This has nothing to do with music, really, but just go with it.
It all started sometime in 1969 with scattered stories in local newspapers, but it didn’t become national news until late that summer, after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a series of workshops on urban issues. In a report on the link between organized crime and narcotics, the following sentence appeared, without context or elaboration: “In Chattanooga, it was learned that due to the high cost of narcotics, young people are using as mainline injections Kool Aid and peanut butter mixed with mayonnaise.”
In October 1969, the Senate Appropriations Committee held hearings on the federal budget. Dr. Stanley Yolles, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, was being quizzed about NIMH’s anti-drug programs when Hawaii Republican Hiram Fong asked, pretty much out of the blue: “When you find out that a person gets a big kick out of injecting peanut butter in his veins, what do you do?” Yolles reponded, “I think the only kick they get out of peanut butter is the final kick. It is a very dangerous practice to say the least; it causes death if injected in any large quantity.”
Fong then asks what NIMH does when that happens. Yolles says (and we can imagine his patient tone, but also perhaps the internal eye-rolling) that the agency doesn’t involve itself in individual cases, but instead tries to educate people about the dangers of doing such things through “straight factual information, because we have had experience over the years with misinformation deliberately set out to scare people about using various substances and this has not worked. . . .”
The feds may have wanted to counter misinformation about substance abuse, but at least some of it was coming from inside the house.
That same month, the American Academy of Pediatrics met in Chicago. Guest speakers included Ernest A. Carabillo, Jr., described by the Associated Press as “a lawyer/pharmacist in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” and Frank Gulich, “a narcotics bureau official stationed in Chicago. ” They spoke to reporters, and an AP story appeared in papers around the country in which Carabillo told about “an underground recipe book purporting to outline ‘culinary escapes from reality.'” Gulich said that the books “usually sell for about $1 and often give the formulas for preparing drugs such as LSD.”
But the AP story did not focus on how kids were using their chemistry sets to become little neighborhood Owsleys. Instead, it focused on the use of peanut butter, mayonnaise, and other substitutes for narcotics. Carabillo said that users “confused the bizarre and toxic reactions with the so-called ‘high’ provided by heroin or marijuana. He cited the smoking of dried banana skins, a fad of a couple of years ago, as an example.” He said that kids were also using cleaning fluid, paregoric [an anti-diarrheal derived from morphine], ethyl chloride [a cooling spray used for pain relief], and freon from aerosol cans to get high. It seems obvious to us that any of the latter would get you off better than peanut butter or mayonnaise, but Mr. and Mrs. Middle America focused on the sandwich spreads.
In December 1969, President Nixon hosted a conference of state governors to address the drug problem. Nixon would try to have it both ways in the drug fight, warning that drug abuse was a threat to American civilization and firing Yolles in 1970 for criticizing stiff marijuana sentences, but also arguing for education over incarceration, at least for some users. (A cynic might suspect it was because middle-class white kids, the sons and daughters of the Silent Majority, were getting thrown in jail.) The conference also gave the peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise phenomenon a publicity boost when TV personality Art Linkletter, whose daughter had committed suicide in October while tripping on LSD, addressed the governors. He repeated the canard and added a new one: that young people were smoking crushed aspirin to get high.
It may not surprise you to learn that there were no solid sources for any of this. The titles of those underground cookbooks went unrecorded. Linkletter’s gravitas on the issue exempted his claims from close scrutiny. News stories about the practice were entirely hearsay. No one really knew if the peanut butter-and-mayonnaise thing was something kids legitimately believed would get them high, or if it was merely a few stoners pranking The Man.
Whatever the case, by the end of 1970, nobody was talking about it anymore.