Misinformation about adrenochrome and its supposed links to Covid-19 has gone into overdrive. But what is it? We separate the substance’s literary history from its real-world functions.
If you’ve spent much time online lately, like everyone else in lockdown, you’ve probably fallen down some strange Covid-19 rabbit holes. One word you might have seen is “adrenochrome”. It’s popular with the conspiracy set: it makes you young, or high, or part of a Satanic tribute. Before you become hypnotised by the swathes of Facebook comment threads, you should know how it got its mystical status.
Where have I heard of adrenochrome?
Aldous Huxley’s 1954 essay “The Doors of Perception”, written mostly about his experiences with mescaline, discusses the possibility that adrenochrome is a compound with similar effects to the psychedelic cactus. He has not taken it, and doesn’t know how one would obtain it, saying just that it’s spontaneously produced by the human body. He describes it as “a product of the decomposition of adrenaline”, which is, surprisingly, correct.
There’s a brief mention of “drencrom” in the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, where it’s an optional addition to the cocktail (glass of milk) Moloko Plus, but probably the most cited use of the compound is in Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It might be a novel, but many assumed it was a real thing that people really did. Thompson did not explain the adrenochrome buzz in great detail, but this probably isn’t too far from his vision:
It’s important for anyone reading Fear and Loathing to remember that Gonzo journalism, the writing style Thompson invented, is based around fictionalisation and exaggeration of real-life events. In the DVD commentary on the 1998 Fear and Loathing adaptation, director Terry Gilliam said Thompson told him he made the whole adrenochrome thing up.
Does adrenochrome exist at all?
Yes. Just like Huxley said, adrenochrome is a compound formed by the oxidation of adrenaline. Its main medical use is to slow blood loss by promoting clotting in open wounds. It’s available for purchase online by researchers, with most outlets stating its source is synthetic and its uses are the inhibition of COMT (which deactivates certain neurotransmitters), and the synthesis of prostaglandins (fats involved with blood clotting).
When asked for comment, the University of Auckland neuropharmacology and neuroscience departments said it wasn’t on their radar.
It’s got a cool name, and some medical uses, but by and large it’s not a very exciting compound. Sorry.
Is there a hallucinogenic drug called adrenochrome?
In his 1973 book Legal Highs, Adam Gottlieb described adrenochrome as being “physically stimulating” and inducing “a feeling of well-being, slight reduction of thought processes”. It’s unknown whether he ever took the drug or if this was based on hearsay. Legal Highs also contained entries on catnip and guarana, so the bar for a “high” was low.
Most reports of adrenochrome throughout literature sound a lot like DMT — it’s very possible Beatniks just gave DMT the cool name “adrenochrome” and the real compound got caught up in the mix.
Why are people talking about it now?
Adrenochrome is a popular topic in conspiracy circles: it’s a drug of the Hollywood elite, it’s addictive, it’s harvested from tortured children in Satanic rituals, they reckon. The current strain of theory is that a huge amount of celebrities have come down with Covid-19 due to a tainted batch of adrenochrome.
Most celebrities classified as “liberal Hollywood elite” are American or British, two nations that have been struggling to manage the Covid-19 outbreak, so it’s not hugely surprising that many have contracted the virus.
Adrenochrome harvesting, according to the conspiracies, is done by: drinking blood, heart surgery, or tapping into the brainstem. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys, so that’s probably where you really want to look.
Why does anyone believe children are tortured to harvest adrenochrome?
The blame must land on Hunter S Thompson. In Fear and Loathing, the character Dr Gonzo says: “There’s only one source for this stuff… the adrenaline glands from a living human body. It’s no good if you get it out of a corpse.”
You could also argue that this conspiracy is weirdly similar to the plot of the film Monsters Inc., and maybe that’s part of the cultural background making this theory seem reasonable to some.
Does adrenochrome have anything to do with Covid-19?
Are you, the mainstream media, lying to us about this?
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.