The Drug That Wasn’t

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘L’. Translations for any words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 20-year-old non-binary transfeminine musician, born and raised in Mumbai.

I: So you have something that originates within the musical space, but isn’t about music?

L: Yeah! So, it’s kind of… an urban thing, not really ancient or out there, it’s niche. But it’s really interesting, because the way it spread around was really cool, because it’s false. So, when I was about thirteen-fourteen and at this music school where I used to study after normal school, this bunch of punks, this band called Mommy’s Not Home [they laugh], told me about this… this text, sort of a cookbook. It’s pretty dated, pretty subculture-ish, and has many weird details about how to break into ATMs—in the ‘90s—, make IEDs, extract psychoactive chemicals, et cetera, et cetera. Most of the techniques described in there were real, right? So, me, being a too-inquisitive thirteen-fourteen year old… I read it. So, I read it, perused through it, and I’m not going to go into the finer details of how to break into a ‘90s ATM in America—

I: You don’t have to.

L: Great. But what especially interested me were all the drug recipes, right? And one stood out to me, because I’d never really heard of it before. And, at this point, I think I was pretty well-read about these things. I was a young, punk musician who hung out with older stoner-kids. I was into punk and stuff, and that’s how I heard of this whole thing. But I was always kind of told not to talk about it in public, right? I tried and this guy who was one of the people who introduced me to it was immediately, like, ‘Hey, listen, you can’t talk about this out here, out in the open,’ which just… intrigued me further.

I: Why do you think they didn’t want you talking about it?

L: Because it detailed various criminal activities… So, basically, back to this, it was a recipe of this drug called Bananadine. It detailed an extraction of this drug called bananadine, and first of all, I’d never heard of this drug—why was it called bananadine? Why was there ‘banana’ in its name? [They laugh] So, it detailed, like, how to extract this from the skin of a banana to smoke it, for similar effects to marijuana, except more psychedelic. 

I: Did you have any experience with it, in the sense that, did you ever try it? When you told people about it, what did you say?

L: Right, so, me, since I didn’t have the same tools, I didn’t try it out like that, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t eaten a few banana peels in my day, looking for some sort of high [they laugh]. But, I still told all of my friends, and I’m pretty sure they tried the same thing, some of them might have even smoked it, I’m not sure, but I know I told them and they probably told their friends. Young and stupid, you know. I pretty much said, like, there’s this drug I found out about, and it’s legal—because bananas—so… maybe we can extract it together? But then we never really managed to meet up to do it, but I think he also just ate some banana skin around that time, too, just to see. Because, I mean, that’s logical right, one would assume that you can maybe get some effects with that too, right?

I: Had you heard about this from anywhere else, not just that cookbook?

L: I mean, the part about it in the book was only, like, a paragraph long, a short paragraph, but those punks, Mommy’s Not Home, who told me about it, kind of like they had experienced it? They would do, like, smoke-ins, where they would try this kind of shit, and other things, of course, but I think it placebo-ed them.

I: Why do you say it’s a placebo?

L: Because bananadine doesn’t exist, right? When I researched more about it, it was just kind of like… an urban belief, I guess, but people have felt these hypothetical effects of bananadine for a long time. It was, I think, first in a Boston magazine, because some singer called Donald, or Donovan—who I’ve never heard of—wrote a song about a yellow drug, or something along those lines. All the hippies, you know, 1960s America, thought he was talking about smoking a banana, so people all over the nation… they, like, also organised smoke-ins where they would extract bananadine, so-called bananadine, and smoke it as a sign of protest, you know, counterculture and all that. People actually felt the effects! But, just a disclaimer, there is no drug found in banana skin, I learned that the hard way. 

I: So it was false but people believed it, and sometimes, people still do?

L: Yeah, it really depends on who you are, I think. I was too curious, and young, so I researched before I really had the chance to try it beyond eating some banana skins. Research showed me it was false, but I know people who did believe it. I mean, the fact that people were and are organising smoke-ins… people did experience the placebo effect. Actually, I think the FDA—I’m not kidding, the FDA—launched an investigation into banana skins for psychoactive chemicals in it, because they were really going hard against drugs, weed, LSD, at that point, so having a drug possibly extracted from a household item was dangerous. But they found nothing. So, people do, and did collectively believe its existence, but… bananadine is not a thing.

I: Technically, you believed it was true until you looked further into it, so would you say that there are still a bunch of people who believe it?

L: Yeah, like I said, it really depends on who you are by nature, you know? Also, who told you about it. Mommy’s Not Home was told by an old guitar teacher in the music school, this sixty-seventy-something white guy, but I was told by Mommy’s Not Home, and even though I was fourteen—probably why I believed it for so long as it is—[they laugh] I still looked further into it because, I guess, they weren’t really trustworthy sources… or whatever the tween-age thought process equivalent of that is.


While the informant here refers to learning about this so-called drug through both people, and an authored source, they also point to it coming up before that, which is verifiable: there is an earlier version of this, from before the cookbook that they reference, therefore establishing a terminus ante quem, through the oral spread of this recipe and smoke-ins conducted by people in 1960s USA, with it gaining huge traction. Simultaneously, the informant also talks about believing its existence, and knowing people that experience a placebo effect of this bananadine, essentially solidifying the idea that belief can do big things, even make you feel a psychedelic high from smoking a banana peel. This source was particularly interesting to me, because I think the belief in it is the central part: the people believed in it, so its effects were real, a psycho-somatic high, to the point where the government took action then. Similarly, some people believe in it now, and its effects, for them, are real, and this information still spreads in circles within some sub-communities of musicians, even though the truth about it is only a few clicks away. Basically, people believe what they want to believe, and they want to believe each other, at least about this, and that belief alone can create real impacts and effects, even though there is no material reason for it other than that belief. It’s a lot like the idea behind mass hysteria, colloquially called groupthink, especially when it comes to those community smoke-ins where everyone would supposedly feel these effects, even when nothing was… really happening.