Reefer Madness, 1936’s Most Unintentionally Hilarious “Anti-Drug” Exploitation Film, Free Online


The motion pic­ture you are about to wit­ness may star­tle you. It would not have been pos­si­ble, oth­er­wise, to suf­fi­cient­ly empha­size the fright­ful toll of the new drug men­ace which is destroy­ing the youth of Amer­i­ca in alarm­ing­ly increas­ing num­bers. Mar­i­hua­na is that drug — a vio­lent nar­cot­ic — an unspeak­able scourge — The Real Pub­lic Ene­my Num­ber One! Or at least that’s how the open­ing crawl of Reefer Mad­ness tells it.

Also known, in oth­er forms, as Tell Your Chil­dren, The Burn­ing Ques­tion, Dope Addict, Doped Youth and Love Mad­ness, the film has spent the past forty years accru­ing cult cred­i­bil­i­ty on the (high­ly over­lap­ping) mid­night-movie and cannabis-cul­ture cir­cuits. That pecu­liar spelling of what we know as mar­i­jua­na reveals only a whiff of its dis­tinc­tive blend of hand-wring­ing sala­cious­ness, aggres­sive square­ness, and sheer igno­rance. Kei­th Stroup, founder of the Nation­al Orga­ni­za­tion for the Reform of Mar­i­jua­na Laws, spot­ted the movie’s unin­tend­ed comedic poten­tial back in 1971, when he bought a print and began col­lege-cam­pus screen­ings. It today draws more pro­longed, dis­be­liev­ing guf­faws and chor­tles than ever before.

Since Reefer Mad­ness has fall­en into the pub­lic domain, you can hold your own mid­night screen­ing near­ly with­out effort by watch­ing it online. Behold the deeply askew motion pic­ture that began as a church-fund­ed moral­i­ty play, got into the hands of ear­ly exploita­tion-film icon Dwain Esper (he of 1934’s Mani­ac, 1937’s How to Undress in Front of Your Hus­band, and 1938’s Sex Mad­ness), and wound up as an uproar­i­ous main­stay of hazy uni­ver­si­ty audi­to­ria. While the film clear­ly knows noth­ing of mar­i­jua­na or its real effects — or, seem­ing­ly, of the real effects of any nar­cot­ic — that does­n’t stop its script from yield­ing a host of res­o­nant lines. These run from the “straight­for­ward ques­tion” of whether “you have, per­haps unwill­ing­ly, acquired a cer­tain habit through asso­ci­a­tion with cer­tain unde­sir­able peo­ple” to the rec­ol­lec­tion of hav­ing been “high enough to take over the marines and the navy” to that immor­tal imper­a­tive, “Bring me some reefers!” Laugh if you must, but bear in mind the final words from the solemn Dr. Car­roll: “The next tragedy may be that of your daugh­ter’s… or your son’s… or yours… or yours… or yours!

You can always find Reefer Mad­ness in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed con­tent:

This is What Oliv­er Sacks Learned on LSD and Amphet­a­mines

Bela Lugosi Dis­cuss­es His Drug Habit as He Leaves the Hos­pi­tal in 1955

Beyond Tim­o­thy Leary: 2002 Film Revis­its His­to­ry of LSD

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (3)
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  • AntiDrug says:
    A web­site for col­lege stu­dents that are against drugs.

  • Tiffany says:

    Thank you very much for this informed arti­cle! I am research­ing about how Hol­ly­wood helped shape the cannabis cul­ture and this is most help­ful.

  • Henri Trucheau says:

    Humans are bad at math. The effects of nar­cotics vary by genet­ic and meta­bol­ic type. Absolute­ly every­thing depict­ed in Reefer Mad­ness is absolute­ly true of a small minor­i­ty of unfor­tu­nate peo­ple. Yet, when one con­sid­ers 1% of a pop­u­la­tion of 7 bil­lion, of course it’s pos­si­ble not to notice mil­lions suf­fer­ing when one is not look­ing. In the U.S. alone, the home­less pop­u­la­tion is almost entire­ly com­posed of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from per­ma­nent psy­chosis caused by heavy mar­i­jua­na usage. That’s 7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who have lost their lives and poten­tial, and a mod­icum of research shows that every sin­gle act of mass vio­lence on Amer­i­can soil since Columbine was per­pe­trat­ed by indi­vid­u­als suf­fer­ing from psy­chosis fueled by near­ly 24/7 mar­i­jua­na use wit­ness­es by fam­i­ly, friends, and neigh­bors, lead­ing up to their social iso­la­tion and ulti­mate explo­sive vio­lence. Every time. It’s a clear pro­file well known by law enforce­ment and neu­ro­science. No excep­tion in the Unit­ed States. Best guess is that for mil­lions of peo­ple (again, a small minor­i­ty over­all) their immune sys­tem attacks THC bind­ing sites in the pre­frontal cor­tex, includ­ing their mito­chon­dria, and the result is severe dis­abil­i­ties, often social and cog­ni­tive. There is no known cure, and only about 50% respond to avail­able treat­ment, and cur­rent U.S. law tends to aban­don vic­tims to home­less­ness rather than attempt to find work­ing treat­ments. Peo­ple who don’t take health risks seri­ous­ly, or mock the extreme mis­for­tune of minor­i­ty pop­u­la­tions, aren’t real­ly fit to be his­to­ri­ans of med­i­cine or cul­ture. In the end, reefer mad­ness is sta­tis­ti­cal­ly about as preva­lent as tobac­co caus­ing lung can­cer, and the only dif­fer­ence in pub­lic per­cep­tion is the high­er demand for the for­mer because of the harm­less high it brings to hun­dreds of mil­lions more than the minor­i­ty of vic­tims. Being a huge major­i­ty does­n’t mean there are no vic­tims, though. And there is no test for this. It’s prac­ti­cal­ly like forc­ing every teenaged kid in Amer­i­can to play Russ­ian Roulette. That’s very uneth­i­cal, and cur­rent­ly it’s allowed by the gov­ern­ment for tax pur­pos­es because it’s a mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar indus­try. It’s all about prof­it. If any open mind­ed young per­son is read­ing this, please do your own unbi­ased research and fol­low the unbi­ased sci­ence for your safe­ty. Old­er high CBD strains typ­i­cal­ly exhib­it neu­ro-pro­tec­tive qual­i­ties com­pared to new­er zero CBD, high THC strains. It seems to be the THC only that can be prob­lem­at­ic in some peo­ple. And last­ly con­sid­er that this is main­ly a U.S. cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non. For exam­ple, most non-Eng­lish speak­ing Euro­pean coun­tries don’t have a huge cannabis cul­ture, with Scan­di­na­vian nations hav­ing remark­ably strict anti-cannabis pol­i­cy pre­cise­ly because they do take ‘reefer mad­ness’ seri­ous­ly. You can’t even join the mil­i­tary in Nor­way if you admit to have ever smoked cannabis because they don’t want any poten­tial behav­ioral risks to be armed. Chi­na has the same pol­i­cy. His­tor­i­cal­ly, rev­o­lu­tions have been fought over cannabis due to behav­ioral health­care issues (brain dis­ease). The Sau­di dynasty in Ara­bia was found­ed explic­it­ly to dri­ve out the Ottoman Turks for their impor­ta­tion of cannabis because they felt it was caus­ing a spike in psy­chosis among Arab youths. Many ancient med­ical doc­u­ments from across the world used to regard cannabis as caused “demon­ic pos­ses­sion” and so forth. They were record­ing minor­i­ty cas­es, but enough to destroy count­less lives. Over­all, the major­i­ty of the plan­et eschews this high­ly destruc­tive sub­stance, albeit only destruc­tive for a small minor­i­ty of neg­a­tive­ly effect­ed. In oth­er words, sta­tis­ti­cal facts mat­ter, espe­cial­ly when the pop­u­la­tion is so huge. Today in the U.S. alone, peo­ple who have devel­oped per­ma­nent brain injuries from cannabis account for bil­lions of dol­lars year­ly med­ical and social costs. We should be fund­ing their recov­er­ies even more, but then there would be no costs if the gov­ern­ment actu­al­ly enforced fed­er­al cannabis pol­i­cy or at least launched a cam­paign to inform peo­ple of the risks instead of pre­tend­ing there is no sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant minor­i­ty of neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed peo­ple. If you want a place to start research­ing the datat for your­self, read the numer­ous linked stud­ies at the Amer­i­can Treat­ment Advo­ca­cy Cen­ter, or if you can read or trans­late Nor­we­gian sources, look up their gov­ern­ment mate­r­i­al based on inter­na­tion­al research on the sub­ject. Poland and Tai­wan have also pro­duced most of the cur­rent sci­en­tif­ic research indi­cat­ing clear­ly an immune sys­tem defect as the pri­ma­ry cause of dam­age to THC bind­ing sites in all the areas of the pre­fontal cor­tex respon­si­ble for self-image, social cog­ni­tion, future plan­ning, and all the sim­i­lar vital abil­i­ties that allow indi­vid­u­als to be hap­py, func­tion­al, and inde­pen­dent, of which cannabis can rob them of years or at worst a life­time.

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