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“Electrical banana
Is gonna be a sudden craze.
Electrical banana
Is bound to be the very next phase.”
-from “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan Leitch, Epic Records, 1966

It’s late 1966 and the drugs of choice, such as marijuana and LSD, are illegal, causing many to search for other ways to get high.  And they were willing to leave no stone unturned in their search…

To some, Donovan’s major hit “Mellow Yellow” seemed to offer a clue.  What if bananas provided the answer?  Legal.  And cheap.  And available in any grocery store.  What could be better than that?  And so the rumors spread that smoking bananas could get you high.

First Mention

In March 1967, the underground newspaper Berkeley Barb published a recipe for producing a strong, although short-lasting, hallucinogen from bananas.  All it took was 15 to 20 lbs of bananas and several days to produce the necessary amount to get high.

By Easter, according to the New York Times, youth at a be-in in Central Park began chanting “banana-banana” and carrying around a huge wooden banana.  Not surprisingly, shortly thereafter, the Food and Drug Administration began an investigation into the hallucinogenic properties of banana peels.

Country Joe and The Fish, a psychedelic rock band out of San Francisco, began giving away banana peel cigarettes at their concerts.  The idea had now become mainstream within the counterculture.

Psychoactive Ingredient

In an article published on 6 August 1967 in the New York Times Magazine revealed the psychoactive chemical in banana peels to be bananadine.  The title of the article was “Cool Talk About Hot Drugs.”

By November, however, researchers at New York University concluded that any high from smoking banana peels come only from the placebo effect.  In short, they found no hallucinogenic compounds in banana peels.  But that didn’t stop very many in the counterculture from trying anyway, believing the report to be a government conspiracy to keep people from getting high.

The Legend Continues

Yet the legend lived on.  William Powell, in his book The Anarchist Cookbook, published in 1970, included the recipe given in the original Berkeley Barb article.  He believed the recipe to be true, and even named the compound “Musa sapientum Bananadine.”

To this day, people online still request, and search for, the best recipe for extracting bananadine from a bunch of bananas.

The Truth

The problem – it’s a hoax.  The whole thing.  One huge hoax.  Many know that now, but it’s surprising how many people tried to smoke bananas and get high at the time.  And apparently still do, based on internet searches.

The purpose of the original article in the Berkeley Barb was to question the ethics of making a drug like LSD illegal, while at the same time jailing those who chose to take psychoactive drugs.  After all, how would the government react if something as common as a banana could get you high.  By publishing the article the Berkeley Barb raised some interesting questions, ones which are still being debated today.  The War on Drugs and today’s increasing acceptance of the legalization of marijuana show those questions have not been satisfactorily answered in today’s society, 50 years later.

And to think it probably all started with a line in a popular song…

“Electrical banana
Is gonna be a sudden craze.
Electrical banana
Is bound to be the very next phase.”

smoking bananas hoax

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Smoking Banana Hoax

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