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What Actors Really Use for Controlled Substances in Movies

Sometimes, a movie or a TV script will call for an actor to indulge in some pretty hardcore drugs. We’ve seen it all, from cocaine being snorted to ecstasy pills getting devoured like Tic Tacs. If you’ve ever seen a character shoot up heroin or smoke out of a bong, you can rest assured that they were using fake drugs. The entertainment industry has gotten better and better at creating these faux narcotics so they can look as good as the real thing. Here are a few of their tricks.

1. Cocaine – “Homeland”

On the series Homeland, viewers have seen more than a few lines of cocaine sitting on tables and counter tops. The show’s property master confirmed that the ingredients for fake cocaine have been perfected throughout the years. So the next time you see cocaine being cut into lines on the show, just know that it’s a combination of cornstarch and a little bit of baby powder to break up the sticky consistency.


2. Heroin – “Trainspotting”

While watching “Trainspotting,” it’s hard to believe that all of the heroin being used among the Scottish was 100% fake. To align with the movies dark and gritty theme, the prop master decided to use unconventional methods to make the drug-fueled scenes more realistic. Real syringes were filled with dyed, and once the plunger on the syringe was moved up and down, it gave the appearance that blood was mixing in with the fake heroin.


3. Powdered Heroin – “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete”

For Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of a heroin addict, the crew decided to hit the Internet to do their due diligence. They scoured the web to talk to drug experts who could tell them what real powdered heroin was supposed to look like. Through their findings, they decided to go with a mixture of milk powder and a vitamin powder called Inositol. In the scenes where the heroin was being cooked, they substituted Inositol with sugar and baking soda instead so that the mixture could thicken up just like the real thing.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

4. Cocaine – “Scarface”

Some people really thought Al Pacino was living the high life while filming “Scarface,” but the product used to make the fake cocaine might actually surprise you. According to Steven Bauer, the actor who played Manny Ribera, the fake cocaine was actually a powdered baby laxative.


5. Marijuana – “Homeland”

Aside from the cocaine, Homeland also has scenes where Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) smokes marijuana. The show’s prop master, Gillian Albinski, said it’s always a struggle when pot is needed for film and TV shows. She said many actors would much rather smoke the real thing than to pretend to smoke the fake stuff. But it’s her job to make sure they’re equipped with her fake marijuana of choice: Oregano. It smells and looks a lot like the real thing.


6. Marijuana – “Going the Distance”

Moviegoers probably remember seeing the bong that was used during a scene of the Drew Barrymore film, Going the Distance. The prop master went to great lengths to make sure the bong looked like it had actually been smoked out of, and they also wanted to make sure the actors looked like they were getting high without actually smoking. So the crew reached out to a company that sells marijuana without the active ingredient THC. The actors were free to smoke it without any side effects. The crew even made the bong water look dirty by adding Coca-Cola and crushed cigarette flacks into the water.

7. Cocaine – “Horrible Bosses”

Mychael Bates, the prop master for the 2011 film Horrible Bosses, is a big fan of powdered lactose for scenes that call for cocaine. It can be snorted and it won’t affect the actor in any way. He even converted Colin Farrell into a fan of it, as well. The actor reportedly snorted the fake cocaine even when the cameras weren’t rolling so that could stay in character.

horrible bosses

8. Marijuana – “The Breakfast Club”

The Breakfast Club was filmed at a time when marijuana use was considered taboo – especially for young adults and teenagers. So, of course, there was no way the film was going to allow its stars to smoke and pass around the real thing. Instead, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall smoked oregano joints and pretended to be stoned out of their minds.

breakfast club

9. Crack – “Half Nelson”

We never thought we’d see Ryan Gosling as a crack addict. However, as Dan Dunne in the 1996 film Half Nelson, Gosling proved his acting range was much deeper than his portrayal of Noah in The Notebook. Before he filmed his first scene, he moved to a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, shadowed a real NYC teacher around town, and interacted with people who had real-life crack addictions. When it came time to film, prop master Jeremy Balon broke an off-white coffee mug into a million pieces, and then dyed in coffee. In many scenes of the film, a crack rock was actually a piece of the porcelain mug that was sitting in front of a small ball of tobacco. When the tobacco was lit, it gave the appearance that the “crack rock” was smoking.

half nelson

10. Ecstasy Pills – “Are We There Yet?”

Authenticity is always the goal when it comes to using fake drugs, and a prop master for TBS’s “Are We There Yet?” and USA’s “Political Animals” put in extra time to make sure the fake ecstasy pills looked as real as possible. Sugar placebo pills from a prop house were used, and each one was simply marked with a rubber stamped dipped in food coloring to brand it with its own signature logo. The actors are able to ingest the pill without experiencing the wonky side effects that come with taking the real thing.

ecstasy pills

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