'Jenkem' Drug Warning
By David Emery
Netlore Archive: Forwarded bulletin from Collier County Sheriff's Office in Naples, Florida warns that a new homemade intoxicant called jenkem, consisting of the gases emitted by fermenting human feces, is now "a popular drug in American schools."
Description: Viral alert
Circulating since: Oct. 2007
Status: Mostly false (see details below)
Email contributed by Victoria G., Nov. 1, 2007:
Subject: FW: New Drug affecting our Children
Click to Enlarge
Screenshot of .PDF file circulating via email
Analysis: The Collier County Sheriff's Office in Naples, Florida has confirmed issuing this internal bulletin on September 26, 2007. However, Sheriff's deputies admit they know of no confirmed instances of jenkem use in their jurisdiction, and when WINK-TV News questioned several students at a local high school, all said they had never heard of the substance, let alone tried it.
No credible evidence has been advanced to show that jenkem use is widespread or popular anywhere in America.
For that matter, it's impossible to find evidence that jenkem use is widespread or popular even in Africa, where, according to the few mentions one finds in 10 years of news coverage, the practice of huffing gases emitted by fermenting human waste was originally born. Every source describing this phenomenon specifies just one geographical location the slums of Lusaka, Zambia as a hotbed of jenkem activity, and there only by desperate street kids who can't afford to sniff glue or gasoline.
(Etymological note: The word "jenkem" may be a corruption of "Genkem," which is the brand name of a glue manufactured in South Africa reputed to be very popular among drug users. In some places "Genkem" has come to refer generically to any form of glue or solvent inhaled as an intoxicant.)
Sheriff's bulletin is based on faulty Internet research
I could find no media references dated prior to the issuance of the Collier County Sheriff's bulletin mentioning jenkem use at all in the United States. The closer one examines this document, the more it appears to be the product of faulty Internet research.
The illustrations, consisting of photos of a glass bottle marked "Jenkem" containing a brownish liquid that looks like raw sewage, including one showing a teenage boy in a blue T-shirt apparently inhaling fumes from that bottle, would seem to verify the claim that ordinary young folks are doing jenkem nowadays. But where did these images come from? They were originally posted, I discovered, in a forum called "Better Living Through Chemistry" on Totse.com. The pertinent thread, titled "I Am Trying Jenkem Tomorrow," was initiated in June 2007 by an individual nicknamed "Pickwick," who regaled his readers with an ongoing narrative of his alleged experiences making and huffing jenkem. (UPDATE: The thread was deleted without explanation on October 7, 2007.)
"I became probably the first person in America to huff his own shit gas," Pickwick boasted in a June 13 entry. "After breathing it in I immediately felt that I was passing out. I did not even have time to spit before I became unconscious. When I woke up my spittle had oozed out of my mouth and down my chin. I asked my friend how long I was out for. He said for about a minute, and that he had repeatedly tried to wake me but I would not wake up. During this short conversation I began to feel light dissociative effects come over me, accompanied by buzzing in my ears. The feeling got stronger and stronger until I felt like I was in a dream."
Hoax images turned up in Collier County Sheriff's bulletin
The trouble is, it wasn't a dream. It was a hoax. Three months later, in September, a contrite Pickwick admitted, "Yes, I faked it. The poop was really flour and water dough rolled in Nutella. The piss was beer and water. The pictures of it after it fermented were of a completely new bottle. I never inhaled any poop gas and got high off it. I have deleted the pictures, hopefully no weirdo saved them to his computer. I just don't want people to ever recognize me as the kid who huffed poop gas."
Shortly thereafter, several of those images turned up in the Collier County Sheriff's bulletin in support of the claim that jenkem use is taking hold in America.
Mr. Pickwick's fabricated testimony got around, too. It was quoted on the satirical website Encyclopedia Dramatica (beware, this site contains offensive language) in its own rather imaginative wiki article on jenkem, which also boasted in revisions pre-dating the Collier County Sheriff's bulletin the complete list of alleged slang terms for jenkem cited there ("Butthash," "Winnie," "Runners," etc.), as well as the now-familiar, unsupported claim that the drug is currently popular with American school children.
How anyone managed to confuse this website, a loose-knit repository of sophomoric, racist humor, with a credible source, I don't know. The "Jenkem" entry actually goes on to attribute the drug's alleged popularity in the United States to and I quote "the success of 'Chocolate Rain' [last summer's runaway YouTube hit by Internet phenom Tay Zonday] whose lyrics implicitly refer to the practice and social effects of jenkem abuse."
According to Zonday the song is about racism.
It is plain to see that directly or indirectly, the author of the Collier County Sheriff's bulletin based his or her presentation on faulty Internet sources, borrowing photos from a message board posting that was later admitted to be hoax, and quoting invented "facts" from a website noted for its far-out satirical chicanery. At bottom, the only thing demonstrably true in the bulletin insofar as it has actually been reported in usually-reliable sources is the claim that jenkem, a homemade drug consisting of the fumes of fermenting sewage, originated in Africa.
Are kids in Iowa, Washington, or Florida doing it? I really, really doubt it.
Sources and further reading:
Are Local Kids Using Human Waste to Get High?
WINK-TV News, 2 November 2007
Inside Africa: The AIDS Epidemic
CNN Insight transcript, 21 March 2000
Children Get High on Sewage
BBC News, 30 July 1999
In Zambia, the Abandoned Generation
New York Times, 18 September 1998
Zambia Narcotics: 'Huffing and Puffing' to New High
Inter Press Service English News Wire, 26 August 1995
Last updated: 11/07/07