If you want to terrify yourself, go into your medicine cabinet and read all of the really weird side effects at the bottom of the label. Beyond the normal “headache” or “upset stomach,” you get weird shit that reads like ironic punishments from a vengeful genie.
Sure, most users won’t see this kind of black magic side effects, but that just means you’re all the more surprised when you run into …
#5. The Flu Medication That Can Cause Psychosis
Tamiflu is a wildly popular treatment for the flu, frequently prescribed for parents to pump their children full of at the first sign of a sniffle. Which is about to get a bit terrifying, since Tamiflu …
The Side Effect:
… can send you on a bad trip reminiscent of a ridiculous old-school anti-marijuana PSA. That’s seriously the best way we can think of to accurately summarize the symptoms, which range from hallucinations to psychosis to impulsive behavior. Kids taking it have tried to dive out of the windows of moving cars. Dr. Lawrence G. Roberts, aka “the creator of the freaking Internet,” blacked out and introduced a tree to the inner workings of his BMW after taking it, while other adults have just gone whole hog and committed suicide.
But instead of slamming that shit to bits with the ban hammer, the FDA has sort of gone in the exact opposite direction, approving Tamiflu for use with newborns and infants. Which we guess actually makes a twisted kind of sense — being skin sacks full of Jell-O, infants literally can’t chase the pretty colors, so running out into traffic isn’t really a concern. Also, they lack the fine motor skills to properly operate a handgun.
But the benefits are probably worth the possible side effects, right? After all, the flu is a really nasty, even potentially fatal virus that’s implicated in thousands of deaths every year. So if Tamiflu can save people, maybe it’s worth the risks. After all, a big-time medication like this wouldn’t even be on the shelves if it hadn’t been proven effective in numerous peer-reviewed double-blind scientific studies that — wait, it hasn’t? It doesn’t seem to have any effect on the flu? Tamiflu, like most other flu medications, doesn’t do anything (except maybe trigger a pseudo PCP freakout)?
Aaaaand, several of you are right now trying to think of how you can get your hands on some. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
#4. The Cholesterol Medication That Can Give You Amnesia
Lipitor is an extremely mundane-sounding cholesterol medication that has become the world’s top selling drug. The reason is pretty obvious: Everyone’s worried about heart disease in the land of the fried and the home of the battered, and Lipitor promises to scare the heart disease gremlins away.
The Side Effect:
Memory loss. And to be clear, we’re not talking about the “Gosh, where did I leave my keys?” type of memory loss that even the most intellectually refined of us suffer from daily — no, this is full-on “Where am I, who is this woman who says she’s my wife, and why is there adamantium fused to my skeleton?” amnesia.
That’s exactly what happened to 68-year-old Duane Graveline back in 1999 (minus the adamantium part … as far as we know). One minute the guy was just your average, run-of-the-mill former NASA astronaut; the next, he completely forgot who he was, where he lived, and who he was married to. And that’s a veritable tragedy because, while we acknowledge that every life is precious and all that jazz, we’re pretty sure that a former astronaut’s memories are objectively more valuable than the stupid shit that’s filling most of the rest of our heads. Luckily Graveline’s amnesia cleared up six hours later, and he stopped taking the drug immediately … until his doctor convinced him to give it another shot a year later and, sure enough, he had a second episode of the who-the-hell-are-yous.
Graveline is just one of the hundreds who’ve reported similar side effects to the FDA, and the really weird part is that no one knows exactly why Lipitor (and other “statin” drugs) have this effect on some people — partly because people who take heart disease medication tend to be older, and older people are already prone to dementia and other diseases that the memory loss might be mistaken for. But the leading theory is that cholesterol — the stuff that you know from commercials as being your arteries’ boogeyman — is actually vital for your brain to function properly because it insulates nerve cells. So while Lipitor is stripping the inside of your arteries, it might also be stripping those nerves and fucking up your brain’s capacity to remember stuff.
Of course, the FDA is nothing if not on the ball, and they jumped right on making the manufacturers of statin drugs add “Weapon X Syndrome” to their warning labels … in 2012.
#3. The Anti-Malaria Medication That May Make You a Deranged Psychopath
Lariam is the anti-malaria drug that, at least until 2009, was commonly prescribed to tourists, as well as being the standard go-to of the American Armed Forces for preventing malaria, which is a debilitating flu-like illness common in the kind of hot, muggy climates that always seem to be rife with debilitating flu-like illnesses.
The Side Effect:
Cambridge student Jessica Chapman is found unconscious from a drug overdose in some bushes near her home, one year after Irish student Malcolm Edge was found hanging in a Vietnam hotel room. Nightmares and constant anxiety drive lawyer Francis Macleod Matthews to jump from his London apartment. Four different soldiers return to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after tours of duty in Afghanistan and go full-on horror movie on their wives. What do all these stories have in common? Each of these people took Lariam while traveling abroad, and not one of them noticed “batshittedness” in the list of side effects (because it wasn’t there).
To be fair, not everyone who suffers side effects from Lariam turns all suicidal and/or stabby. Some people just rip off all their clothes and run through the street screaming, while others rip off all their clothes and become convinced that their families are going to be slaughtered by shadow monsters — like Jane Daehler, who, during a trip to Africa, had to be strapped to her seat with bed sheets and flown home, where she spent a solid month in a “Lariam-induced psychosis.”
Lariam freakouts are in fact so common that men and women in the service came up with slang terms for them: The days they took the medication were known as “Manic Mondays” or “Wild Wednesdays.” Sort of like how college students have “Thirsty Thursdays,” only with less shitty beer and more psychotic violence.
So how did this drug become so popular despite the fact that it’s basically the Scarecrow’s fear toxin from Batman Begins? Because the drug company that marketed it, Hoffmann-La Roche, claimed that only 1 in 10,000 users suffered “serious” side effects … which was completely true, when your definition of “serious” is “fatal or resulting in long term hospitalization.” Independent studies, however, found that 1 in 140 people who took Lariam tended to go a bit Mad Hatter, which would technically be a misnomer if it was labeled as a “serious” side effect, we guess.
Hoffmann-La Roche stopped producing Lariam in the U.S. in 2009, the same year that the military switched back to their old anti-malaria drug, doxycycline. But there’s good news for all you aspiring supervillains out there: Lariam, or mefloquine, is still widely available in its generic form.
#2. The Acne Medication That Can Make Your Brain Think It Has a Tumor
Accutane is the Special Forces of acne medications. While topical creams bang on acne’s door and flash their stupid little badges, Accutane sneaks in through the bloodstream and assassinates the shit out of acne by shutting down the production of sebum, the oils your face produces. Sure, there are some civilian casualties (your face dries right the hell out), but if they didn’t want to be accidentally murdered in the pursuit of the greater good, they shouldn’t have been called sebum. And besides, Accutane is only used when we’re dealing with, like, the Vietnam War of acne.
The Side Effect:
If serious acne is Vietnam, Accutane might just be its Agent Orange. One of its weirder side effects is giving you a brain tumor … or at least making your brain pretty damn sure that’s what’s happened. It’s called pseudotumor cerebri (because “phantom brain tumor” was already the name of a goth band), and it’s a disorder with all the symptoms of a brain tumor: dizziness, nausea, headaches, and “pulsating intracranial noises,” which is when you hear “whooshing” or “sloshing” inside your head.
But really, that’s only the creepiest side effect associated with Accutane. The list of things this drug will do to you is like the War and Peace of shitty drug side effects, but the personal anecdotes are where you’ll find the really twisted stuff. In addition to suicide (boring, we’ve already covered that a couple times now) and aggression (hell, good whiskey does that), Accutane will, and we’re quoting an actual user here, “make hair grow on the side of [your] nose, what the hell.” On the other hand, some people have suffered the opposite: long lasting or even permanent hair loss. In fact, the hair loss thing is so common that there’s a WikiHow specifically about trying to prevent it from happening.
So naturally, Hoffmann-La Roche (the company that makes Accutane) has stopped selling it, partly because of the decline in sales, but also because of the numerous personal injury lawsuits from people pissed off that their acne medication has (again, quoting an actual Accutane user) “ruined [their] life.” Generic versions of the drug are still available, though, in case you happen to have both a serious acne problem and a serious self-loathing problem.
#1. The Parkinson’s Medication That Could Turn You into a Sex-Addicted Gambling Junkie
Mirapex (or pramipexole, because medications are apparently required to have two names that are frustratingly-close-to-but-not-quite anagrams of each other) is a drug that, like marijuana, is prescribed to treat absolutely everything from cluster headaches to restless leg syndrome to bipolar disorder to, most commonly, Parkinson’s disease. And since Parkinson’s is probably the douchiest disease out there, what side effects could possibly outweigh the benefits?
The Side Effect:
Mirapex will turn you into a junkie for … well, pretty much anything. Just ask the 52-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer who blew $100,000 gambling before his wife dragged him back to his doctor (presumably by the ear) to figure out what the hell had caused his sudden change in behavior. Or maybe 62-year-old Russ Kelly of Pennsylvania, who found himself hopelessly addicted to Atlantic City’s blackjack tables (and tequila … so, so much tequila) after being prescribed Mirapex. And they’re not the exception: Mirapex alone “accounted for 58 percent of incidents of [prescription-related] gambling reported to the FDA.” It’s not just gambling, either: Class action lawsuits have been brought against the manufacturer of Mirapex by people who became inexplicably addicted to pornography, Internet sex, shopping, and even binge eating.
To be fair to Mirapex, it’s not the only Parkinson’s medication to carry this side effect. That’s because the most common and effective way to treat the disease is through dopamine agonists, which are medications that work by stimulating dopamine — the chemical in your brain closely related to being both happy and hopelessly addicted to stuff. So when you’re on these medications, the pleasure center of your brain still responds to all the same kinds of things it always has — only it’s hooked up to a 5 billion watt generator, making those impulses a lot harder to stop indulging once that switch gets flipped. So while right now you might spend an hour a day relaxing with, say, a beer and some good ol’ Internet porn, after taking dopamine agonists you’ll be chaining speedballs while breaknecking it down the breakdown lane on the way to Hookertown. … which, we must admit, still beats the absolute shit out of Parkinson’s.