From the 80s to the naughties, there are some characters that everybody can agree scared the crap out of them when they were kids. The 80s had Freddy Krueger, 90s kids shuttered at the sight of Scream, and the 2000s brought us the twisted smile of Jigsaw. But the same can also be said about the frightening characters that inhabited many anti-drug PSAs we were shown as children.
In the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, many grown-ups believed that perhaps kids would be discouraged from buying drugs if drug dealers were depicted as nightmare-inducing snake people. Or if they weren’t trying to scare children out of doing drugs, perhaps they would take the advice of a popular talking robot about the dangers of cigarettes. It is highly debatable whether or not these PSAs were actually effective, but at least we have the benefit of hindsight to enjoy the sheer absurdity of these short but well-intentioned films.
So, let’s take a trip down memory lane with this list of the top ten most ridiculous anti-drug PSAs of all time.
1) Your Brain On Drugs
No list of drug PSAs is complete without the infamous “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” commercial. Created in 1987 for a wide scale campaign by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, its now safe to assume that the logic behind this commercial is false. However, if there is any PSA about drugs that has stuck out the most in the minds of parents and paranoid kids alike, then it is probably this commercial.
2) LSD – A Case Study
This PSA about the dangers of LSD is the earliest video clip on the list. It’s also the one most likely to encourage you to actually do the drug its trying to dissuade you from. Featuring a groovy psychedelic soundtrack and starring a woman who’s “jacked up on marijuana”, the only things stranger about this video is the fact that it was created by Lockheed Aircraft, the same company that brought us the Poseidon and Polaris missiles.
3) Hanna-Barbera Anti-Drug PSA
Ok, I lied. This PSA is the most likely to encourage you to seek out the drug it is trying to dissuade you from using. Just leave it up to the brilliant Hanna-Barbera (who is also responsible for animating shows such as Scooby Doo) to make an inadvertently attractive depiction of being on LSD, even if it technically ends in getting devoured by demons.
4) Snake Anti-Drug PSA
The snake prosthetics in this video are admittedly hair raising. But if you actually trust somebody who shares the same name as the villain from the worst Karate Kid movie ever, then the joke’s on you, kid.
5) Mr. T Anti-Drug PSA
Mr. T finds out that you do drugs, and he’s mad. He thinks it holds you back, ruins your chances of living up to your potential, and now he just wants to “shake some sense into you kids.” What did we learn from this lesson? Don’t do drugs around Mr. T.
6) Straight-Up! Rap
What better way to get in touch with the youth then by speaking their own language? There’s probably no worse idea than a government program commissioning a hip-hop song, but this video actually “works” in a weird way, and is not nearly as out of touch as some other music-related PSAs on this list.
7) Pee-Wee Herman Anti-Crack PSA
Somehow, I find the sight of Pee Wee Herman with a vial of crack in his hand more unsettling than the video of the snake-headed man.
8) N’Sync Anti-Drug Commercial
What’s more out of touch than the Straight Up! anti-drug rap? Simple, N’Sync’s “Life: Our Anti-Drug” advert. I dare you to try get through this video without taking your eyes off of the screen.
9) Star Wars SMoking PSA
Cigarette or not, there is something so lovable about these two characters that I just have to give this terrible PSA a pass. Sure, it may have never actually convinced anybody to quit smoking. But when R2D2 tries to convince C3PO that the cigarette in his robotic claw makes him look like an adult, you’ve just got to smile.
10) Electric Zoo: Come To Life
Just when you thought these anti-drug PSAs were a product of an older, more out of touch generation of moral do-gooders, a video like this pops up to convince you otherwise. Popular dance music festival Electric Zoo created this video to inform people about the dangers of MDMA as a response to the increasing number of overdoses in the EDM scene. However, it would have been much easier to have just told festival goers to drink a lot of water instead of making us cringe through two minutes of painful overacting.