With the season of ghosts and goblins well underway, Outliers decided to take a look at what’s frighteningly real and ridiculously false about Halloween and associated menaces.
Don’t get spooked by Halloween perils. These are mostly bunk
Worried there’ll be a razor blade or pin hidden in the apple Junior collects on his trick-or-treat rounds? Not likely. Tales of what’s labeled “Halloween sadism” fall into the realm of urban legend. Joel Best and another sociologist published a paper in the journal Social Problems in 1985, stating such stories “emerged during the early 1970s to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of crime, and other sources of social strain.”
Few documented cases exist, at least involving strangers. An 8-year-old Texas lad did die in 1974 after eating cyanide-laced Pixy Stix. Alas, his own father did the deed. Most reported incidents turn out to be hoaxes, according to Best, who has studied the phenomenon.
In 1993, three doctors looked into the results of screenings of 454 bags of candy at five hospitals and three immediate-care centers. The result, published in Annals of Emergency Medicine: Nada. Or in researcher-speak: “No unknown radiopaque items were discovered.”
Ah, but what about candy laced with LSD, THC or some other mind-altering substance being handed out to trick-or-treaters? This year, after Pennsylvania police confiscated a big stash of edibles made to look like Nerds Rope and containing 400 mg of THC per rope, warnings went out for parents to be on the lookout come Halloween.
Given that marijuana edibles are quite pricey and the items seized had packaging declaring it contained THC, it’s not a likely candidate for being handed out to trick-or-treaters. “Probably people are not going to, you know, get a big package of (THC gummy) bears and distribute them to the neighborhood kids,” Best told the website Greatist.
The few cases of kids ingesting marijuana edibles are almost all accidental, as in they just found one somewhere; they weren’t doled out to trick-or-treaters.
Enough of the mostly apocryphal. Being frightened to death is a thing, caused by a massive rush of adrenaline that can knock the heart muscle out of action. But probably not over Halloween.
“You can have a sudden cardiac-related event related to an adrenaline surge, but I think it would be a stretch to say you could get that from someone coming in a werewolf costume to your front door,” Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a cardiologist in Illinois, told the American Heart Association.
How to ward off such a fate? Stay fit. “I would speculate that aerobic exercise might be preventative or at least modify the body’s response” to adrenaline, Bufalino said.
And back to folklore. Marie Antoinette syndrome—as in hair suddenly turning white as the French queen’s is purported to have done in prison—may happen in novels and folk tales, but not real life.
“There are no living cells in the hair. Psycho-social stress can’t affect the hair fiber that’s already formed, it can only affect the fibers as they’re forming,” Des Tobin, director of the Centre for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford in England, told the Atlantic. That means your hair could go white in a matter of months after a trauma.
And the queen? Speculation is she dyed her hair, but wasn’t able to do so in prison. Also she was imprisoned for a year before her appointment with the guillotine, plenty of time for hair to grow out white.
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