Claim: Hollywood celebrities and Democrat politicians are using adrenochrome harvested from abused children to get high or stay forever young.
The pandemic has brought once fringe conspiracy theories to wider audiences. One threatening to go mainstream involves the chemical adrenochrome. Like many conspiracy theories, it comes in multiple overlapping versions. Central to them, however, is that adrenochrome has widely desired effects, but can only be sourced from terrified captives, preferably children. According to the stories, various Hollywood celebrities, senior Democrats, and a few billionaires, are enjoying mind-altering trips or keeping themselves young this way. Since trauma supposedly makes the chemical more potent, the children in these stories are being sexually abused.
If the best conspiracy theories have a kernel of truth to them, then this one is very bad. The only real aspect here is that a chemical called adrenochrome exists and is related to adrenaline.
Adrenochrome (3-hydroxy-1-methyl-2,3-dihydro-1H-indole-5,6-dione) can be produced by oxidizing the hormone adrenaline, famous for driving animals' fight-or-flight response.
In the 1950s various people, most famously Aldous Huxley, claimed adrenochrome had psychoactive effects similar to mescaline and might contribute to schizophrenia. Whether this is true or not remains disputed, but if you're seeking a mind-altering substance there are more reliable drugs, including some that may have beneficial side effects.
Perhaps inspired by reading Huxley, American author Hunter S Thompson referred to adrenochrome as a superdrug in two of his books. In 1971's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, the character Dr Gonzo tells the narrator; “There’s only one source for this stuff... the adrenaline glands from a living human body. It’s no good if you get it out of a corpse." Terry Gilliam filmed the book and claimed Thompson told him he'd made the drug up. Gilliam didn't know adrenochrome actually exists, but what Thompson really believed, and where he got his information, died with him.
Whether the story was just too good to ignore, or people thought that Thompson's vast experience with drugs meant he must know what he was talking about, the idea metastasized from there.
Most recently the adrenochrome myth has merged with a much older one. For centuries hatred has been whipped up against religious and sexual minorities through the “blood libel” allegations of Satanic rites using the blood of innocents. That story has become so tired, however, it needed sprucing up. Thompson's adrenochrome tale proved just the ticket. And thus the "harvesting adrenochrome from the blood of children" myth was born.
On the darkest corners of the Internet pretty much every prominent person hostile to Donald Trump was being accused of using adrenochrome. People with no idea what adrenochrome is were convinced a world-controlling cabal was farming it from kidnapped and abused children.
Even within the Pizzagate and QAnon conspiracy ecosystems, some find the adrenochrome story too embarrassing to promote, at least directly. But allusions to it are common, while some leading figures are more explicit. After all, if you can believe a pizza parlor that ran occasional fundraisers for Democrat candidates hosts pedophilic orgies in its non-existent basement, the addition of adrenochrome farms isn't hard to swallow.
QAnon believers are abundant enough to create a market for adrenochrome myths far larger than the real market for adrenochrome. However, the breakout to the wider rightwing movement began when Infowars alleged the Clinton Foundation was selling children's blood to keep people young. A thousand Youtube videos popped up claiming adrenochrome was the transfusion's secret ingredient.
It might have been hoped something this lacking in substance would just fade away, but instead it is hanging around, and doing real harm to the people believers claim they want to help. Others try to make money by pretending to sell adrenochrome (via cryptocurrencies of course).
There's plenty more branches to this fractal fantasy, which other sites explore in more depth. However, the most straightforward refutation is this: anyone wanting adrenochrome (including for its role in treating excess bleeding) doesn't need to torture children to get it. Although humans can produce adrenochrome as a byproduct of adrenaline, it is also easy – and more importantly cheap – to synthesize. However evil you think someone is, it's unlikely they are evil enough to commit crimes that, if exposed, would lead to execution or life sentences for a chemical that costs a few cents per dose.