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“This Is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA Making a Comeback

Mike Adams

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For those ‘heads old enough to remember the anti-drug campaigns of the mid-’80s—back in a time when Saturday morning cartoons were plagued by propaganda service announcements—it is hard to imagine turning on the television back then without being bombarded by the vision of an egg frying in a pan with some actor suggesting that “this is your brain on drugs.”

The commercial, which was produced for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, was highly successful in the way that it achieved its ultimate goal: to scare millions of parents and kids across the nation into thinking that all mind-altering substances were dangerous.

And now, it’s back.

In the spirit of nostalgia and fear mongering, the coalition, which has since changed its name to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, recently commissioned an advertising agency to spawn a reboot of the infamous “Frying Pan” PSA. The latest spot picks up where the 1987 version left off with the tag line “Any questions?” by aiming the message toward those kids searching for answers to all their curiosities surrounding legal and illegal drug culture.

“‘Any questions’ was the end. Now it’s the beginning,” Scott Seymour, chief creative officer at BFG Communications, told the New York Times about the rehash. “The landscape of drugs has really gotten a lot more complex, so we took this idea of having a succession of questions delivered by kids,” adding that the campaign hopes to educate the population on topics ranging from the dangers of prescription medications to the realities of legal marijuana.

The 2016 version of the fried egg PSA opens up very similar to the one that is etched into the minds of the generation raised on Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug swill. It begins with an egg being dropped into a frying pan, followed by a “this is your brain on drugs” voice-over provided by actress Allison Janney. From there, it goes on to show a series of young people on a quest for answers to questions, such as “weed’s legal isn’t it?” and “drinking is worse than smoking weed, isn’t it?” The PSA takes somewhat of a controversial turn toward the end of the 30-second spot by showing kids asking, “Mom, Dad, did you ever try drugs?”

However, unlike the original PSA, rather than simply suggesting that the consumption of various feel-good substances is a sure-fire way to fry the brain, the latest effort points the audience to a website operated by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids for more help. It even comes complete with a complimentary “Marijuana Talk Kit,” which the coalition says was designed to help parents have “meaningful, productive conversations” with their teenagers about the “new marijuana landscape.”

“National debates on the legalization of marijuana have helped normalize the behavior for many teens,” reads a paragraph from the partnership’s Marijuana Talk Kit. “That’s why it’s important that your child inherently understands that you don’t approve of his use of marijuana, in the same way that you don’t want him to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use other drugs.

“The new marijuana landscape doesn’t change the fact that all mind-altering substances—including marijuana—are harmful for the still-developing teen brain,” the segment continues.

Yet, while the intentions appear to be respectful to the grand scheme of marijuana reform, it seems a bit dangerous to resurrect the three-decade-old fried egg campaign to be used in a modern day approach to discussing drug issues with children. After all, the original spot, which has been called “one of the most famous PSA campaigns of all time,” has been criticized for many years for being nothing more than government propaganda. But the goal of the reboot, at least according to agency responsible for its development, is to simply use the imagery of the frying egg to give parents a familiar reference point and promote the evolution of discussing drugs with children.

Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a group fighting tooth-and-nail for pro-pot policies, doesn’t appear to be too concerned about the idea of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids using old school anti-drug tactics to promote its updated message. Still, he remains cautious about the possibility that the campaign could be used in an attempt to sabotage the progress of the cannabis movement.

“Encouraging teens to stay away from marijuana and other drugs while their brains are still developing is a good goal, as is preparing parents to best answer questions that inquiring young minds will inevitably have about these issues,” Angell told HIGH TIMES. “Let’s just hope that these ads aren’t surreptitiously aimed at blocking marijuana law reform efforts and that they won’t perpetuate the sort of unhelpful and harmful scare-tactics that so many failed campaigns have used in the past.”

Although other representatives of national cannabis reform agree that the new campaign appears to be better than the “Just Say No”-style, there is some concern that the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids may not be providing parents with accurate information to help them have an honest conversation with their children.

“They encourage parents to deflect the question of whether marijuana is less harmful than alcohol with an answer that assumes all teens plan on combining the two substances,” Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told HIGH TIMES. “While it’s important that teens know the potential effects of combining them, they should also know that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol. Why is it so hard for them to just admit that? A direct question deserves a direct response.”

The new fried egg campaign is set to get underway just as several more states, including Arizona, California and Maine, are preparing to vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana this November. As it stands, there are four states that have ended prohibitionary rule—an action that, in Colorado, has actually contributed to the decline of youth marijuana consumption. Perhaps the time has come for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to get on the appropriate side of this debate.

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