In recent months, the YouTube comments for a song by the 1980s British post-punk band The Sisters of Mercy have veered slightly off-topic. “The favorite song [of] rich and depraved elites,” wrote user AlienDude30. “I like this song! - Hillary Clinton,” offered AdAJanuary. A Dean Latimer added: “Q chasing the goths!”
The track, which first appeared on a seven-inch in 1982, isn’t one of the Leeds-area band’s better-known songs. It’s an abrasive, theatrically dark tune, with early drum machine percussion and low, campy vocals. The lyrics are typical goth stuff, as is the black album artwork, which features the band’s logo: a medical scalp illustration overlaid on a pentacle. But it’s the title the commenters were drawn to: “Adrenochrome.”
Adrenochrome is an easy-to-come-by chemical compound, usually found as a light pink solution, that forms by the oxidation of adrenaline, the stress hormone. It is not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration—though researchers can buy 25 milligrams of it for just $55—but doctors in other countries prescribe a version of it to treat blood clotting.
The compound has become an object of fascination, however, among COVID-19-truthers and adherents of QAnon, the fringe, baseless theory that a well-sourced government agent called “Q” leaks top-secret intel about a global cabal of Democratic and Hollywood pedophiles through cryptic and grandiose messages known as “Q-drops.” The quasi-cult’s sway has grown considerably in recent years, thanks in part to the tacit encouragement of Donald Trump. On Tuesday, a QAnon promoter named Marjorie Taylor Greene won 57 percent of the vote in a Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th congressional district, all but ensuring her victory in November. “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it,” Greene once said in a video from 2017. Trump applauded Greene’s primary victory.
For conspiracy theorists, adrenochrome represents a mystical psychedelic favored by the global elites for drug-crazed satanic rites, derived from torturing children to harvest their oxidized hormonal fear—a kind of real-life staging of the Pixar movie Monsters, Inc. “QAnon also likes to say that Monsters, Inc. is Hollywood telling on itself,” says QAnon researcher Mike Rains, “because the plot of scaring kids to get energy is what they really do.”
The highest-profile adrenochrome incident took place in 2018, when Google CEO Sundar Pichai was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee about a conspiracy called “Frazzledrip.” (“Heard of Frazzledrip?” reads one comment on The Sisters of Mercy song.) The crackpot theory involved a mythical video, supposedly squirreled away on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, that if leaked, would show Hillary Clinton and her one-time aide Huma Abedin performing a satanic sacrifice in which they slurped a child’s blood while wearing masks carved from the skin of her face.
Code-named “Frazzledrip,” the video was supposed to depict an adrenochrome “harvest.” It never materialized. But the drug has since become a common reference in conspiracies of the far right. In the past year, the compound has been name-checked by German soul singer Xavier Naidoo, right-wing evangelical and failed congressional candidate Dave Daubenmire, and ex-tabloid writer-turned-QAnon conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin.
“There’s a lot of anons [QAnon adherents] that believe the white hats tainted the elite’s adrenochrome supply with the coronavirus, and that’s why so many members of the elite are getting the coronavirus,” Crokin said in a YouTube video from March, reported by Right Wing Watch. “Adrenochrome is a drug that the elites love. It comes from children. The drug is extracted from the pituitary gland of tortured children. It’s sold on the black market. It’s the drug of the elites. It is their favorite drug. It is beyond evil. It is demonic. It is so sick. So there is a theory that the white hats tainted the adrenochrome supply with the coronavirus.”
Social media is filled with adrenochrome theories. From January of 2018, adrenochrome truthers also gathered on the subreddit r/adrenochrome, until the website banned it two weeks ago. A Reddit spokesperson told The Daily Beast the page had been suspended after its moderator was banned for violating their content policies (they declined to specify which). “The community was then banned because it was unmoderated,” the spokesperson said.
Those in search of adrenochrome theories, however, can still find them on Facebook, YouTube, or Amazon, where several self-published titles on the subject appear in top search results. (After The Daily Beast contacted Amazon about several of these books, they disappeared from the website. Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) One Facebook group, called “Adrenochrome / Adrenaline (Epinephrine),” provides a 70-part introduction to the drug, with chapter titles along the lines of: The Epstein/JonBenét CONNECTION and The deep meaning behind Justin Bieber’s ‘Yummy.’ The group has 22,460 members.
“The use of Adrenochrome is Prevalent in our Society and it Time we had a Mass Awakening to these Fact's and Started become Educated in the Reasons,” the group’s description reads. “WHY , HOW , WHEN , WHO , WHERE and WHY we should be more ‘Open Eye'd’ to our Society from the TOP DOWN .........................” [sic].
Scientific interest in adrenochrome dates back to the 1950s, when Canadian researchers Humphry Osmond and Abram Hoffer developed what they called the “Adrenochrome Hypothesis.” After a series of small studies between 1952 and 1954, the two concluded that excess adrenochrome could trigger symptoms of schizophrenia. Save for some failed studies of treatments, the theory went largely unexplored for several decades (Hoffer wrote a 1981 paper revisiting the proposal, concluding that it “accounts for the syndrome schizophrenia more accurately than do any of the competing hypotheses.”)
The hypothesis nevertheless impacted adrenochrome’s public perception, putting it in conversation with psychedelics like LSD or mescaline. Aldous Huxley described it in his 1954 book The Doors of Perception; Anthony Burgess nicknamed it ‘drenchrom’ in the argot of A Clockwork Orange. Frank Herbert described a character in Destination: Void as so high “he looked like someone who had just eaten a handful of pineal glands and washed them down with a pint of adrenochrome.” But most famously, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson got offered a “tiny taste” from his unhinged lawyer in a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
“That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer,” the lawyer said. “You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.”
“There’s only one source for this stuff,” Thompson responded, “the adrenaline glands from a living human body. It’s no good if you get it out of a corpse.”
The compound’s supposedly psychedelic properties have been debunked, in part by Thompson himself, who reportedly told Terry Gilliam, director of the black comedy’s adaptation, that he had invented its effects. Eduardo Hidalgo Downing, a Spanish writer behind the meandering drug memoir Adrenochrome and Other Mythical Drugs, described it as “an absolute bullshit,” [sic], adding that “it is of no value in psychoactive terms... it is infinitely more useful to drink a cup of coffee.” Even Erowid, the harm-reduction nonprofit filled with drug experience reviews, had only negative things to say. “Effects were extremely weak, absolutely not fun nor psychedelic in anyway,” one user wrote.
Another user, in a review titled “Worst Headache Imaginable” described a racing heartbeat, profuse sweating, and “a headache that could have brought down an elephant.” The “incapacitating” pain allegedly subsided after two hours, but recurred periodically for the next seven days. “I had absolutely no hallucinations,” he concluded, “unless I was hallucinating the headaches.”
There’s an aspect of QAnon obsession that resembles demented literary criticism: every current event encoded with hidden meanings, global criminals desperate to signal their crimes through symbols, millions of messages waiting for the right close reader to unpack them. That Q’s adherents would seize upon a drug drummed up by a semi-fictional memoir makes sense. In that way, they’re not unlike The Sisters of Mercy, whose single, which describes schoolkids harvested by nuns, is a clear Thompson nod. (The catholic girls now / stark in their dark and white / Dread in monochrome / The sisters of mercy /.../ Panic in their eyes / Rise / Dead on adrenochrome.) The band just did a better job with the source material. Conspiracists missed some important subtext: the jokes.