'banana-banana' at a 'be-in' in Central Park” and paraded around carrying a 2-foot wooden banana. The Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating "the possible hallucinogenic effects of banana peels." 
A search through PubMed did not reveal any such study. However, in November 1967, researchers at New York University reported that a chemical analysis of banana peel found no intoxicating chemicals and that the high was mainly psychological. It was obvious at the time, at least to some of us, that the whole thing was a put-on. I'll bet even the pranksters at the Berkley Barb didn't expect suckers to be falling for it almost 50 years later.
Oh, and by and by, everyone can calm down because, according to Donovan on 2011, the song was not about getting high but about girls using bananas as dildos, according to the British music journalism magazine, the New Musical Express.  Then the plug-in version was invented (hence, the vibrator became the “e-lek-trickle banana”). 
Liquozone was one of the greatest hoaxes of the early part of the 20th century. The fake part was that it contained no drug at all. It is an example of the public believing the claims of a charlatan. The Federal Government finally had to step in and protect the public from themselves. What was Liquozone? Imagine an antiseptic that was not only able to kill germs, but also cured most diseases. Picture a product that eliminates pathogens without the use of drugs or alcohol. Envision an antibacterial that does its magic simply with water. What do you have? A fraud. 
Liquozone, according to the bottle’s label, contained 0.9% sulfuric acid, 0.3% sulfurous acid and almost 99% water. However, the promoting of Liquozone was the catapult that launched major changes in American health, law and marketing in the early years of the 20th century. 
The creation of Liquozone was based on the relatively new germ theory that grew during the 1800s because of major scientific discoveries. The theory was that many diseases come from microorganisms. Louis Pasteur, for example, is best known for inventing the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. 
As explained in one of their convoluted advertisements, “Liquozone is the result of a process which men have spent 20 years in perfecting. Its virtues are derived solely from gas, made in large part from the best oxygen producers. By a process requiring immense apparatus and 14 days’ time, the gases are made part of the liquid product. The result is a product that does what oxygen does. Oxygen gas, as you know, is the very source of vitality. Liquozone is a vitalizing tonic with which no other known product can compare. But germs are vegetables – and an excess of oxygen is deadly to vegetal matter. Yet this wonderful product which no germ can resist, is, to the human body the most essential element of human life.” The ad goes on to list all the diseases permanently cured by Liquozone, including consumption, cancer, dandruff, malaria, and “many heart troubles.” Mumbo jumbo. 
Marketing the product was ingenious. In 1902, the company offered a 50 cent bottle of its “germicide” free to anyone who would respond to a newspaper ad and a coupon would be mailed that was redeemable at any local pharmacy. At that point, the recipient of the free sample would be offered a money-back guarantee on five $1 bottles of Liquozone. The company soon found that requests for free samples cost 19 cents each to generate. Within a month of the advertisement, the company discovered that the typical coupon redeemer was spending 91 cents on Liquozone. Over the next 3 years, 5 million freebies were given away. By 1904, Liquozone was advertised in 17 languages and sold around the world. The company made millions of dollars by selling a worthless product.  
The producer’s claims for Liquozone were robustly debunked by investigative journalist and muckraker Samuel Hopkins Adams in one of a series of articles on patent medicines for Collier’s Weekly in 1905, called The Great American Fraud. Adams wrote: “Liquozone is liquid oxygen – that is all…Liquid oxygen doesn’t exist above a temperature of 229 degrees below zero. One spoonful would freeze a man’s tongue, teeth and throat to equal solidity before he ever bad time to swallow. If he could, by any miracle, manage to get it down, the undertaker would have to put him on the stove to thaw him out sufficiently for a respectable burial. Unquestionably Liquozone, if it were liquid oxygen, would kill germs, but that wouldn’t do the owner of the germs much good, because he’d be dead before they had time to realize that the temperature was falling.” Thus, the object of the company was to make money, at the expense of the sick and trusting public. 
People started to become aware of fraudulent so-called cure-alls such as Liquozone, Wiley’s experiment attracted a tremendous amount of attention from the press, which went a long way in helping to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. 
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first of a series of significant consumer protection laws enacted by the Federal Government and led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Its main purpose was to ban foreign and interstate traffic in adulterated or mislabeled food and drug products, and it directed the US Bureau of Chemistry to inspect products and refer offenders to prosecutors. It required that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging and that drugs could not fall below purity levels established by the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary. Thus, Liquozone sales went down the toilet and it, like other faux drugs, met the same demise.
Adams SH. The Great Fraud. Collier’s Weekly. Springfield, Ohio: PF Collier & Sons; 1905.
Cruikshank JL, Schultz AW. The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (But True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing; 2010. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Write him with any ideas or comments at ron@rx-press.com.  

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