Few pieces of filmmaking are as divorced from reality as anti-cannabis PSAs. Ever since the reefer madness of the 1930s, the U.S. has been making cringeworthy ads that do little more than showcase a glib understanding of cannabis culture and peer pressure.
This obtuse thinking was made clear once again this year when the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health funded an online video campaign featuring hilariously terrible rap songs. When one kid claims he has to toke to get girls, three angelic-looking teens reply in unison: “Girls won’t think you’re fly when your bank account is dry.”
Right. Because if there's anything rap videos taught us, it's that smoking weed = suddenly having no money or love.
Such WTF theories are made so often in scare-mongering ads we couldn’t resist going back to review the most laughable anti-cannabis PSAs of all time. In no particular order…
Made famous for future generations thanks to Family Guy, this '80s-era ad from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign was an early adopter of using CGI to bullhorn its warnings.
A girl languishes on a couch, all skin and no bones, looking like a deflated balloon. “This is the way it’s been since she’s started smoking pot,” her friend laments. Sure, couch lock is a real thing for some high-THC strains, but rest assured this campaign saw all cannabis as a shortcut to spending your days staring into an abyss, devoid of muscle mass.
The '80s also gave us this nightmare scenario of a surgeon burning a joint in the operating room, confusing tonsillitis for appendicitis and giggling his way through asking for a scalpel. Within 30 seconds, the PSA dropped so many bogus assumptions about cannabis that it would take another article just to debunk them all. But the obvious truism remains: Even if cannabis is legal, surgeons will never be allowed to wake and bake before they slice and dice.
Another beaut from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign gave us what will always be known as the “Talking Dog PSA.” It’s a routine scene we’ve all obviously experienced: You come home and your dog is suddenly talkative, complaining you don’t hang out anymore since you’ve been smoking weed. “You’re not the same when you smoke and I miss my friend,” the dog says.
In honor of this PSA, a grower should make a strain called Talking Dog that is so powerful you imagine your pet really is talking to you.
One of the lengthier PSAs at three minutes—and likely shown in classrooms by bored teachers—this spot delivers lessons that range from “smoke pot and you can’t hold a conversation” to “marijuana can decrease the production of sexual hormones.” As two kids traverse the murky waters of cannabis FAQs, they’re joined by a creepy news anchor (?) with human eyes and lips and a computerized body and face. Thanks for the nightmares, guys.
In 2015, Australia gifted us one of the trippiest and most head-scratching video campaigns ever. As all cannabis enthusiasts know, transforming into sloths who can’t speak is an unfortunate side effect of consumption, right? The videos portrayed tokers as subhumans who didn’t know how to identify salt on a dinner table and who truly had no opinion on the socks-and-sandals debate raging across Australia. If anything, these ads provided us with inspiration to Google “sloth” to learn about these funky cute creatures.
No way we can leave out the classic! The scare tactics truly began with the Reagan-era “This is your brain on drugs” spot, which quickly became one of the most recognized anti-drug PSAs ever. It ends with “Any questions?” What is consistently laughable about the frying pan-and-cracked egg trick is the number of questions we do indeed have after the ad, from why they lumped cannabis into the same pile as cocaine and heroin to where can I get some fried eggs? Damn, I’m hungry!