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Drugs in Pop Culture

Drugs in Pop Culture

The music we listen to, the shows and movies we watch, and the social media content we are exposed to at a young age have a big influence on our choices. According to the NPR, the human brain does not reach full maturity until age 25. Thus, making individuals 25 and under more susceptible to both negative and positive influences in pop culture. How can this constant vulnerability to alcohol and drugs in pop culture affect us?

A study by the National Library of Medicine shows that pop culture and media have a large negative impact on children and teens, as well as young adults. Over half of all high school students try illicit drugs and more than 70% drink alcohol by the time they graduate.

A prime example of a highly popular show that is based upon high school students abusing drugs and alcohol on a daily basis is Euphoria. Riverdale also portrays high school student consuming hard liquor and drugs and makes it look as if it is a normal routine. Exposure to these television shows at such a young age can have a negative effect on teens and young adults. Below are some of the most prevalent drugs in pop culture and how they influence us. 


Can induce feelings of: Relaxed euphoria, heightened sensory perception, psychoactive effects, increased appetite, and occasional paranoia. 

Alternative names: Pot, weed, Mary Jane, ganja, green, and the devil’s lettuce. 

Status: Depending on where you live, in some states it is illegal, and in others, it’s not.

History: The cannabis plant was originally utilized for its hemp, a fibrous material used to make textiles, as well as used for its medicinal properties. However, marijuana started to become outlawed in 1917. It is eaten, smoked, or mixed into liquids to help calm stomach issues, earaches, as well as rheumatism. 

Released in 1936, the film “Reefer Madness” sparked the perspective of marijuana as a full-fledged narcotic to the public. Following this, was the banning of the substance for medicinal use across the U.S. Many states like Colorado, Washington, and California have all legalized the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana.

Cultural influences: Some of the biggest influences in pop culture that promotes marijuana include Bob Marley, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, and Seth Rogan (specifically in the movie Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, and This Is the End). Marijuana is a normalized drug that is common in many pop culture songs, movies, tv shows, and all over social media.


Can induce feelings of: Mild euphoria, lack of motor coordination, feelings of excitement and happiness, and a sensation of disassociation with the body. 

Alternative names: Lean, purple drank, sizzurp, and dirty sprite.

Status: Codeine is a prescription medication.

History: Codeine is a prescription cough syrup that was first popularized in Houston, Texas within the hip-hop and nightclub scene. The infamous color of lean comes from the purple color of the codeine promethazine mixed with sprite and sometimes mixed with Jolly Ranchers.

Artist DJ Screw made lean popular after inventing his own style of hip-hop called “chopped and screwed.” This style has a slow and relaxed feel like how you feel after drinking lean. Following this, Three 6 Mafia released their popular song “Sippin On Some Sizzurp” in 2000.

Cultural influences: Hip-hop turned lean into a widespread party drug among parties, clubs, and the nightlife scene. Many big names in the hip-hop and rap industry mention this popular drink in their music, including Lil’ Wayne, Juice WRLD, and Three 6 Mafia. However, lean overdoses became a common occurrence, which sadly was one of the lethal substances that took Juice WRLD’s life in 2019.

Ecstasy and Molly

Can induce feelings of: Euphoria, enhanced empathy, uninhibited energy, and adoration for those around you and your surroundings.

Alternative names: E, X, disco biscuits, and scooby snacks.

Status: Ecstasy and molly are both illegal substances.

History: The chemical name for ecstasy is 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine or MDMA. In the ’70s, MDMA was administered in the U.S. as a psychotherapy treatment, however, was introduced into the dance and party scene shortly after. Pitched as a healthier alternative to cocaine, molly and E is a resurgent form of pure MDMA. Both come in a white powder or crystal form.

Cultural influences: Ecstacy became extremely popular in the club scene in the ‘90s, especially in New York and Warehouse in Chicago (where house music was born). Molly is the second coming of ecstasy and quickly gained popularity within the rise of the EDM scene. With the growth in popularity of festivals like EDC and Ultra, came the popularity of “rolling” on molly. Molly enhances the music and light shows at these festivals.


Can induce feelings of: Slight euphoria, a sense of well-being, increased focus, mental endurance, and the jitters.

Alternative names: Study buddies, addy, beans, and pep pills.

Status: Adderall is a prescription medication.

History: Adderall, a combination of amphetamines and dextroamphetamine, is a rebranded version of Obetrol. Adderall is an FDA-approved substance used as a weight-loss drug, however, withdrawn in 1973. It is subscribed as an ADHD medication and quickly became the fastest-growing group of drugs in the U.S.

Cultural influences: Adderall spikes dopamine levels which can induce a feeling of euphoria. However, college students specifically use Adderall to help them focus while studying. Students don’t understand the addictive properties of this substance and use it as a daily focus pill. Furthermore, hip-hop rapper Dany Brown refers to himself as the Adderall Admiral. Referring to the drug as “steroids in the rap game.”


Can induce feelings of: Burst of energy, euphoria, a boost of confidence, hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and intense focus. 

Alternative names: Coke, blow, snow, power, nose candy, toot, and Bolivian marching powder. 

Status: Coke is an illegal substance.

History: The indigenous cultures of South America use the coca plants roots for their mild natural stimulant in rituals. The leaves are roasted and chewed during these rituals and are still practiced today by the remnants of the ancient cultures.

Cultural influences: Cocaine stimulates dopamine which gives a short, yet intense high, leaving users wanting more. Pop culture films like The Wolf of Wall Street associate cocaine with greed, materialism, and money. Lead singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler is very open about his cocaine use. In a 60 Minutes interview, he stated, “You could also say I’ve snorted half of Peru.”

Get Help Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, contact the Harm Reduction Center. HARC is a private healthcare facility that offers addiction treatment, as well as mental health services. Our staff strives to help every individual that walks through our door. Offering outpatient programs, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), and aftercare programs. If you are ready to take the first step towards sobriety, contact us today.