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Bananadine





A cheap, easy high.  Just watch your step.

In the late 1960s, recreational drugs were becoming more popular than ever in the United States.  They were promoted and celebrated by the counterculture.  Marijuana and cocaine were widely used, as were hallucinogens like psilocybin and LSD.  Most of these drugs were processed plants and/or chemicals, but marijuana was pretty much rolled and smoked in its natural form.  Its only processing was drying it out, just like tobacco.  40% of Americans smoked tobacco, and it was perfectly harmless (except for increased risk of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc.)  “How can you ban a plant?” defenders of marijuana asked.  “It’s a dangerous, addictive plant!” its detractors replied.

Defenders of marijuana wanted to move the fight to their territory: you can’t ban a plant.  That’s why the discovery of bananadine was so important.  It, too, came from a plant.  It was a hallucinogen, like the synthetic LSD.  Bananadine was found in the skins of bananas, which you could find in most any grocery store.  With this powerful hallucinogen so widely available, what are we going to do?  Ban bananas?   Is the DEA going to have to raid every A&P in the country?

This question never had to be answered, since bananadine never actually existed.  It was invented as a hoax in the March 1967 issue of the Berkeley Barb, an underground newspaper published in Berkeley, California, founded by radical Max Scherr.  The hoax claimed that dried banana skins contained a psychoactive substance called bananadine, which would induce hallucinations when smoked, giving an effect similar to those of LSD and opium.  The recipe that the Barb printed gave the following instructions:

1. Obtain 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 three to four 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 three or four cigarettes.

Cover of the Berkeley Barb, May 14-20, 1971.  The cover story does not actually refer to bananas.

The national media jumped on the story.  Nationwide it was known that you could get high from smoking banana peels.  Country Joe MacDonald of the band Country Joe and the Fish promoted it as a “legal high”.  Rumors spread that Donovan’s hit single Mellow Yellow was about smoking banana peels.  Donovan’s song actually debuted several months before the Barb’s bananadine hoax. Donovan later came clean about the secret meaning of his song.  It actually had nothing to do with bananas, but was actually a celebration of the vibrator, which would no doubt have been its own kind of scandal, had that been known at the time.  

By the end of the year, science was on the case.  Controlled experiments were being performed to see if people really could get high from smoking banana peels.  A New York University study concluded that the “high” that some youths (yes, they said “youths”) felt after smoking banana peels was “mostly psychological”.  The jig was up: everyone now knew that smoking banana peels wouldn’t do a thing for you.


A New York Times article spoils all the fun (November 12, 1967).

Of course, just because something is true doesn’t mean you have to believe it.  The bananadine rumor carried on, despite there being no evidence to back it up.  William Powell included the above recipe for processing smokable banana peels in his famous Anarchist’s Cookbook in 1971, which kept the rumor running probably longer than it otherwise would have lasted.


Comic by Don Martin from MAD Magazine No. 116, (January 1968) explores smoking banana peels.

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