Why Did Shia LaBeouf Drop Acid and Drink Hooch?

Method Acting: a form of acting where the actor mystically ‘becomes’ the character or tries to somehow literally live the character in life.

Some actors will do almost anything to get into their character. Tom Hanks is famous for his dramatic weight loss for roles in Philadelphia and Castaway. In My Left Foot, Daniel Day Lewis refused to leave his character’s wheelchair, spoke in the broken dialect of an individual afflicted with cerebral palsy and even had crew members feed him.

And now actor Shia LaBeouf is showing what he is will to do for a role. Having finished his run in the hugely popular Transformer franchise, LaBeouf has moved on to a number of independent films.

In Lawless, LaBeouf plays one of three brothers who are Depression-era bootleggers.  USA Today reported that in order to properly play moonshine-drunk, LaBeouf “drinks the real stuff and lets the bloated, hallucinogenic results play out on-screen.”

And for the Sundance Film Festival slated film, The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, he plays a guy who falls for a woman claimed by a violent crime boss. When the character is supposed to go on an LSD trip, LaBeouf took a day off for a “practice run” saying:

There’s a way to do an acid trip like Harold & Kumar, and there’s a way to be on acid…. What I know of acting, Sean Penn actually strapped up to that [electric] chair in ‘Dead Man Walking.’ These are the guys that I look up to.

While LaBeouf is a very talented actor, we hope he does not use his craft as an excuse to turn to drug addiction.

Here’s your drink. Would you like some manure with that?

Moonshine is an illegal distillation of alcohol. It is also called white lightning, mountain dew, hooch, “Tennessee white whiskey”, as well as many other names. It is a very high proof distilled spirit, often up to 190 proof (95% alcohol) . The word is believed to derive from early English smugglers and illegal Appalachian distillers who secretly, by the light of the moon, produced and distributed whiskey.

The recipe for moonshine is simple and consists of corn meal, sugar, yeast and water. The mixture is put into a still made of copper or stainless steel. It is traditionally accompanied by a water filled barrel with a copper tubing coil which acts as a condenser. Unlike commercially prepared whiskey, moonshine is not aged. Aging for years in charred oak barrels is what gives whiskey it’s golden color. There is no mellowing in the nearly clear moonshine, which is why it has such a “kick.” Some moonshiners would artificially give “more kick” to the drink, by including substances such as manure, embalming fluid, bleach, rubbing alcohol and even paint thinner. These “additives” can be extremely toxic.

Moonshiners are not known for sanitary conditions or the careful maintenance of their stills. Sometimes insects or small animals to fall into the mash while it’s fermenting.

Moonshine Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

During Prohibition , when moonshine was made and sold in “speakeasies” across the United States, thousands of people died from drinking bad moonshine.

There’s no inspection of the manufacturing process, so quality—and levels of contamination—vary.  Aside from drinking too much and doing something dumb (think Jackass dumb) the biggest risk is lead poisoning.   Some homemade stills consist of car radiators or pipes that were dangerously soldered together.

A common folk test for the quality of moonshine was to pour a small quantity of it into a spoon and set it on fire. The theory was that a safe distillate burns with a blue flame, but a tainted distillate burns with a yellow flame.  If a radiator coil had been used as a condenser, then there would be lead in the distillate, which would give a reddish flame. This led to the mnemonic, “Lead burns red and makes you dead.” Although the flame test will show the presence of lead and fuel oils, it will not reveal the presence of methanol, which burns with an invisible flame. Methanol is high toxic in humans. If ingested, as little as 1/3 of an ounce of pure methanol can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve.

“Don’t take LSD unless you are very well prepared … to go out of your mind.” — Timothy Leary

Hallucinogenic compounds found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) have been used—mostly during religious rituals—for centuries.  Many hallucinogens have chemical structures similar to those of natural neurotransmitters (such as acetylcholine, serotonin, or catecholamines).

LSD (d-lysergic acid diethylamide) is one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals. It was discovered in 1938 by Dr. Albert Hoffman and is manufactured from lysergic acid, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains.

The experience of taking LSD,  referred to as  a “trip” are long; beginning within 30 to 90 minutes of ingestion and lasting about 12 hours.

Sensations and feelings change much more dramatically than the physical signs in people under the influence of LSD. The user may feel several different emotions at once or swing rapidly from one emotion to another.

If taken in large enough doses, the drug produces delusions and visual hallucinations. The user’s sense of time and self is altered. Experiences may seem to “cross over” different senses, giving the user the feeling of hearing colors and seeing sounds. These changes can be frightening and can cause panic. Some LSD users experience severe, terrifying thoughts and feelings of despair, fear of losing control, or fear of insanity and death while using LSD.

LSD users can also experience flashbacks, or recurrences of certain aspects of the drug experience. Flashbacks occur suddenly, often without warning, and may do so within a few days or more than a year after LSD use. In some individuals, the flashbacks can persist and cause significant distress or impairment in social or occupational functioning, a condition known as hallucinogen-induced persisting perceptual disorder (HPPD).

Physically, LSD causes dilated pupils; can raise body temperature and increase heart rate and blood pressure; can cause profuse sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremors.

So where did Shia get these illegal substances for use in his method acting? Were they taken under a doctor’s supervision? Did the studio provide life or health insurance to the actor while he worked on his part?

I only hope his next role isn’t as  a death-row inmate about to undergo a lethal injection!

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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