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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