Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Trainspotting, Dev D, all these movies have one thing in common – graphic depictions of drug use. They don’t just show the narcotics simply lying around either, they straight up show actors smoking, snorting and injecting all manner of substance in a very real way. If it was the 70s, the actors might really have been doing some of those drugs, but there’s a lot more rules on set nowadays, and a lot of actors don’t exactly want to get blitzed while shooting. Due to this, prop masters have come up with a variety of ways to show someone doing a line of coke or a shot of heroin in an authentic and genuine manner.
Here’s what they actually use during drug scenes in movies.
1. Cocaine: They use baking soda, cornstarch, powdered lactose or vitamin B powder
Arguably one of the most common drugs seen being used in movies and TV shows, finding something that looks like coke is pretty damn easy. Baking soda, cornstarch, baby powder, you name it. However, if the actor actually has to be shown actually snorting something, then it get a little complicated. A lot of these can cause congestion, coughing and light-headedness.
According to professional prop masters, one of the main things used is usually powdered lactose.
If the actor is lactose intolerant, they’ll use vitamin B powder.
Another method is by coating the inside of the coke straw with vaseline, so the ‘coke’ sticks to the inside of the straw instead of going up the actor’s nose.
2. Heroin: They use a milk powder, Inositol, sugar, baking soda and retractable needles
To depict heroin as is, prop masters usually take a blend of milk powder and a vitamin powder known as Inositol. However, when they have to show someone cooking heroin on screen (heating it on the spoon and what not), they usually employ sugar and baking soda, though people have admitted to using gelatin and even soup to get the look right!
To depict someone shooting heroin, custom made blunt needles are used. These needles retract into the syringe on coming into contact with the actor’s skin, which makes for a realistic illusion.
3. Marijuana: They use oregano or a legal form of weed that doesn’t get you high
Obviously, you can’t always stop actors from smoking the real thing, but a lot of prop masters use oregano. They also use a form of weed which has no THC (the active ingredient) in it. These are sold by websites such as Legalbuds.com and the like, and look and burn exactly like marijuana, but without the psychotropic effects.
When showing someone smoking pipes or bongs, they use this fake bud since tobacco smoke is less dense. They also pay close attention to the bong water, dirtying it using tobacco and cola to make things more legit.
4. Ecstasy: They use sugar placebo pills marked with rubber stamps
Ecstasy pills are usually identified by their signature quirky stamps in the middle. To recreate this, prop masters will get sugar placebo pills from a prop house and then mark them with a small, custom made rubber stamp dipped in food colouring. They look just like the real thing!
5. Crack: They use balls of glue dipped in baking soda
Crack is a freebase, cooked form of cocaine that usually comes in small rocks. These are show in movies by dropping globules of the super adhesive Krazy Glue onto piles of baking soda.
6. Magic Mushrooms: They use regular dried mushrooms
Psylocibin mushrooms are super easy to recreate. They mostly just use freeze-dried edible mushrooms from the store.
7. LSD: They use designed cardboard blotters
Probably the simplest on this list. Acid usually comes in the form of tiny cardboard stamps, and sometimes in sugar cubes, both of which are are no problem for a prop master. Easy as pie.
8. Crystal Meth: They use crystallised sugar candy
The Blue Sky meth that Walter and Jesse master is actually made of crystallised sugar and is basically glamourised pieces of blue rock candy made by a local candy store in Albuquerque. Regular meth, usually depicted as being white in movies, can also be recreated in the same way, but without the blue colouring.