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Crazy Cannabis Propaganda That Will Make You Laugh

Matt Weeks
reefer madness propaganda

From being turned into a bat to becoming a homicidal maniac, these are the five craziest bits of cannabis propaganda your government tried to push on you. 

It’s often said that the United States has entered a “post-truth” period where facts don’t matter. That may be true in politics, but when it comes to cannabis, outrageous cannabis propaganda are nothing new. In fact, we have a long and storied history of complete fabrications about cannabis and what it does to the mind and body of those who consume it.

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To hear some people tell it, cannabis is responsible for all manner of incredible feats, from endowing users with superhuman powers to hypnotizing them into becoming deadly assassins bent on homicidal destruction.

To pay homage to how far we’ve come, here’s a list of five of the most ridiculous bits of cannabis propaganda from our past, ranked in no particular order.

Cannabis Propaganda One: Marijuana Turned Me Into A Bat

One of the strangest bits of false cannabis paranoia comes from noted pharmacologist James Munch. He worked at Temple University and for what is now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as its resident cannabis expert. Under oath, in 1938, Dr. Munch testified that he had taken two puffs of cannabis— as an experiment, of course — and the drug caused him to turn into a bat and then fly around the room and down a well. That’s impressive sorcery for a plant. So, did the good doctor use this newfound power to fight crime, like Bruce Wayne might have? If he did, he kept his alter ego a secret.

And while there’s no evidence to support it, this author likes to think that the infamous pharmacologist has been immortalized in cannabis circles by giving his name to the well-known side effect known as “the Munchies.”

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Cannabis Propaganda Two: The Spiderman Effect

Another great moment of the federal government’s anti-cannabis actions came via Henry Anslinger, Commissioner of Narcotics in the Bureau of Narcotics in the Treasury Department. Anslinger testified before Congress that cannabis makes users “lose their sense of place” and experience “an increased feeling of physical strength and power.” Sounds like the government could use something like that, right?

Sadly, the super drug couldn’t be trusted for use by the U.S. Army because users also became “temporarily irresponsible and may commit violent crimes,” according to Anslinger. With great power comes great irresponsibility, apparently.

Cannabis Propaganda Three: It Ruins Women!

Nothing is more precious than a women’s purity, just ask anybody with an outdated and seriously skewed sense of Puritanical morality. That’s certainly the case for movies like “Marihuana,” which showed the painful things that happen to young, white women when they dare to discover cannabis. In this film, after smoking cannabis, one girl gets pregnant and eventually becomes a drug dealer, while another drowns.

But the fear that cannabis unleashed some unholy side of the fairer sex is plastered all throughout the Swell Era, with posters like this one proclaimed that “women will do anything for” cannabis. Lock up your daughters, folks, there’s cannabis out there!

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Cannabis Propaganda Four: Killer Instincts

A 1941 novel called Marihuana by Cornell Woolrich, under the pen name William Irish, told the story of a regular man who turns into a vicious killer after “smoking grass.” Sold for 10 cents as part of a series of detective novels, Marihuana portrays cannabis as a drug that creates paranoid delusions in its users—or worse. In a final twist (Spoiler Alert!) the killings were all a prank played on the poor man by his friends. These ‘friends’ laugh at his antics because they are also under the influence of cannabis. So somehow the drug makes people homicidal, dumb, and terrible practical jokers all at once. What a deal!

Cannabis Propaganda Five: Reefer Madness

This occupies a special spot among anti-cannabis lore. From its Gastby-gone-wild storyline to its black-and-white scenes of crazed piano players and teenagers in the throes of delirium, Reefer Madness has transcended its place as propaganda to become a staple of American Overreactions. Created with a mission to portray the dangers of cannabis — real or imagined —it’s obvious that the movie relied on third-rate filmmakers to get the job done.

The resulting project has withstood the test of time for the same reason that The Room sells out midnight showings more than two decades after its release: It’s the product of pure crazy. Reefer Madness has got more camp than an adolescent summer vacation.

While it’s fun to look back on these lies and chuckle to ourselves, don’t let the sins of the past blind you to the realities of the present. Like so many other American traditions, the anti-cannabis campaign still endures today, but it’s become more sophisticated and thus more diabolical.

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."

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