Science, Facts, and QAnon’s Adrenochrome Quackery
Adrenochrome, readily lab-synthesized, would have long faded into obscurity had it not been rejuvenated by the QAnon twaddle.
By Dr. Joe Schwarcz
Director, Office for Science and Society
“There’s only one source for this stuff, the adrenalin glands from a living human body.” That bit of misinformation found in Hunter. S Thompson’s 1971 psychedelic classic, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” likely planted the seed that grew into one of the most outlandish and repugnant of all conspiracy theories. That would be the ludicrous QAnon claim that Hollywood celebrities and “liberal elite” politicians are kidnapping children to harvest their blood. QAnon is a not-so-fringe, baseless theory that a government agent, “Q,” is a source of continuous information about “deep state” secrets such as the existence of a global cabal of pedophiles who thirst for the blood of children. Why? The farcical QAnon rationale is that they are using the blood as a source of adrenochrome, a chemical that supposedly has psychedelic properties and also holds the promise of immortality.
How did Thompson come to involve adrenochrome in his story in the first place, describing it as “making pure mescaline seem like ginger beer?” Somewhere along the line he likely came across the work of Canadian psychiatrists Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond who in the 1950s had noted a similarity between the symptoms of schizophrenia and the effects of mescaline, a naturally occurring hallucinogen found in the peyote cactus.
Mescaline is not produced by the body, but the two scientists wondered if some substance with a similar molecular structure is produced under some circumstance, possibly causing schizophrenia. Since adrenaline shares a basic molecular structure with mescaline, it was a candidate for involvement. It was clear that adrenaline itself, the famous “flight of fight” hormone that is present in everyone’s bloodstream could not be the culprit, but perhaps some error in its metabolism could produce a mind-altering substance.
A literature search of the chemistry of adrenaline revealed that in the lab it can be oxidized to a compound called adrenochrome, with the “chrome” ending deriving from the Greek word for colour since adrenochrome has a dark violet hue. At this point, the psychiatrists in somewhat of a foolhardy fashion tested the effects of this chemical on themselves. Indeed, adrenochrome produced hallucinations!
Maybe, Hoffer and Osmond theorized, adrenaline is also oxidized in the body to adrenochrome, and due to some faulty biochemistry, the adrenochrome builds up and triggers schizophrenia. Since adrenaline is known to form in the body by the addition of a methyl group (a carbon atom with three hydrogens) to its precursor, noradrenaline, Dr. Hoffer postulated that the B vitamin, niacin, being a methyl acceptor, would stall this reaction. Furthermore, vitamin C, an antioxidant, might prevent adrenaline from being oxidized to adrenochrome. Thus was born the “Adrenochrome Hypothesis of Schizophrenia.”
Drs. Hoffer and Osmond reported successful treatment of schizophrenics with megadoses of niacin and vitamin C, but a number of follow-up studies by others failed to confirm any benefit. The Adrenochrome Hypothesis faded into the background, but the reputed hallucinogenic effect of adrenochrome probably stimulated Hunter Thompson to include the drug in his novel. Adrenochrome also made it into the 1998 movie version of the book, and then in 2017 starred in a totally forgettable film, “Adrenochrome,” in which a young American veteran confronts some psychos in California who are on a murderous spree to extract the psychedelic compound from their victim’s adrenal glands.
The stage was now set for QAnon’s perverse fabricated tale that a pedophile ring of Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities is engaged in satanic sacrifices culminating in slurping the blood of massacred children. To make matters worse, this crackpot lunacy has anti-Semitic overtones. Accusations that Jews use the blood of Christian children to make matzah for Passover have a long, appalling history. A famous case in 1475 is a horrific example. Two-year-old Simon disappeared from the Italian city of Trent and the local Jewish community was rounded up and burned at the stake after being forced to confess under torture that the boy had been sacrificed and his blood used to bake matzah.
Numerous such pogroms in Europe were sparked by accusations of Jews kidnapping Christian children and the Nazi propaganda machine in the 1930s frequently employed the “blood libel” motif. Now QAnon followers are regurgitating this claptrap, the difference being that the “extraction of adrenochrome” for its rejuvenating and psychedelic effects is now described as the motive for the kidnapping of children.
Adrenochrome, which has no rejuvenating effects, and very questionable psychedelic properties, would have long faded into obscurity had it not been rejuvenated by the QAnon twaddle. And it is not just innocent balderdash that is being spread, as exemplified by the man who swallowed the adrenochrome theory hook, line, and sinker and attempted to liberate children he believed were being kept captive in a Washington pizza parlor by Hillary Clinton. He brandished a rifle and a pistol as he “investigated the crime,” threatening customers and employees. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to four and a half years in jail.
Now back to Thompson’s claim about the only source of adrenochrome being the human body, which seems to have started this whole sordid business. Not so! Adrenochrome can be readily synthesized and is available to researchers from chemical suppliers. No need for human sacrifice.
Originally published by the Office for Science and Society, McGill University, 02.10.2022, free and open access, republished under fair use for news reporting purposes.