When practical jokes and chemistry don’t mix.

I’m all for making chemistry accessible to all, heck I even write another blog on the subject. So I’m generally pretty pleased to see chemistry in the main stream media and large blogs.  But this time a large science/tech blog, Gizmodo, has gone too far.

Yesterday Gizmodo published a guest post called “How to Use Basic Chemistry to Scare the Hell Out of Your Neighbours” from William Gurstelle.  Well that already sounds pretty sinister to me, but hey it’s almost Halloween, so maybe the post describes a few harmless pranks for a party, glow in the dark jelly perhaps?

But oh no, William Gurstelle has got grander ideas. Amongst other things he’s suggesting that you spike drinks with methylene blue! The result is that your party guests will starting peeing blue. Oh how we laughed on the way to the emergency room when the methylene blue cross reacted with some other medication causing serious damage to the central nervous system!  Granted Gurstelle does state “For the vast majority of people a tiny dose of methylene blue is harmless”. But I wonder how he knows which of his guests are going to just pee blue and which ones might end up in hospital after his little prank?

Gurstelle’s other suggestions aren’t any better. Spraying a mixture of ammonia and match heads around seems eminently stupid to me.

I can’t believe how astonishingly irresponsible Gizmodo has been in publishing this. They have a pretty big audience (with 1/2 million ‘likes’ on Facebook and a similar number of twitter followers), and so there is a pretty good chance someone will try and follow their instructions with potentially disastrous consequences.



I have sent an email to the editors Gizmodo expressing concerns. I’ll let you know of any response:

Dear Editor,
I would like to express my deep concern  about your article “How to Use Basic Chemistry to Scare the Hell Out of Your Neighbours”.  I feel that condoning the practical jokes described in the article is extremely irresponsible. Maybe you aren’t aware of the potential on consequences of some of these jokes, so let me help you.

Methylene blue is used to treat a number of medical conditions. And like any drug treatments it can interact with other pharmaceuticals resulting in serious side effects. In the case of methylene blue it should NEVER be taken with certain psychiatric medication because it can cause serious damage to the central nervous system.  This is spelled out here http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm263190.htm .

You should note that this FDA article specifically states that Prozac reacts with methylene blue. In the US about 25 million people are prescribed Prozac annually, that accounts for about 10% of the adult population. So there is a very good chance that someone who has had a drink  been spiked with methylene blue will have an adverse effect.

The rest of the article is equally irresponsible. For example , squirting ammonia around could easily result in chemical burns to peoples’ eyes.

These are not just my concerns, comments on your article, your facebook page, twitter and reddit  make it clear that many people are very worried about your article.

Please do the responsible thing and take the article down.

I will post this email and your response on www.Chemistry-blog.com



Update: Read other peoples’ reaction to Gizmodo’s lunacy here & here .

& the Royal Society of Chemistry have joined the condemnation of Gizmodo.



  1. Pingback: Chemistry Based Practical Jokes | Philosophically Disturbed

  2. oh no, they drink methylene blue so that they pee in blue. I just can’t imagine that.

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