What Actors Really Use When ‘Taking Drugs’ In Movies



Act surprised: Al Pacino didn’t really snort cocaine just before that iconic standoff in Scarface. Just as the shootouts in Hollywood’s action scenes are deceptively staged, the countless drugs consumed onscreen over the years aren’t real. Prop masters have come up with all kinds of crazy concoctions to make Hollywood’s contraband look as close as possible to real-life controlled substances. Rinse out your bong with Pepsi to make it look authentic, because we’re about to narc on all the fake drugs you see on the silver screen.


It’d make sense to start things off with the supposed gateway drug, weed. Veteran prop master Jeff Butcher, whose credits include Requiem for a Dream, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Wrestler, and Jumper, revealed to Upvoted that he’s ordered fake marijuana from International Oddities in order to stuff bags of weed for movie sets. (You know that place is legit if they used it for the faux marijuana in Pineapple Express on James Franco’s recommendation.) Butcher once chain-smoked a lot of “wizard weed” in order to make a bong featured in Drew Barrymore’s Going the Distance look just right, but he didn’t feel a thing—except a hoarse throat after awhile.

For scenes featuring rolled-up joints, most movies use either wizard weed or herbal cigarettes. Remember that awesome sequence in Zombieland when Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Bill Murray smoke from a weed-laced hookah and reenact Ghostbusters? Herbal cigarettes were used. Prop masters just break apart the premade herbal cigs and use the contents wherever needed, like for blunts, bongs, or hookahs. The fake stuff might not leave you craving Funyuns, but it certainly looks the part.



Going from marijuana to cocaine is one heck of a jump, but we assure you that even the Hollywood version of coke is pretty harmless—to an extent. In a Q&A session at the Cinémas Palme d’Or hosted by Bryan Cranston, Jonah Hill revealed that all the cocaine his Wolf of Wall Street character snorted was actually vitamin B, and he ended up with bronchitis for over a month just from snorting so much of the stuff on camera. Of course he didn’t mind, because snorting fake cocaine in a Martin Scorsese movie is an honor.

Prop masters have turned to all kinds of other alternatives when making the powdery substance. Other films have used mixtures of baking soda, powdered sugar, and powdered milk to get things just right; apparently, powdered baby laxative is one of the most common forms of Hollywood coke. In behind-the-scenes footage from Scarface, co-star Steven Bauer mentions that Tony Montana’s desk was covered in baby laxative. Jeff Butcher has said that inositol, a vitamin B powder, is also commonly used for substitute cocaine. Best of all, inositol is often used to cut the real thing—not that we’re privy to real-life coke secrets or anything.



Similar to fake cocaine, common household items and cooking ingredients are often mixed and put into baggies to simulate heroin. Of course, things get a little bit trickier when movies show people taking close-up injections of the junk. In an interview with The Daily Beast, prop master Gordon Fitzgerald explained how they filmed the heroin injection scenes in Danny Boyle’s 1996 drug-filled cult classic, Trainspotting. Fitzgerald recalled taking a slightly-dyed liquid and injecting it into an artificial arm. Of course, these prosthetics have make-up and small amounts of hair applied—and even fake blood—to make you forget you’re watching make-believe. At least Pulp Fiction’s burnt spoon was real.



For decades, cigarettes featured on film were the real thing—until the government and tobacco companies started clashing over product placement rules for potentially harmful substances. Studies found that, for younger viewers, watching characters smoke in movies often increased the likelihood of picking up the habit in real life. (Here’s hoping they don’t watch Blow until they’re a lot older.)

Faking cigarette smoking is a lot tougher than you might realize. As we mentioned earlier, herbal cigarettes have become the go-to choice, especially for shows like Mad Men, but sometimes other alternatives are needed. “A couple years ago, I worked on Non-Stop with Liam Neeson, who is a former smoker and didn’t want to be smoking cigarettes,” Butcher said (via Upvoted). “So I got vape cigarettes, which I think we ended up not using. And we made cigarettes, hand-rolled them with a machine using chamomile tea. So he smoked tea.” Even worse is how camera crews have to break out the rulers and scissors to maintain cigarette length consistency from scene to scene. You’d be surprised at how often scenes are delayed due to getting the lit cigarette length just right.


While alcohol is perfectly legal, you don’t want your actors getting sloshed after the twelfth take of a shot showing them gulping down whiskey. Various teas are served at room temperature in order to simulate the darker forms of the hard stuff. In terms of beer, non-alcoholic types are used, despite their bad reputation in terms of taste, meaning there’s actually a reason to drink O’Douls after all. Of course, clear drinks like vodka tend to be just water, but off-color shots usually have to be a mix of different liquids, like apple juice and Pellegrino. Supposedly, John Belushi’s whiskey chug in Animal House was real, and we can’t help loving him even more for it.



This one should be fairly obvious, but Jack Black wasn’t really eating magic mushrooms during the Tenacious D movie. Most actors are seen munching on mushrooms—just not the trippy ones. In order to make the ‘shrooms stand out from the normal kind you can get at your local supermarket, prop masters tend to order more exotic-looking ones from Asian supermarkets. Jack is still a fun guy in his movies, if you catch our drift.



No matter what types of pills are needed for a movie scene, they’re pretty easy to stage. While nowhere near as elaborate as the other substances on this list, ecstasy and the like can be faked with regular pharmaceutical pills, usually just with different colors. Sometimes, these color changes are done to make sure they don’t infringe on any product placement rules; in other instances, pills can be altered to give them a more homemade or illegal look. It doesn’t matter if it’s the red pill or the blue pill, but chances are the actor isn’t really swallowing anything after it hits his mouth.

The Hollywood version of crank, ice, meth, or whatever the kids call it nowadays isn’t real either. This behind-the-scenes AMC video reveals that the crystalline methamphetamine featured on Breaking Bad is actually comprised of homemade rock candy. If you want to fool your friends with your homemade Heisenberg candy cook for your next Better Call Saul party, all you have to do is heat water, corn syrup, and granulated sugar in a saucepan and stir until it all dissolves. Add a little blue food coloring, let it cool, break it all up, divide into Ziplock bags, and voila! Jesse Pinkman would be proud. Just a heads up: the real stuff usually isn’t blue, and nowhere near as perfect-looking. Not that we’d know from experience or anything.





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