Bananas - A Psychedelic Drug?
Until its introduction in 1871 by the Cape Cod sailor, Captain Lorenzo Baker, the banana was unknown in the United States. By the turn of the century, Americans were consuming 16 million bunches a year. Today the dollar value of the world banana crop is greater than any other fruit crop in the world.
The latest boon to the industry has been the fitness craze. It seems that bananas are high in potassium, a mineral necessary for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves. Potassium is lost with perspiration and athletes and exercise enthusiasts the world over have taken to the banana as a natural, convenient and easily digestible source of that essential mineral.
The fact that bananas are high in potassium was discovered in 1967 by Federal Food and Drug Administration scientists who at the time were under pressure to find out everything they could about the chemical makeup of the common banana. The history of that research provides a bit of insight into to the era in which it was performed.
The 1960s were years of social and cultural changes. Young people were challenging traditional conventions and established authority. It was a decade of nonconformity, of free love, hippies, political activism and experimentation with marijuana and other psychedelic drugs. A subculture of professors, philosophers, pranksters and artists had developed around a newly discovered drug called LSD-25, and a sizable proportion of the youth of America and Western Europe were "dropping out, turning on and tuning in."
On March 3, 1967, Marvin Garson wrote a “tongue-in-cheek” article that was published in the Berkley Barb. According to Garson, you could get high by smoking banana peels. The high was said to be psychedelic like LSD, but pleasant and calming like opium. All that needed to be done was to obtain some bananas and scrape off the stringy white stuff on the inside of the peels. This could be dried out in the sun or in the oven and then smoked like tobacco or marijuana. The best part was that the drug source, the banana, was completely legal and readily available.
News of the new drug experience spread like wildfire, even being reported in mainstream publications like Time and Newsweek. There were reports of banana smoke-ins and of bearded, scruffy hippies lining up at the fruit section of supermarkets and walking away with large bunches of bananas.
In the past, when the government found out that people could get high on a substance, that substance was made illegal, like marijuana in the 1930s and LSD in 1966.
But what about bananas? Could you make them illegal? Banana companies were political sacred cows. You didn't mess with them; they were too powerful. Jocobo Arbenz, the popularly elected president of Guatemala, found this out when he had the audacity to oppose the interests of the United Fruit Company in 1954. Arbenz was subsequently driven from office by a military coup instigated and supported by the CIA.
Once again United Fruit acted to protect their interests. The Food and Drug Administration was instructed to launch an investigation of the banana to find out whether or not it possessed hallucinogenic properties. The result of the study was that there were indeed certain psychoactive chemicals in banana peels, but not nearly enough to produce a high. It was also discovered that bananas possessed fair amounts of vitamins C, B2, B6 and A and that they were excellent sources of potassium and fiber.
Bananas were declared safe to eat and regained their respectability. Furthermore, they were now recommended as a means for sweating athletes to maintain a proper electrolyte balance. And as far as any subversive, pleasure-seeking hippies were concerned, they would just have to go back to smoking their illicit marijuana and suffer the consequences if they were caught doing so.
How to Smoke a Banana
The great banana hoax took root in March 3, 1967 when someone wrote to a Hippie paper in Berkeley, California called the Berkley Barb. They claimed that they smoked a banana peel and got high. The paper ran an article on it and explained that a new psychedelic had been discovered, one that anyone could lay their hands on, since the only ingredient was dried banana peels.
The method of smoking banana peel was as follows: