How Do They Do It: Drugs in Movies

So you have probably seen movies like The Wolf of Wall Street or Lucy. You’re inspired to create your own film which features tons of drug scenes. And now you’re choosing between heroin vs. fentanyl. Which should you show the viewers?

And how can you include it into your film production without breaking any laws or potentially harming your talent?

However, then you realize you don’t know how to create these scenes. Obviously, you can’t use the real drug because that’s illegal. And although a character’s acting is essentially what will make the scene look real, you still can’t just use subpar props that don’t even resemble what the real thing looks like. These scenes are important because when it is done right, it can make the movie popular. So what do these filmmakers use as drugs in their movie and how do they make it real?

Well, as it turns out, there are lots of things that can be used as fake drugs. Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, whatever it is, you can recreate it in the movie using a variety of concoctions. It’s a matter of trial and error and a bit of creativity. You have the freedom to use anything, as long as it is safe. Well, you can also just ask some of the crew members what they used in their films.

Cocaine

When it comes to cocaine that will be shown in packs or cut into lines, most crew members use a combination of powders. According to Gillian Albinski, the property master on the TV show, Homeland, this is usually recreated using cornstarch. A little amount of baby powder, however, is added since cornstarch is too heavy and sticky.

Snorting it is a different story. Mychael Bates, the prop master of Horrible Bosses, revealed that they used powdered lactose in the film. According to Bates, the lactose powder is safe to snort and won’t really affect the user since it’s just a milk product.

Meanwhile, in The Wolf of Wall Street, Jonah Hill was snorting vitamin D powder. Hill had to snort so much of these for his scenes every day for seven months that he ended up getting sick. Hill suffered from Bronchitis for three weeks and even had to be hospitalized. It didn’t matter if it was a vitamin powder because apparently, too much of it or anything in that matter can still be bad for you.

Prop master Jeff Butcher, from The Wrestler, chooses to use Inositol which is a vitamin-like substance. A powdered baby laxative can also be ingested as fake cocaine similar to what Al Pacino did in Scarface.

Marijuana

Most films get their marijuana props from a company such as International Oddities. They have an herb which looks similar to weed but doesn’t contain any THC. This herb was used in the movie, Pineapple Express. The company claims it will only give the user a natural high. But this legal bud won’t really put the actors to sleep. Meanwhile, in Zombieland, the characters are smoking an herbal cigarette in exchange for marijuana.

Heroin

Heroin is probably the hardest to recreate in movie scenes. The challenge here is mostly in the details of using the drug. Crew members don’t only worry about getting the right shade of the powder and the liquified heroin. They also need to worry about getting a good retractable needle so it seems like the drug is actually getting injected. When used as a powder, prop master Eric Cheripka from American Gangster reveals that mannitol is used.

Gordon Fitzgerald, the prop master for Trainspotting, on the other hand, deviated from the norm. Instead of just simply implying the injection of heroin or using a retractable syringe, the prop master took it to a whole new level. Fitzgerald revealed on The Daily Beast that they used a real syringe filled with a colored liquid and injected it into a prosthetic arm. To make it seem like the blood is mixing with the liquid, the plunger can be drawn up and down. You don’t see a lot of Fentanyl in movies because it’s a relatively new drug to a lot of the population.

Meth

Breaking Bad is well-known for their blue meth scenes. And as revealed by Eric Cheripka, these were usually recreated using a resin which when hardened, can be broken into pieces. And for Breaking Bad’s version, these resins had to be dyed in aqua blue.

You can follow what these prop masters have used in recreating drugs for films or you can also make your own concoction. But just remember to use materials that are safe, especially if the actors or actresses have to snort or ingest it.

About the Author
Patrick Bailey has a background in journalism. He can be found at his website.