Apparently not content to win a Pulitzer for viciously shaming Monica Lewinsky, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd took the bold journalistic step of trying edible pot and writing about the alleged dangers of the burgeoning legal marijuana industry. In a column titled “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow Dude,” Dowd details how she was “panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.”
Dowd has been roundly panned for attempting to paint her paranoid pot experience as “journalism,” but she is not the first writer to do so. In fact, some have tried drugs for the sake of journalism (for real) and done it quite well. Others have fallen prey to their own experiments. Here are the top five cases of journalists who tried drugs. For work.
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is the definitive account of Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and the psychedelic culture of late 1960s San Francisco. Of course, Wolfe dropped acid for the sake of good, thorough journalism. However, Wolfe denied having done it with Kesey. He said in an interview with GEO, “I did [it] before I wrote the book as some of my reporting. It was something I never wanted to do again. It was like tying myself to a railroad track and seeing how big the train is, which is rather big.”
In 2005, Joshua Foer took on the noble task of trying out non-prescription Adderall for a week. Chronicling his experiences for Slate, Foer wrote, “It was like I’d been bitten by a radioactive spider.” He described effortlessly reading 175 pages of Stephen Jay Gould’s incredibly complex The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and writing for hours on end as if “I had a choir of angels sitting on my shoulders.” But Foer ultimately didn’t love the withdrawal effects and worried about the long-term risks. Still, he concluded, “I did save one pill to write this article.”
The San Francisco Examiner had no problem asking young Lewis Lapham to be an LSD guinea pig for the sake of journalism. In 1959, the future founder of Lapham’s Quarterly was assigned to visit the Stanford Research Institute with Beat poet Allen Ginsburg to trip out on LSD. Decades later, he wrote about the experience in Mother Jones describing how he was told to take a blue pill at 9 a.m. on an empty stomach. “Images inchoate and nonsensical, my arms and legs seemingly elongated and embalmed in grease, the sense of utter isolation while being gnawed by rats.” Not exactly a happy psychedelic rainbow.
You read that right. The revered CBS anchor did smack for a report when he worked for a radio station in Houston in the 1950s. After a group of musicians visiting the city were busted for heroin possession, Rather went down to the police station and convinced the pigs to inject him. “I said it would be a good story to get some heroin—[though] I had no idea how to get it—and then describe how you feel,” he told Business Insider in 2012. “And so I did that with the help of the police in the police station. Hard to imagine these days, but I knew these guys pretty well.” Rather told Bravo’s Andy Cohen one dance with black tar was enough because “It gave me a hell of a headache.”
Lanre Fehintola was a photojournalist determined to immerse himself in the lives of his subjects. In the late 1980s, he was photographing the most desperate aspects of the city of Bradford in Northern England for a book collection. As he captured the lives of prostitutes and criminals hooked on heroin, he felt the need to imbed himself into the culture. He claims his foray with smack was explicitly for research and meant to be short-term, but he became addicted. “Heroin is the mother of all things,” he said years later in the 2001 documentary Cold Turkey. “You become emotionally dependent and lose your own emotions, they’re just one more thing you’ve sold to the devil. Gradually it breaks you down and takes you over, gets a grip on you physically and mentally. And then it destroys you. Because heroin is a real fucker.”