Archive for the ‘Playboy Articles’ Category


“The mystery powder in the clear capsule cost $10, a dead giveaway it wasn’t the substance the dope peddler was claiming it was. Nobody sells the real deal for that price. Examining it under the light, one could see yellowish rice-shaped crystals shifting around inside the half-filled capsule. It didn’t even look like the genuine article.”

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“The Last Days Of Jam Master Jay,” Playboy, December 2003

The Story That Broke Open the Jam Master Jay Murder Case:


The Miami Zombie by Frank Owen, Playboy, January-February 2013.

Posted: December 17, 2012 in Articles, Playboy Articles
Tags: , , , Memorial Day Weekend, Miami New Times, Playboy Magazine, Reason, Rudy Eugene, Slate, The Miami Zombie

The Miami Zombie

“Owen’s tolerance of uncertainty and keen nose for fear-mongering bullshit sadly set him apart from most journalists covering drug issues,” Jacob Sullum, Reason

“One of the last bona fide gonzo investigative journalists digs into the media hysteria surrounding bath salts,” Francisco Alvarado, Miami New Times

“But are bath salts really as dangerous as they sound? In a great piece on Playboy’s website, Frank Owen convincingly argues that, no, they aren’t,” Justin Peters, Slate

“In a patently entertaining and well-researched piece, the author not only probes the heart of the bath salts scare but ventures into the murky legal waters around bath salts by trying them himself,” NSN News, Legal Drug Reviews

“Blown Away” Playboy March 2010

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: clubs, cocaine, , , philadelphia, playboy, rian thal, the wire

“Apocalypse 2012″ Playboy September 2009

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: 2012, apocalypse, Missouri, religion

According to ancient Mayan prophecies, the world will end three short years from now. Earthquakes, pestilence and revolution will bring humanity to its knees. Across the globe, thousands have already begun to prepare.“For me, being prepared for 2012 is a stress reliever. I spend an average of $200 to $300 per month on my supplies. I’ve been training myself in what I call frontier living—dehydrating, canning, preserving, cooking without modern appliances. Last weekend I started decorating our attic (almost 3,000 square feet) to store my reserve because people I know are getting suspicious of the amount of ‘hurricane’ supplies I keep. I’ll never be Martha Stewart, but I feel very good about the variety and quantity I have amassed. I believe in the three Gs of preparedness: God, guns and groceries.”—Susan Skains, Texas Gulf Coast
Dressed in blue jeans and a red short-sleeve shirt, Steve Pace stands guard atop a bucolic hill on the outskirts of Poplar Bluff in the Missouri bootheel. The scene is as rural as it gets; there’s nothing out here but rolling hills and big sky. A lonely sentinel

Retired Army sergeant Steve Pace has stockpiled canned food, gold and silver, a water filtration system, a radiation suit and a whole lot of guns and ammo.

with a shiny silver revolver strapped to his waist, the retired U.S. Army sergeant scans the wooded horizon with a pair of binoculars for signs of the coming cataclysm. He sees things others don’t—the apocalyptic omens that, he says, are everywhere if you know how to connect the dots.

Pace is a lean and leathery 55-year-old who looks a bit like Sean Connery but speaks in a thick, crusty rural accent. He gives me a tour of his solidly constructed 1950s bungalow on a quiet tree-lined cul-de-sac, where he lives with his ailing mom and his third wife, Martha, who works as a secretary at the local high school. Three years ago Pace moved here to Campbell—a town of fewer than 2,000 people that’s known as the peach capital of Missouri—from Fayetteville, Arkansas (population 70,000) because he thought it was getting too crowded. “I have this fear of becoming just a number, losing my identity, becoming just another face in the crowd,” he says.
Displayed on Pace’s dining room table is a collection of weapons: an assault rifle, a shotgun, numerous handguns, hunting knives and enough ammo to start a small war. Alongside the arms are gas masks, antiradiation pills and about $10,000 worth of gold and silver. The gold and silver will come in handy when paper money becomes worthless, which it already has, according to Pace. It’s just that people don’t know it yet. Don’t call him a survivalist, though: “To me a survivalist is some white supremacist living up in the mountains somewhere. I’m not a survivalist. I’m a preparer.”And there’s a lot to prepare for, according to Pace, who anticipates a world in the not too distant future where “you’ll need a wheelbarrow full of dollars to buy a loaf of bread, just like in Zimbabwe.” Catastrophic climate change will have swamped the coastal cities. (“You’ll want to be at least 300 feet above sea level.”) Law and order will have broken down. (“You’ll want to stay away from the population centers to avoid the mobs.”) And food will be scarce. (“If we have a major crop failure, millions of people will starve.”) But what Pace fears most is a terrorist nuke that could destroy America’s electrical grid: “If they really wanted to disrupt America, an airburst nuke would provide an electromagnetic pulse 300 miles wide that would probably cascade the rest of the system. Without electricity we’ve really got a problem.”
Whatever happens, Pace intends to be ready. “In my opinion 2012 is the year of collapse,” he says. “The perfect storm approaching is a conglomeration of crescendos. The financial collapse, political corruption, natural disaster, terrorism and resource scarcity will culminate in wars and revolution.”
Pace is not alone. In the past few years a growing number of citizens across the globe—survivalists, conspiracy theorists, alternative religion seekers, former military officers, UFO buffs, hard-core Bible-thumpers, ordinary housewives who,post-Katrina, don’t trust the government to save their loved ones if a disaster occurs—have become fixated on December 21, 2012 as EOTWAWKI (“end of the world as we know it”). The Mayan long-count calendar supposedly predicts 2012 as the year in which a 5,000-year cycle of civilization will come to an abrupt halt. The Mayan civilization, a sophisticated culture of temples and cities that flourished in what is now Mexico, mysteriously collapsed around the ninth century. The Mayans have been a source of fascination for spiritual Western tourists since the Beats, particularly William Burroughs, who peppered his novels with references to Mayan timekeeping. The idea that Mayans predicted the world would end in 2012 has been around since at least the 1980s, when writer and 2012 guru José Argüelles popularized the concept with his book The Mayan Factor.
For any number of reasons the 2012 meme has caught on. The media, in documentaries such as’s2012: Science or Superstition and books such as Daniel Pinchbeck’s 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, have endlessly chronicled the movement and what to expect. Pinchbeck perhaps more than anyone else has become the great—and most controversial—advocate for a transformational 2012. Apocalypse fever is set to hit multiplexes with the November release of Roland Emmerich’s big-budget Hollywood dystopian disaster movie2012, starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet.A cottage industry of small companies that supply products to 2012ers is now thriving, offering everything from bullets to backup generators to full-size bunkers (such as a $36,000 six-person bargain-basement underground bomb shelter, complete with a nuclear, biological and chemical filtering system, which a Virginia Beach company called Hardened Structures offers to deliver and install anywhere in the U.S.). In May the Associated Press reported that suppliers of survivalist gear and military surplus stores nationwide had seen as much as a 50 percent rise in business in recent months. One survivalist told the AP that the website of his consulting business—which teaches newcomers emergency preparedness—had seen a threefold increase in traffic in the past 14 months.Never mind that reputable scholars insist the Mayans attached no particular apocalyptic meaning to 2012. It was merely the end of their calendar. And never mind the absurdity of the idea that some mysterious Mayan priest could accurately predict what would happen 2,000 years in the future.

“It’s not just the Mayans,” says Pace.“One of the great prophecies of the HopiIndians was that the world would end whena huge spiderweb covers the entire globe.For hundreds of years we didn’t know whatthey were talking about. Now we have theWorld Wide Web. Whether you believe inHopi prophecy, Mayan prophecy, the Bookof Revelations, Nostradamus, the Web BotProject or the Bible Code, the commondenominator is that they are all pointingin the same direction. As Proverbs 27:12says, ‘A prudent man foreseeth the evil andhideth himself, but the simple pass on andare punished.’ ”

“We are located in the middle of the continent, up high and away from significant population centers, nuclear power plants, active volcanoes and major fault lines and at a sufficient altitude to limit flooding. We may have to move—and move quickly—so we have ‘bug-out bags’ packed with food, water, medical and other supplies that can be transported in the event we have to abandon our primary site. I have a network of friendly sites I can make my way toward and improve my chances of survival significantly.”—Ace McQuade, Chuck Norris fan, somewhere in the middle of Canada

The 2012 movement would be easy to dismiss as pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo if it weren’t for the disturbing real-world trends that inform the less fanciful predictions of bad times ahead: catastrophic climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, financial collapse, swine flu, peak oil, peak food. This is the everyday fodder of CNN and Newsweek, not science fiction or religious fantasy. Home prices have declined almost 33 percent since their peak in 2006, and the unemployment rate in America is the worst it has been since 1983. When you add the specter of nuclear-armed religious fanatics, who wouldn’t be a bit anxious about what’s coming down the cosmic sewer pipe?
Even before the current economic crisis, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 made clear to many Americans that civilization can sometimes hang by the barest of threads. Those doomsday cultists stocking up on guns and groceries in preparation for the end-times don’t seem quite so silly after what happened in New Orleans. As we watched bloated bodies float down the streets of a major American city and witnessed the complete paralysis of all layers of government, who among us didn’t think, What would I do in such a situation? Would I have the skills and fortitude to survive?

The 2012ers generally fall into one of two categories: (1) the sane but paranoid who are preparing for a new kind of agrarian civilization based on lawlessness and an absence of government—essentially New Orleans after the storm but on a mass scale, or (2) folks a little more out there who believe that on December 21, 2012 a new spiritual enlightenment will arrive. Some New Agers are expecting the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, which was supposed to happen in 1987 with the planetary alignment known as the harmonic convergence—remember that?—but this time for real. A more popular and dramatic telling of the story, the one with obvious box-office appeal, is shared by the hard-core 2012ers: A cascading series of interconnected disasters, up to and including cosmic catastrophe, will occur as the mysterious Planet X (some call it Nibiru) crashes through our solar system accompanied by a giant ass-kicking flying snake god called Quetzalcoatl, which is scheduled to come screaming out of the sky—essentially Godzilla meets When Worlds Collide. Another theory in play is known as pole reversal. It’s a notion promoted by 2012 leader and author Patrick Geryl (How to Survive 2012), who believes Earth’s magnetic poles will change places, which will lead to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and giant tidal waves that will make most of the planet’s surface uninhabitable. Last are the Christians who believe in what the Bible tells them—the prophecy laid out in Revelations.

Australian Robert Bast isn’t much into organized religion, though he does have an interest in alternative spirituality. That’s why three years ago he began (Steve Pace is an elder) as a quiet place where what he calls the “pink and fluffy people”—the flotsam and jetsam of the New Age movement—can discuss esoteric points of Mayan cosmology. Many 2012ers gather in dozens of other such forums, including and, but Bast’s site seems to be the most popular. Bast is not what you would call a true believer; he’s too skeptical for that. He does, however, think the ancients had something important to tell us. So he was more than a little surprised when all those Bible-thumpers started turning up on the forum. Aren’t these people supposed to be hostile to pagan mythology? Not at all, it turns out.

“Most of our members are Americans, and most of them seem to be Christians of one degree or another,” says Bast. “We get people on our site from all over the world, but in terms of the area most represented, that would be the Bible Belt, USA, easily.”

It shouldn’t be that surprising. Just as nearly every religion has a genesis myth, most religions have a how-the-world-will end myth. In Missouri, as elsewhere in the Bible Belt, belief in the end-times is common: the prediction that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth sometime soon, whereupon a battle will commence, a final struggle between good and evil, a bloody Armageddon, after which the faithful will be “raptured up” into heaven while the rest of us heathens are cast into the flaming pit. The death of millions of people and the total destruction of civilization as we know it is welcomed as the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecy, just as it is for 2012ers. (Interestingly, some Mormons believe the Mayan snake god Quetzalcoatl is Jesus Christ visiting the New World after his resurrection. Mormons also believe Missouri was the original home of the Garden of Eden, so make of that what you will.)

There are further connections between Christianity and the 2012 movement. Just as Christians have their own online Rapture Index (—the Dow Jones Industrial Average of end-time activity—so do the 2012ers have something called the Web Bot Project, which is said to be a secret computer search engine that began as a way to pick stocks but evolved into a cross between Google and the Oracle of Delphi. Devotees say the Web Bot Project predicted not only 9/11 but last autumn’s financial meltdown. Among the Web Bot’s other predictions: Famous people will start disappearing without explanation later this year, space aliens will make contact in 2011 and millions will die the following year through some combination of natural disasters, economic collapse and those aforementioned space aliens, who one suspects will probably have something to do with the unsolved kidnapping of Lindsay Lohan in the coming months.

Since 2012 is a short three years away, you would think posts on Bast’s website would show a sense of urgency. In fact there’s a great deal of philosophical talk but not a lot of practical preparation. “Most of the people on the forum don’t have the skills or means to prepare adequately,” admits Bast. “Many people think they still have a couple of years before they need to act, but in reality most people who say they are going to make an effort never will. The general preference is for someone else to build the community and then just turn up a few days prior to December 21, 2012. I think many people expect this option will be available to them. It won’t.”

“It’s a lifestyle thing,” Steve Pace says. “It’s a little voice in the back of your head that says every time you go shopping, Get one of those for later. And pretty soon you have a decent stockpile.”

Opening the doors to his kitchen pantry, Pace shows me a cupboard full of canned goods: tuna, mandarin oranges, chili con carne, macaroni and cheese, condensed milk. Nothing fancy but enough food to last six months, he estimates. Out back, planks of lumber lie waiting on the ground. Pace is building a storm shelter. “I don’t see any need for a bunker,” he says. “It’s a metal coffin. The ability to move around is a better defense. If you know there’s a bad crowd coming, get out of the way, let them pass and then come back. With a bunker, you’re in a fixed position. They can circle you. They can smoke you out. They can pour ammonia down the ventilation pipes. A bunker makes no sense to me unless there’s an all-out nuclear war.”

In the woods adjoining the back of Pace’s property you can see the damage from a big ice storm last winter that knocked out electricity for 10 days. Treetops are shorn off as if someone had taken a giant hedge trimmer to them. The ground remains littered with broken branches. When the storm came, Pace—no surprise—was prepared. “I fed the whole neighborhood during the ice storm and still hadn’t opened any canned food by the time we got the power back,” he says. “They put me in the local newspaper for that.”

Pace jumps into his truck—the one with the Terrorist Hunting Permit: No Bag Limit sticker on the bumper—and drives a couple of blocks to a storage locker where he keeps additional supplies. Unlocking the metal gate he reveals an Ali Baba’s cave of survivalist equipment: sleeping bags, MRE rations, ammo belts, compasses, fishing hooks, survival manuals, decontamination kits, water-filtration equipment (“You can pump your own piss through this,” he says with a smile). There are no power tools because there probably won’t be any power, he says, just hammers, saws and drills. A half dozen white plastic tubs are filled to the brim with corn, wheat and rice.

Pace proudly pulls out a heavy-looking charcoal-lined contamination suit from an oversize backpack. In case of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack, he recommends you stay in your house, seal the doors and windows as best you can and don gas masks. But if you have to go into the open, a contamination suit will prove to be a necessity.

I pull on one of the gas masks and grab Pace’s assault rifle to get a feel for what such conditions are like. The rifle, more like a machine gun, is surprisingly heavy. The smell of the rubber mask makes me gag. I suck in as much air as I can through the filter, but it is as though I’m breathing through a straw. Claustrophobia makes my heart race. I start hyperventilating in the Missouri sun, and the plastic eyeholes of the mask begin to fog up. I can’t even see let alone breathe, so I frantically peel the thing off my head. I don’t even bother trying on the contamination suit.

“All this stuff gives you peace of mind,” Pace says, waving his hand grandly across his array of provisions. “It’s like having life insurance.”

Potassium iodide pills, popular among 2012ers preparing for the apocalypse, help the body ward off the effects of radiation.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Absent a disaster of cosmological proportions, post-2012 life will go on for the favored few, says Pace. “I believe in some way it will be a better existence, getting back to earth, getting back to nature, less materialistic,” he says. “There will be disasters, wars and plagues, but it’s not going to be the end of the world. It’s not even going to be the end of human nature as we know it. We may kill off a bunch of people, but you’re still going to have commerce. Carpenters are going to build, farmers are going to farm, and criminals are still going to have to be shot. It’s just going to be a change in the way we do things.”

And what if nothing happens on December 21, 2012?

“We just keep on trucking. Just like Y2K,” he laughs. He pauses before saying, “It’s almost as if humans have this constant need to envision the end.”

The good news is that eschatological predictions always turn out to be bunk. Thus far, at least. Remember the hordes of yuppies who bought up half of Whole Foods in preparation for Y2K, another mass panic sparked by nothing more dangerous than a date in time, a turn of the calendar? Every decade has its own vision of the end of the world. And that’s the beauty of the doomsday business.

There’s always another tomorrow.

“My name is Daniel, and I am the leader of a government research team currently stuck in the space-time continuum. Our technology has been sabotaged by an unknown terrorist. We have destroyed time and are stuck in a loophole. Do not believe the particle accelerator being built in the Alps. It is the time machine that President Barack Obama told my research team to build and test on December 21, 2012.”—Daniel, stuck somewhere in the space-time continuum
After leaving rural Missouri, I return home to a bustling Miami Beach to find my neighborhood under a couple of inches of water. A major thunderstorm barreled through, leaving in its wake downed trees and drowned automobiles. Luckily I live on the second floor, but other residents had flooded apartments and no electricity, which means no air-conditioning—not a minor inconvenience in the south Florida heat. The roof of the recently refurbished Fontainebleau, one of the region’s swankiest hotels, collapsed under the weight of the rain, sending a wall of water into the lobby. A hundred lightning strikes in the span of an hour and golf-ball-size hailstones drove pedestrians to seek cover.

I open my fridge, which is empty except for half a pineapple and a bottle of vodka. Okay, it isn’t the end of the world, but it gets me thinking about how unprepared I will be in the event of, say, a major hurricane. I sit at my desk, pour myself a glass of vodka and write a list: Learn how to fire a gun, take driving lessons, stock up on bottled water and canned goods, buy a flashlight and lots of batteries of all sizes, inquire about time-share bunkers.

Hey, you never know.

Playboy Magazine

“The Adderall Effect” Playboy October 2008

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: Adderall, Amphetamines, college, College students and drugs., , Ivy League, Playboy Magazine, Red Bull

Photo illustration by James Imbrogno

Baby-faced Joe is a student at an elite East Coast university who deals drugs on the side to make a bit of spare cash. It’s not a major operation: a little weed here, a little acid there. But the most sought-after item on his menu is Adderall, the popular prescription drug that family doctors and psychiatrists give to kids as young as six to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

It’s finals time, and Joe, a skinny teenager with a mop of curly hair, sits in his crowded dorm room, listening to the Velvet Underground’s paean to amphetamine psychosis “White Light/White Heat.” He and his three roommates are readying for another all-night studying session on Adderall. A book about macroeconomics sits on his desk, awaiting his attention. Joe’s cell phone buzzes. His friends have been text-messaging him all day: NEED 3 ADDY. R U AROUND. Joe texts back: COME OVER 15 MIN.

Joe (not his real name) grabs a plastic medicine container with a HIGH ABUSE POTENTIAL label on it and pours pills onto his bedspread. He separates and counts them: There are the 20-milligram standard-release tablets, which go for up to $5 each and can be crushed into a fine powder, making them popular with students who like to snort the drug to quicken its onset. Better yet, there are the orange-colored 20-milligram extended-release Adderall XRs, which also sell for $5 a pop and last up to 12 hours. Adderall XR is the Lamborghini of study drugs, the version students take when they need to drive themselves faster, longer and harder than the competition.

At 16 Joe was diagnosed as having ADHD by a psychiatrist and prescribed Adderall. Joe doubts he has a condition, certainly not one that requires a big pharmaceutical dose (60 milligrams) on a daily basis. His schoolwork noticeably improved while he was taking Adderall, but he felt hyped up all the time, like an energized zombie, as if some person other than himself were operating his body. He feared he would become dependent on the drug, and without telling his psychiatrist he stopped taking his meds. But he retained his prescription so he could sell the pills to his friends.

“My three-month prescription, if I were to sell it all, would be worth $1,500, which is a lot of money to me,” says Joe, who still takes Adderall at exam time. “I have the ideal situation for selling Adderall: I live in a dormitory with 800 other students. All my neighbors are potential buyers.”

Twenty milligrams is enough to give the user what seems like superhuman powers of concentration; it banishes distractibility and delays sleep. It can turn tedious work into fascinating material; a boring textbook can become a riveting page-turner.

“I feel like the drier the subject is, the more effective Adderall is,” says Joe. “Little details I have to go over six times when I’m straight, on Adderall they stick in my brain right away.”

Joe worries the Adderall craze on campus is getting out of control. A third of his friends use the drug. Two of his roommates also have prescriptions, one from a doctor father who knows full well his son doesn’t have ADHD yet gives it to him anyway.

“Colleges are increasingly competitive,” Joe says. “There’s an ever-increasing desire among young people to make money and become successful because that is what’s being promoted by their parents, by the university and by the culture at large. In that sense Adderall is the perfect drug for the times. I think it embodies and defines what this culture of medicating kids is all about.” He pauses. “It’s the drug of conformity. Adderall is the drug your parents want you to take.”


Drug use on college campuses in America has always served as a barometer of what’s going on in the culture at large. In the 1960s drugs were about the counterculture and rebellion. In the 1970s and 1980s they were about partying, sex and excess. Students in the 1990s rediscovered drugs as a source of illumination, becoming foot soldiers in the rave and neo-hippie movements. In the new millennium, however, Adderall is threatening to surpass marijuana as the most common illicit substance on some campuses. Students use it not so much to get high as for a rather prosaic purpose: to get better grades.

According to recent research done by the University of Michigan’s Sean Esteban McCabe, up to 25 percent of students at high-powered universities have used prescription stimulants like Adderall. According to the numerous interviews I conducted with students, professors and scientists for this story, use of the drug shows no sign of declining.

Adderall is a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It’s speed. From the 1930s to the 1970s doctor-prescribed amphetamine was a socially acceptable mainstream medicine. Every segment of American society—students, housewives, soldiers, doctors, factory workers, politicians—consumed massive amounts of amphetamine to get an extra boost for what had become known as the rat race. In the “Just Say No” era, -doctor-p-rescribed amphetamine disappeared from college campuses. Two decades later it’s back with a vengeance.

How ironic that methamphetamine continues to be demonized by the media and law enforcement as the most frightening substance since crack cocaine, while amphetamine and dextroamphetamine—different versions of the same basic drug—have once again become an intrinsic part of campus life. The major supply of speed on college campuses today comes not from scabby street chemists but from the freshly scrubbed men and women in white coats who belong to the medical establishment. Many parents who would be horrified if their children were using crystal meth are happy to see them dosed up on what is essentially the same drug, as long as it comes from a pharmaceutical company and little Jimmy or Jenny gets good grades.

Few who pop these pills have any idea of Adderall’s strange history. The drug was invented as a diet pill called Obetrol in the 1960s. It crept into the counterculture as well, including into Andy Warhol’s crowd. (Warhol had just picked up a prescription for it the day Valerie Solanas shot him at his Union Square studio.)

Obetrol’s selling point was its smooth onset. It was said to be less harsh than the more popular weight-loss pills of the time—like Desoxyn (pure methamphetamine) and Dexedrine (pure dextroamphetamine)—because of its mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine salts. In the 1970s the Food and Drug Administration cracked down on doctors who prescribed amphetamine pills for weight loss. Obetrol was withdrawn from the market.

Enter Shire Pharmaceuticals, a British company at the time known less for inventing new medicines than for taking existing ones and rebranding them. Shire bought the company that owned the rights to Obetrol—as well as the factory that produced it—in 1997 and then began promoting the drug as a treatment for attention-deficit disorder.

It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. The number of kids prescribed drugs to treat ADD and ADHD in the late 1990s skyrocketed. Ritalin—which is methylphenidate, a nonamphetamine stimulant that acts in the brain like cocaine—was the most popular treatment for ADD. But after newspaper articles, and Scientologists, raised concerns about the safety of prescribing such a powerful drug to children, Adderall was aggressively marketed to physicians as a safe and longer-lasting alternative to Ritalin. By the end of 1999 Adderall had boosted Shire’s revenue to more than $400 million a year.

The moral debate over dosing children with powerful drugs continues to rage. “I don’t think there’s any question doctors overprescribe these drugs,” says William Frankenberger, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire who has spent the past decade studying the effects of stimulant medications on academic performance. “There was a huge increase in the 1990s, thousands of percent, of children being diagnosed with ADHD and being treated with stimulant medication. Those children are now in college.”

Adderall’s popularity as a study aid really took off in 2001, when Shire introduced Adderall XR, the extended-release version of the drug. XR is a capsule containing two types of time-release beads, half of which dissolve immediately, the other half four hours later. Sales of Adderall XR grew on average 20 percent a year, and it quickly became the most widely prescribed ADHD drug in America, generating $1 billion of Shire’s $2.4 billion in revenue last year.

Although small doses used occasionally don’t result in much of a hangover, slightly higher doses extended over time can result in a harsh comedown: sweaty palms, blotchy skin, heart palpitations, strawlike hair, insomnia and limp-dick episodes. Cardiologists worry about the effects daily doses may have on the heart. In February 2005 Canadian authorities temporarily banned XR after reports of 20 deaths linked to the drug. In this country the FDA looked at the same data but concluded that the rate of fatal heart attacks among kids on Adderall was little different from the rate among those who didn’t take stimulant drugs. The feds allowed doctors to continue to prescribe it.

“Because it comes from a doctor, students don’t think it’s that risky,” says Dr. Lawrence Diller, author of Running on Ritalin and a frequent critic of doctors who overprescribe stimulant drugs to kids. “For most of them who take it occasionally in small doses, it isn’t. But a small group will overuse and get into trouble.”

Beyond the question of physical effects, what does the current campus Adderall craze say about kids these days? About the marketing power of pharmaceutical companies reaping huge profits? And the medical community, which stands between the two?


David (not his real name) is sitting in an exam hall, and he’s losing his mind. He thinks he’s having a panic attack. The 19-year-old economics major now realizes that washing down 75 milligrams of Adderall with eight cans of Red Bull wasn’t the best study plan he ever had. His hands shake, his mind races in a hundred different directions, and his heart feels as if it’s about to burst out of his chest. He’s pouring with sweat, and he can barely breathe. Holding up his hand, he leaves his seat and stumbles into the hallway, where after 10 minutes of drinking cup after cup of water and taking deep breaths, he’s calm enough to reenter the hall and take the exam.

“I did better on that exam than on any exam I’ve ever taken,” he later recalls. “I got a near-perfect score.”

A slightly built youth with gelled brown hair and a casual half-hipster, half-preppie style, David is a fan of Adderall. He has been taking it for about a year on a fairly regular basis, and except for that time he nearly passed out in the exam room, it has been a cool ride. “It takes away your worries,” he says of the drug. “Instead of freaking out and thinking, Oh man, I’m going to fail tomorrow, you take a pill and everything is fine.”

When I meet David, he is in the middle of finals, and in four days he has slept only eight hours. He shows no signs of tiredness. In fact, he’s feeling great thanks to the 60 milligrams of Adderall he has taken over the past 24 hours. He’s from a well-to-do suburban family, and once finals are over he’s headed to Europe for the summer and vows he won’t touch the drug for months. He says he uses Adderall mainly as a study aid, but sometimes he uses it to socialize, too.

“Adderall has added a lot to my life,” he says. “I owe a lot of my friendships to Adderall. Normally, I don’t like talking to random people, but on Adderall you’re really interested in people. It’s the get-up-and-go drug. Instead of sitting on the couch, smoking pot and watching television, I want to go out and do things.” (David has also discovered another useful role for the drug: “Jerking off on Adderall is an amazing experience.”)

When asked if Adderall has improved his grades, David pauses. “Actually,” he says, “now that I think about it, it doesn’t. My first semester I had straight A’s. The second term, when I started taking Adderall, I had straight Bs. I continued using it, and now I have an A-, B+ mix. So maybe the Adderall hasn’t helped.”

David underscores a seductive part of amphetamine’s appeal that scientists have known for decades: The substance doesn’t just give you extra energy; it makes you feel good about yourself. The drug releases in the brain high levels of the pleasure chemical dopamine, the same substance discharged while making love or smoking a cigarette. That’s why amphetamine was America’s first widely prescribed antidepressant, decades before Prozac.

A common complaint among today’s students is the constant stress and mental exhaustion they feel competing in such an academically demanding environment. The pendulum has swung away from the slacker generation, so much so in fact that one could argue college students have never before found themselves under so much pressure to perform and excel—not just to get good grades but to outdo one another. It’s not only harder to get into a good college these days (some Ivy League schools receive twice as many applications as they did a decade ago), but once you get there the pressure is unrelenting to maintain good grades so you can get a six-figure job upon graduation. The majority of students interviewed for this story expressed anxiety about disappointing their parents, some of whom are spending as much as $200,000 for a four-year degree. Adderall boosts self-esteem. It’s a drug that not only helps students manage a complex world but also makes them feel good about their place in it.

“When it costs my parents $50,000 a year to put me through college, you can bet I’m going to be stressed about getting good grades,” says David. “The reason I started taking Adderall in the first place was I thought I was going to get an F on a paper, and my father would have been pissed. My dad, who is a dentist, often says, ‘Do you know how many teeth I have to pull to put you through college for a year?’”


Does Adderall raise academic performance over time? This much is certain: Amphetamine medications have been used for a brain boost since the Great Depression. As far back as 1937, at a Rhode Island mental hospital, psychiatrist Charles Bradley, widely credited with discovering ADHD, dosed 30 learning-disabled children with Benzedrine (the original brand name for amphetamine) and found half the children showed “a spectacular improvement” in school performance. Bradley had accidentally found that amphetamine has the paradoxical effect of calming hyperactive kids, enabling them to better concentrate on their class work.

Within a year student test subjects in psychological studies had spread the word to their friends about amphetamine’s effectiveness as a study aid. Time magazine reported that “the use of a new powerful but poisonous brain stimulant called Benzedrine had college directors of health in dithers of worry.” One British psychologist at the time claimed “students have come to cherish this drug as a gift of the gods.”

“There’s pretty much been a 70-year use of amphetamine to help children do better in school, to concentrate and control their behavior,” says Diller. “Personally, I think Adderall has more of an effect on improving one’s sense of self than improving one’s performance.”

“I’ve been studying this for years, and I’m still not sure there’s an advantage for students taking tests on Adderall as opposed to students who study in the normal way,” says Frankenberger. “There’s good evidence that in the short term when children go on stimulant medications, the quantity and quality of their work increases. There’s no debating that. But are they learning more in the long run? The answer seems to be no.”

If it is a myth that Adderall and drugs like it are cognitive enhancers, it’s one that many scientists and researchers have taken as truth. A recent survey by Nature magazine, whose main readership works in science and academia, found roughly one in five readers used prescription drugs—including Adderall, Ritalin and Provigil—to focus concentration and increase productivity. Pilots in the military have used these drugs to stay awake and concentrate for long periods. The Adderall-on-campus issue is, in effect, the same debate that’s going on with steroids in professional sports. If the drug works, even in the short term, does taking it constitute cheating? Should all students be allowed to take it to level the playing field?

“Society is rife with hypocrisy,” says Diller. “These kids are taking these drugs for the same reason athletes are taking these drugs, the same reason their teachers are taking these drugs, the same reason businessmen are taking these drugs. It’s for performance enhancement. We live in a competitive society that demands performance at all costs and equates material acquisition with emotional and spiritual contentment. This is a culture perfect for using performance enhancers. Whether they actually work or not is another question.”


Susan (not her real name), 21, is a pretty blonde in a clingy black dress who goes to a well-regarded college in upstate New York. It’s summertime, and we’re sitting in a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. She describes her sorority life as being like Valley of the Dolls redux. These days there’s a drug for every occasion—OxyContin for when you want to get really zoned out, Xanax for anxiety, Valium for relaxation and Klonopin, a hypnotic drug used to treat seizures, for a pleasantly drowsy evening when there’s nothing better to do. But the crown jewel is Adderall. The drug is particularly popular among female students because, while they believe it helps with their studies, it also suppresses their appetite and helps them lose weight. After all, it was originally created as Obetrol, the diet drug. (For the same reason, Adderall has been called “the miracle pill” for Hollywood celebrities trying to control their weight.)

“There’s definitely a return to pill culture on campus,” says Susan. “I don’t know if it’s that students are more scared today to experiment with street drugs than in the past, but part of the appeal of pill culture is the feeling that these drugs are safe and legal because they come from a doctor. There’s still a lot of ecstasy and cocaine around, but increasingly, students prefer prescription drugs.”

Susan estimates well over half her sorority sisters have taken Adderall at least once. All sorts of students take the drug, she says, from straight-edge types who would never dream of taking street drugs to slackers who think they can cram a term’s worth of study into one week. On Susan’s campus little or no social stigma is attached to the drug. It’s such a normal part of campus life that students openly pop the candy-colored capsules in the library, even though Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, the possession of which without a prescription is technically punishable by jail time.

Says Susan, “It’s not even considered a drug anymore.”

But it is a drug, one that when taken in high doses can have some unhappy consequences. Fortunately, the students who take Adderall are usually sensible enough to take it only when they think it can help them and in small doses—usually 20 milligrams at a time, which falls well below the threshold that produces euphoria and is unlikely to cause harm.

Larger doses taken regularly over an extended time period—that’s a different story. As the legendary underground chemist Uncle Fester, who wrote the meth cook’s bible Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture, once told me, amphetamine “makes a great short-term friend but a lousy long-term companion.”

Playboy Magazine

“The Medical Marijuana Murder” Playboy March 2008 issue

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: , Guns, marijuana, Medical Marijuana, , Playboy Magazine

“Summer of Love” Playboy July 2007 issue

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Playboy Articles
Tags: Amphetamines, , Haight- Ashbury, Heroin, Hippies, hippies and violence, Love, marijuana, , Peace, Playboy Magazine, San Francisco, Summer of Love