Adrenochrome is an easy-to-access chemical compound usually found as a light pink solution, which is produced by the oxidation of adrenaline (the stress hormone). While doctors in other countries sometimes prescribe a version of the drug to slow blood loss by promoting clotting in open wounds, Adrenochrome is not approved for medical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Only researchers are allowed to buy 25 milligrams of it for just £50 or 250 milligrams for £304.
Although the so-called ‘Adrenochrome harvesting’ long predates these groups, the compound has now become a favourite topic of the interconnected QAnon, Frazzledrip and Pizzagate conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theory resurrected during the COVID-19 pandemic when Google Trends saw significant spikes in searches for adrenochrome in March and June of 2020.
Remember Q, the ‘well-sourced government agent’ who first started leaking top-secret intel about a global cabal of Democratic and Hollywood paedophiles through cryptic messages known as ‘Q-drops’, which were first posted on 4chan, 8chan and 8kun? Well, by first introducing other users to his conspiracy theory, Q also started something bigger: communities of believers started growing, one QAnon follower stumbled upon the theory of ‘Adrenochrome harvesting’ and shared it with more conspiracy theorists.
The earliest recorded posts about Adrenochrome harvesting on 4chan’s /x/ and /pol/ boards were posted in 2013 and 2014 respectively. According to Wired, in the antisemitic 4chan /pol/ thread, an anonymous poster linked a restricted, unsearchable video titled Jew Ritual BLOOD LIBEL Sacrifice is #ADRENOCHROME Harvesting. It is within these exact same online communities that Pizzagate formalised and grew in 2015 before spreading to more mainstream social media and leading to Frazzledrip and QAnon.
In 2016, this same video was shared in a Pizzagate thread about the artist Marina Abromovich and her ‘spirit cooking’ ceremonies. The next several months saw more wild claims appear online about the compound, such as the idea that the Pixar film Monsters Inc. was a cryptic reference to Adrenochrome harvesting and proof of Hollywood ‘telling on itself’. As some Pizzagate adherents first joined the burgeoning QAnon community in 2017, they brought the Adrenochrome conspiracy with them.
Today, QAnon is one of the biggest conspiracy theories ever—thanks in part to the tacit encouragement of Donald Trump. According to The Daily Beast, in August 2020, a QAnon promoter named Marjorie Taylor Greene won 57 per cent 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 paedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it,” Greene once said in a video from 2017. President Trump applauded Greene’s primary victory…
For conspiracy theorists, Adrenochrome represents a mystical psychedelic favoured by the global elites for drug-crazed satanic rites, which would be derived from torturing children to harvest their hormonal fear. See where the link to Monsters Inc. came from now?
It’s this exact same idea that the Frazzledrip conspiracy theory is based on. In 2018, when Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee about Frazzledrip, it was explained that it initially came from a mythical video, supposedly taken from 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 drank a child’s blood while wearing masks carved from the skin of the kid’s face.
This non-existent video was supposedly depicting Adrenochrome harvest. Of course, it never materialised, but the drug has since become a common reference in conspiracies of the far right. 3In 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,” says The Daily Beast.
The theory is prevalent on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Reddit even had to ban a dedicated Adrenochrome subreddit on 30 July 2020. In a YouTube video posted in March 2020 by Crokin, the QAnon conspiracy theorist said, “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 favourite 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.” The video has since then been deleted.
The rise of conspiracy theories has enabled the rapid growth of anti-vaxxers communities, COVID-19 disinformation, and the prevalence of the Adrenochrome harvesting theory. And who is to blame for those? No one in particular, although social media and search engines play an important role in this incredibly rapid spread.
Until recently, Adrenochrome was so unimportant that not many websites were competing to rank first for the term. Scientists, journalists, or academics—sources that can be trusted—didn’t write much about the compound. As a result, conspiracy theorists managed to completely take over the searches for anything related to Adrenochrome, flooding the internet with false information.
Pizzagate, Frazzledrip and QAnon encourage newcomers to Google obscure phrases designed to lead down rabbit holes. This takes them to obscure publications or reports that were not penalised by the search engine because they managed to slip through the cracks. New conspiracies spread effortlessly across platforms via hashtags and comments, but also because they usually use part of the truth.
“The most effective conspiracy theories are built around kernels of truth,” wrote Brian Friedberg in Wired. Take Pizzagate for example, which promotes the idea that references to food and a pizza restaurant located in Washington DC in the stolen emails of Clinton’s campaign manager were actually a secret code for a child trafficking ring. It wasn’t, but Clinton did go regularly to the pizza restaurant in question.
The same can be said for Adrenochrome; the compound clearly exists, and it even was frequently used by the writers Aldous Huxley and Hunter S. Thompson, who were both big fans of mind-altering substances. Huxley described it as a clue that was “being systematically followed.”
Scientific interest in the drug 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.
In 1971, Thompson published his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In it, the writer casts adrenochrome as a psychedelic that must be violently extracted from human glands. This scene appears in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation of the book. On YouTube, a clip of Johnny Depp’s character taking adrenochrome has more than 2 million views, as well as thousands of comments referencing the conspiracy.
“They put the truth right in front of our faces to mock us,” reads one of the top comments, while another user commented, “I would bet that the ‘pure adrenochrome industry’ and the disappearance of about 400,000 children a year, are connected.”
The compound’s supposedly psychedelic properties have been debunked in part by Thompson himself who reportedly told Gilliam that he had invented its effects. Regardless of that, Thompson was mentioned in the earliest recorded posts about adrenochrome harvesting on 4chan mentioned previously. From there, the conspiracy theory surrounding the drug just took off.
Although Adrenochrome had been surrounded by a slew of misinformation for many decades already, 2020 was the year it skyrocketed. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, it created an unprecedented level of mistrust and anxiety about inequality. This opened society to all kinds of conspiratorial thinking, especially to medical misinformation.
In March 2020, interest in the drug first spiked after people got upset that celebrities and athletes seemed to have access to testing while most people did not. Shortly after that, attitudes to proposed treatments against the virus became politically polarised, and at the same time, the US saw a rise in mainstream conservative acknowledgement of QAnon as well as some Republican candidates signalling their attachment to the movement.
The damage was done. QAnon conspiracy theorists (and many other people online) believe that a huge amount of celebrities have come down with COVID-19 due to a tainted batch of adrenochrome, and there’s no way to convince them otherwise.