Will smoking banana peels get you high?

April 26, 2002

Dear Cecil:

I've seen a lot of contrasting information about this all over the Web, but that doesn't tell me anything, except that the druggies at school aren't the only guys in on the concept: getting high off of banana joints. Is there really a chemical called "bananadine"? If so, can you really get high from smoking dried-out banana skins?

I used to think 17-year-olds going to Grateful Dead concerts in the 1990s were pathetic, not to mention the return of bell-bottoms, love beads, and tie-dyed shirts, but this beats everything. The 60s are over, you geeks. We're talking about stuff your parents used to think (foolishly) would get you high. What next, the return of the plaster casters? Oops, just remembered, Cynthia Plaster Caster recently did a show in New York and was profiled in a documentary. I hope this doesn't start a trend.

But I'll say one thing--I'd never heard the term bananadine before. If it were 1973, when I started writing this column, I'd have called various groovy parties seeking enlightenment. Since it's 2002, I punched bananadine into Google.com. Seconds later I was looking at the following recipe:

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.

If you ask me, what you're feeling is the effects of eating 15 pounds of bananas, but let's not get distracted. The recipe was attributed to The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell. Turning to Amazon.com, we find the following statement from Powell:

"Author would like to see publication discontinued. . . .

"The Anarchist Cookbook was written during 1968 and part of 1969 soon after I graduated from high school. At the time, I was 19 years old and the Vietnam War and the so-called 'counter culture movement' were at their height. . . . The book, in many respects, was a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam," etc.

Powell says he got much of the information from military manuals at the New York Public Library, although it's likely the banana recipe came from the (ahem) alternative press. Without an agent, he submitted the manuscript to a number of publishers, one of whom, Lyle Stuart, published it unedited in 1970. "Contrary to what is the normal custom, the copyright for the book was taken out in the name of the publisher rather than the author," Powell writes. Repenting his youthful foolishness years later, he tried to have the book withdrawn but was told that since he was not the copyright owner he could take a hike. The Anarchist Cookbook is still available, its author reduced to pleading that the book is "misguided and potentially dangerous."

But you still want to know: Will bananas get you high? Of course not. 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 two-foot wooden banana. The Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating "the possible hallucinogenic effects of banana peels."

The outcome of the FDA study I have not been able to discover. However, in November 1967 researchers at New York University reported that a chemical analysis of banana peel had 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 Barb didn't expect suckers to be falling for it 35 years later.

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