Monday, February 2, 2009


The Legend:  Adrenochrome, a powerfully psychedelic drug, can only be acquired from the adrenal glands of a live human donor. Once harvested, the donor dies.

Status: Somewhat true, but no one dies.


Adrenochrome, C9H9NO3, was represented as a recreational drug by author Hunter S. Thompson in the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In this book, and subsequent film, it is presented as a powerful hallucinogen that is acquired from a living donor's adrenal gland. Removing this gland kills the donor, as a dead person's adrenal gland doesn't contain the right juice. The high is shown to be like a hallucinatory amphetamine rush. This is supported by a similar mention in The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley, where adrenochrome is likened to LSD.

This is a case where the myth is far more interesting than the facts. Adrenochrome is real. It is synthesized by oxidation of adrenaline (epinephrine) in the adrenal glands. Medically, adrenochrome is used to reduce capillary bleeding. It may create mild euphoria, but there really are no psychoactive effects documented from this drug.

Dr. Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond (1954, 1959) first presented the adrenochrome model of schizophrenia, claiming that adrenolutin, one of the metabolites, combined with adrenochrome to create the hallucinatory symptoms we see in schizophrenia. This hypothesis was abandoned decades ago.

The true, boring nature of this chemical has not stopped popular culture from running with it. There are bands and songs by this name as well as mentions in many song lyrics and movies. This chemical is available for purchase in powdered form, something to remember before you cut the adrenal glands out of your neighbor.