Parents in the area shouldn't be too concerned if their children come home with photocopied warnings of a scary-sounding "new way of selling acid" -- LSD -- to kids.
A professor who specializes in modern folklore said the story is "the most insidious urban drug legend" he's found in a career devoted to tracking down wild stories.
The photocopied warnings surfaced last week, when police in Summit County's Franklin Township and school officials in Stark County distributed them to residents and students.
Though one warning claims to have originated in San Diego, Calif., and the other in Washtenaw County, Mich., both contain identically worded sections describing the drug and the danger it poses to children.
The circulars warn parents to beware that drug dealers are giving LSD to unsuspecting children by pushing LSD-soaked "tattoos" or stickers.
The popular tattoo transfers -- commonly known as lick-and-stick transfers -- are legally sold to children, who moisten the paper transfer, apply it to their skin, and are rewarded with a colorful "tattoo" of a cartoon character. Unlike real tattoos, the ink transfers wash off.
According to the local warnings, the LSD-soaked transfers are a danger because children who attempted to use them would absorb the drug "and have a fatal trip."
Both warnings say, "It is also feared that little children could be given a free tattoo by older children who want to have some fun."
Nonsense, said Jan Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah and an editor of the Journal of American Folklore.
"Surely it is a dreadful thought, but just as surely it is a folk fantasy," Brunvand said. "I am not aware of any documented instance of LSD being absorbed into a cartoon-character transfer."
Brunvand said the drug circulars are part of a common type of urban legend that folklorists call "Xeroxlore" because people spread the story with photocopies instead of by word of mouth.
Brunvand devotes an entire chapter to the LSD-tattoo tale in his 1984 book, The Choking Doberman and Other New Urban Legends.
According to Brunvand, the legend was apparently born when well-meaning citizens saw police bulletins about blotter acid, a version of LSD in which small squares of thick, porous paper are impregnated with the drug. Users take the LSD by swallowing the paper.
He said in 1980 the New Jersey State Police Narcotics Bureau distributed a bulletin informing the public about a batch of blotter acid in which tiny pictures of Mickey Mouse were printed on each square. This bulletin included the sentence that "children may be susceptible to this type of cartoon stamp, believing it a tattoo transfer."
Soon afterward, photocopied circulars warning of LSD-impregnated tattoo transfers appeared across the country, he said. He said real tattoo transfers are printed on pieces of slick, coated paper which "is not porous enough to absorb drops of LSD."
Brunvand's book and stories published in the Beacon Journal in December 1981 describe how the rumor got a regional boost in Ohio when Jack McCormick, the then-superintendent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, wrote a memo about a version of the rumor he traced to the state of Delaware. At about the same time, bureau investigators tested a large batch of suspected blotter acid that was decorated with blue stars.
The blotter acid turned out to be fake, but Columbus-area reporters mistakenly linked the memo to the blotter acid, reporting that LSD tattoos had been found.
Bureau spokesman George Walton said state lab workers usually test more than 200 batches of confiscated LSD every year and have never found LSD in tattoo transfers.
"I'm just waiting for rumors about Garfield Acid, or Smurf Acid, or maybe Mary Worth Acid," Brunvand said.
He said people who are less knowledgeable tend to circulate exaggerated legends about drug users who commit horrible acts while under the influence of drugs. The legends include stories of drug users who blind themselves by staring at the sun or who mistake babies for turkeys and bake them in ovens.
He said less morbid drug legends include an espeically popular story that described how a police officer gives an anti-drug lecture to a high school class. During the lecture he gives the students a dish with a marijuana cigarette on it, and urges them to pass it around and examine it carefully so they'll recognize marijuana in the future.
By the time the dish is returned to the policeman, it has several marijuana cigarettes on it.
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