The Hoax About Smoking Bed Bugs

You can’t trust everything you read online, especially when it involves getting high on blood-sucking insects.

By Jessie Schiewe


What does it feel like to smoke bed bugs? A lot like “walking through wet concrete.”

That’s what Shane Watson, a recovered addict turned motivational speaker, said in an ABC newscast from 2014 covering the newest, coolest street drug. “It’s something parents really need to be aware of,” the narrator in it says.

The reason people have turned to bed bugs —  those blood-feeding organisms that have been around since the dinosaurs and are a real nightmare to get rid of — is because they have known hallucinogenic properties that can get you high. First dried, they’re then crushed into tiny particles and either smoked or injected. According to the newscast, bed bugs have an active chemical in them called PH417 that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain where dopamine is released, giving the user a euphoric feeling.

 But if you look up PH417 online, there’s startlingly little information about it. Here’s what you will find:

  • 4 sports-related photos from Getty Images labeled “PH417”;

  • Photos of a historic “skull dagger” made by a Philippine revolutionary society called Katipunan from the late 19th century;

  • A course called “PH417: Global Women's Health Issues” taught at California State University, Monterey Bay;

  • A rental listing for a three-bedroom “cozy townhouse in Pasig City near Sandoval PH417” in the Philippines;

  • An eBay listing for a $12.82 pre-owned landline telephone with “big buttons”;

  • A YouTube video made by a college student called “PH 417: Cerebral Vasculitis Presentation”;

  • A course called “PH417: Nuclear Radiation Measurements” taught at the Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University.

What you won’t find is any information that links PH417 to smoking bed bugs.

That’s because the newscast that mentions PH417 — and the so-called bed bug smoking epidemic — was a hoax. The fact that the video was posted around April Fool’s Day should have tipped people off, as well as the fact that it was posted by John Cain, a video creator with a YouTube channel called “The Real FHRITP,” which stands for “Fuck Her Right In The Pussy.

But many people still fell for it. The video was posted on numerous sites, triggering a series of false news reports and online forum discussions. Through clever video editing skills, voice-over narration, spliced together footage of previous newscasts, and the use of made-up terms (like PH417), Cain was able to promulgate the idea that people are smoking bed bugs despite the fact that it is obviously a really bad idea.

“Very well done by the guy that created the video. It has absolutely blown up and gone viral,” Watson explained in a post-hoax YouTube video. The original smoking bed bugs newscast includes segments of him from a 2013 interview with ABC 15 in which he spoke about the dangers of dabbing butane hash oil.

In the wake of the hoax’s reveal, websites and blogs tried to do damage control by penning denunciations of it. Wired published a breaking news piece called “Smoking Bed Bug Will Not Get You High” and Snopes, the fact-checking website, debunked it as “false” almost immediately. Even pest control experts weighed in to help clear the air of any misunderstanding.

“When I first saw it, I totally put it on my social media account and was like, ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe this is happening,’ ” Jeff White of explained in a YouTube video. “That is disgusting. That’s why I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. Obviously bed bugs are blood-feeding organisms, and it may not be highly recommend to smoke them.”

White worried that the hoax video’s wide-reach would fool too many gullible people looking for an inexpensive and easy fix.

“The sad part is it was actually done very well,” he said. “Somebody’s going to think it’s real and try to do this. Why anybody would do that, I’m not quite sure, but we see all kinds of crazy stories about people trying to get high from all kinds of things.”