‘Fear the Walking Dead’: Was Nick’s Adrenal Brain Stem Drug Real?

#FTWD Nick Troy

AMC Nick and Troy

The scenes in Fear the Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 14 where Nick got high on a strange brain stem “cannibal-esque” drug actually have connections to another well-known film (and book): Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But is the drug that Nick and Troy took by eating part of a brain stem even real?

No, it’s not. Here’s why.

This post will have spoilers through Season 3 Episode 14. 

During the show, Nick and Troy took a very strange drug. It was described as an actual human brain stem that contained chemicals from the adrenal gland.

Does this have any basis in reality?

First, the adrenal glands are actually located on the top of each kidney. So if you’re unsure how eating a brain stem, like Nick and Troy did in Fear the Walking Dead, was going to get them high from adrenal glands, you’re not alone. (Of course, who’s to say that what they ate was actually what they were told they were given…)

When presented the drug, the man said they were getting “a nucleus from the brain stem” that was going to boost their adrenaline. The man then suggested that the glands were from pigs, but many viewers thought these were actually human glands.

Some fans said this episode bore some resemblance to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because of the portrayals of drug use, and that was likely part of the inspiration for the drug that Nick and Troy took. The drug at issue is called “adrenochrome.” Hunter S. Thompson mentions it in his book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and the drug also appears in the movie. In the fictional portrayals, it’s a drug that is taken from the human adrenal gland. However, the effects of the drug were made up.

Terry Gilliam and Thompson admitted in the DVD commentary that Thompson’s portrayal was a fictional exaggeration. Gilliam, in fact, insisted the drug was entirely fictional, possibly not knowing about a substance with a similar name.

Adrenochrome refers to a chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline. It can also be synthesized by the oxidation of epinephrine. Small scale studies in the 1950s and 1960s that only involved about 15 test subjects or fewer claimed that adrenochrome could trigger psychotic reactions, derealization, and euphoria. However, those studies were far too small to be deemed reliable. Today, scientists don’t believe that adrenochrome has any psychedelic properties.

In summary, if you’re wondering if the “brain stem drug” that Troy and Nick took exists in real life, it doesn’t appear to. First, the adrenal glands aren’t even in the brain. But even more importantly, scientists today don’t believe adrenochrome causes a psychedelic reaction. And the drug that Fear the Walking Dead most likely got the idea from, shown in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was entirely made up.