U.S. note pharmaceutical advertisers face a difficult dilemma. Because of truth-in-advertising laws, any commercial giving indications for use of a prescription drug must give full disclosure of side effects.
This means that drug commercials come in the following four flavors:
- "Healthoxine. Because you're worth it." The "reminder" commercial alternates shots of flowered meadows, senior citizens, and doctors, all while saying generally positive things about nothing in particular and mentioning the name of the drug. This evades both mentioning the side effects and what the drug actually does. This type is far less common these days; most commercials that still do this are the ones that give you help down there, because, due to social mores, they can't directly name what their product does anyway. Some of these ads tried to skirt the issue by naming another drug indicated for the same thing.
- "Ask your doctor if Happypills are right for you." This commercial actually does tell you what the pill is for, and then spends the rest of the commercial breaking the bad news gently: "If you have seasonal allergies, Mxyzptlkacine may be right for you. Side effects of Mxyzptlkacine are uncommon, and include headache, nausea, vomiting, death, dizziness, vaginal ejaculations, dysentery, cardiac arrhythmia, mild heart explosions, varicose veins, darkened stool, darkened soul, lycanthropy, trucanthropy, more vomiting, arteriosclerosis, hemorrhoids, diabeetus, virginity, mild discomfort, vampirism, gender impermanence, spontaneous dental hydroplosion, sugar high, even more vomiting, brown, your mom, and mild rash."
And yet, apparently, even after all this, enough people still want to get the drug that the cost of advertising is justified. Probably because while all the above side effects are being listed, the actors in the commercial are having the times of their lives.
- "Why live with the heartbreak of psoriasis?" A newer breed of commercial, the "help seeking" ad doesn't even mention the brand at all. Instead, it poses a public service announcement, offering a pamphlet you can receive — or now, a website you can visit — offering information on treatment options for a certain disease... "including a prescription treatment option." This one line is the real reason for the commercial; the pamphlet is an ad for the company's new drug, and the company wants you to read it since, in print, they're still allowed to hide the list of side effects in 1-point type. This kind of ad eventually becomes one for the drug in the pamphlet.
- "Are you at the end of your rope? There's hope." Another relatively new breed of commercial. The pitch here is to try to convince the viewer that the product works in a new way or is their last hope when everything else has failed. The commercial may even say that the product works in a different way than other types of medications that treat the particular condition. The hope here is to target those that are desperate for relief and therefore are willing to risk the long list of side effects in the hope that maybe this will be the product that finally gives them relief. Of course, in this case, the condition will likely be mentioned prominently, since how can the consumer know that they're at the end of their rope about a particular condition if they don't know what that condition is?
Also, many commercials try to invoke a viewer's "Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!" by having interesting, pretty scenes distracting them from the laundry list of side effects being rattled off. They do this by showing interesting situations like an asthma medication showing an elephant representing difficulty breathing following a man around during his day, or a world made of plumbing for a medication which helps you control frequent urination.
Of course, if you've actually talked with your doctor about your problems, then your doctor would already have told you if Stupidoxin was right for you. But pharmaceutical companies continue to heavily advertise because you might have been too embarrassed to mention the problem to your doctor until you realized there was a treatment for it. Or you might not have considered it to be a problem at all until you saw the commercial with all the other people who were horribly embarrassed by their yellow toenails/hairy knuckles/insufficiently-lustrous eyelashes/etc, and realized that you needed to get the cure. Or even worse, you might have told your doctor about your problem but didn't request Stupidoxin by name, and so your doctor prescribed an equally-effective generic brand instead! (Somewhere an ad man is crying.)
The prevalence of these commercials has resulted in this trope often being played for laughs, with the side effects being a ridiculously long list, the effects disproportionately bad compared to the condition the drug is supposed to treat, or the side effects becoming extremely bad, often including death, only to finish off with an incredibly mild condition like bad breath or a small rash.
Compare and contrast What Were They Selling Again?, where specifics about the product are obscured unintentionally. Objects with more extreme or fantastic warnings fall under Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ball.
Examples include (consult your doctor for more information):
- There is a commercial for NexGard (dog flea medication) that actually has a list of side effects. By all means, we want Fido to be healthy, but a list of side effects on a commercial like that just feels odd.
- The weight-loss drug Xenical exemplifies the second type of commercial. Its side effects included "gas with oily discharge, increased bowel movements, an urgent need to have them, and an inability to control them." Xenical's over-the-counter version is called Alli, whose listed side-effects are deconstructed here.
- One asthma commercial mentioned that their product "may increase your risk of death." Death by what, they didn't say, but one assumes it could be everything from suffocation to explosive decompression, and they're just keeping their bases covered.
- Some adverts (also prevalent in print media) simply state: "Ask your doctor about _________'s story."
- Back in the '80s, when Rogaine was still a prescription drug, television commercials about it were pretty vague about what it did, except inasmuch as it pertained in some manner to an active lifestyle. Absent outside information, the most obvious conclusion to reach was that it had something to do with skiing. Calls to the toll-free number during this era required the operator to mail the information. They couldn't give it out on the phone.
- Channel 4 got into a deserved bit of bother from Ofcom for advertising erectile dysfunction services before the watershed. The adverts in question resembled a cross between a relaxation tape and a personal loan advert, and it was only the constant use of words like "erection" that marked them for what they were.
- Dulcolax a stool softener, whose ads contain soothing guitar chords and pictures of... animated women caressing armchairs.
- This one shows the woman being tossed into the air on a blanket. If that was me, I'd shit myself, all right...
- One example of the third are ads on American sports evens for "Is It Low T?", which doesn't even push a drug and puts the drug company's name in small print near the bottom. It's pretty clear from the ads (and made explicit on their website) that they're promoting their treatment for lowered testosterone in men. The Fridge Logic kicks in, though, when you realize that everything that would treat said condition would be either a steroid or a steroid precursor. And they're sponsoring sports (particularly baseball) that have had serious issues trying to stop steroid use.
- One Benadryl commercial says "What will you miss when you have an allergy attack?" Probably the same thing you'll miss when you're sleeping off that Benadryl, as one of the side effects is extreme sleepiness. This is because the active ingredient of Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) is both an antihistamine and a sleep aid: commonly found in "PM" versions of OTC medicines as well as many straight-up sleep medicines like Simply Sleep and ZZZQuil (it's not as strong as the other OTC sleep aid, Doxylamine, found in Unisom, so it's more useful in broad). It is a simple remedy for dogs who are terrified of thunderstorms: the poor dog is too drugged and sleepy to be scared.
- E-Trade (a stock trading website) had a commercial parodying this format. It was an ad for the fictional allergy medication Nozulla, featuring a woman frolicking in a field of flowers, while the narrator explained that "Nozulla may cause the following symptoms: itchy rashes, full-body hair loss, projectile vomiting, gigantic eyeball, the condition known as "hotdog fingers", children born with the head of a golden retriever, seeing the dead, bone liquefication, possession by the Prince of Darkness, tail growth, elderly pregnancy..." The scene pulls back to a man watching this ad on his TV, and he immediately turns to his computer and sells all his stocks in the makers of Nozulla.
- In the mid-2000s there was an ad for a medicine to cure social anxiety disorder. The lengthy and varied list of side effects seemed to consist entirely of symptoms which would make the hapless patient socially-unacceptable, including loss of bladder control, uncontrollable vomiting, bad breath, and most hilariously, "sexual side effects", which everyone naturally interpreted to mean impotence. So it was a drug that allowed you to go to parties and ensured you wouldn't be invited, which enabled you to talk to girls and prevented you from going beyond just talking. It was like an O. Henry story in convenient pill form.
- One commercial for an asthma medication included the side effect "may worsen asthma".
- While not directly parodying this type of commercial per se, a GEICO ad featured the R&B group Boyz II Men working at a pharmacy, and singing side effects of a medication to a customer in the style of a soul ballad.
"You're gonna have dizziness, nausea, sweaty eyelids, and in severe cases, chronic flatulence... Soooo, gassy girl..."
- The first ads in magazines for (Modess brand) tampons simply showed a picture of an elegantly-dressed woman with the caption "Modess ... because." If you didn't know what Modess was, the ad wouldn't help you figure it out in the slightest.
- This fake beauty product ad turns into a trailer for Resident Evil: Apocalypse when the side effects are revealed.
- Jeff Foxworthy talked about this in his stand-up routines.
- From Have Your Loved Ones Spayed or Neutered, repeated in Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again:
"Try new Floraflor. For itchy, watery eyes, it's Floraflor. Side effects may include: nausea, vomiting, water weight gain, lower back pain, receding hairline, eczema, seborrhea, psoriasis, itchy chafing clothing, liver spots, blood clots, ringworm, excessive body odor, uneven tire wear, pyorrhea, gonorrhea, diarrhea, halitosis, scoliosis, loss of bladder control, hammertoe, the shanks, low sperm count, warped floors, cluttered drawers, hunchback, heart attack, low resale value on your home, feline leukemia, athlete's foot, head lice, clubfoot, MS, MD, VD, fleas, anxiety, sleeplessness, drowsiness, poor gas mileage, tooth decay, split ends, parvo, warts, unibrow, lazy eye, fruit flies, chest pains, clogged drains, hemorrhoids, dry heaving, and sexual dysfunction." (Beat) You know what? I think I'll just have itchy, watery eyes.
- Another bit was about a weight-loss drug with the side effect of anal seepage.
Look, ladies, I don't care how much weight you lose. If this side effect kicks in, you ain't looking good in them jeans! ..."anal seepage"... That's not even fun to say! Much less write on an insurance report. And not medical insurance: homeowner's, to explain why your sofa's sitting at the end of the driveway.
- From Have Your Loved Ones Spayed or Neutered, repeated in Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again:
- Robin Williams' routine for Fuckitol: "Fuckitol... for those times when you don't want to give a damn..." (Not to be confused with Fucitol.) He also talked about side effects, and how one list included "may cause anal leakage."
That's not a side effect, that is an effect. It's like, "How you doin', Bob?" - "Oh, just a bit of anal leakage." - "Bob, you wanna get out of the pool right now?"note
- Comedian Tim Hawkins touches on this in his "Full Range of Motion" routine.
- A short arc in The Boondocks comic strip concerns Granddad's attempts to figure out what the hell a drug commercial means when it says that its product will help you get "Back in the game". When Huey finally tells him, he gets sent to his room. (Making it even funnier, he's already in his room.)
- Bloom County had a Sunday comic about the incredible dangers of snorting dandelions, which included spontaneous decapitation and turning into Woody Allen. In the last panel, Steve Dallas snorts them anyway.
- In Opus, the titular penguin takes a medication whose side effects include lactation, so he then gets a medication that prevents that side effect, but then needs one to prevent its side effect, until he has a chain of medications. In the last panel, someone points out that, of course, penguins don't have nipples.
- One Garfield Sunday strip has him watching a commercial for a supplement that promises to make men who use it more attractive to women. Then it warns that it could lead to abnormal hair growth all over the body, as well as uncontrollable blinking and knee-slapping. "What idiot would buy that product?", Garfield asks. Enter Jon, who's standing behind Garfield slapping his knee over and over again, blinking wildly, and with hair growing all over his body.
- One fanfic ad for viagra lists side effects including "stalker-like tendencies, dead goldfish, swords through your gut and the end of the world". It features Angel[us] (of course).
- In a particularly amusing Avatar: The Abridged Series episode, Haru advertises a shampoo called Sexyfine that rearranges a person's DNA and turns them, well, sexyfine. Side effects included headaches, blood clots, green rashes, gonorrhea, albinism, thumb cancer, chocolate cravings, heroin addiction, pregnancy, ear mutation, increased risk of cyborg koala attack, the apocalypse, and Zutara.
- Ultra Fast Pony. A "gelatin swingset" serves as the Macguffin for one episode. Even though it's not even medicine, the series creator warns about its side effects in the video description.
wacarb: Get your own gelatin swingset today! (Warning, swingset may cause diabetes, heart failure, motion sickness, stickiness, nausea, lycanthropy, rising, falling, and being laughed at by your friends because you own a gelatin swingset.)
- Zydrate from Repo! The Genetic Opera. Ask a gentern if Zydrate is right for you.
Side effects of Zydrate may include arrhythmia, faintness, moderate to severe amnesia, flushing of the face, dry mouth, blurry vision, visual distortions or white spots, nausea and vomiting, constipation, muscle twitches, confusion, euphoria, sedation, itchiness, and increased anxiety, Respiratory or cardiac arrest, coma, hypoventilation (inadequate ventilation), and possibly death.
- In Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy, the Classics for Canines infomercial warns that "certain tracks on Wagner for the Vicious can trigger vicious violent behavior in German Shepherds". Later in the film, Charlie uses one of these CDs to make the police canines go crazy, allowing Darcy to escape.
- In All I Know About Animal Behavior, I Learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room, During a sketch about medicine, Erma Bombeck mentions the "side effects" required disclosure. She then points out all the ways these disclaimers can ruin one's life, such as by giving one a choice between dealing with a drippy nose all day or losing one's job because one cannot drive under influence of the nose drops.
- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin contains an essay entitled "Side Effects," which lists the side effects for a medication that relieves joint pain. The side effects start with joint pain and go on for about ten pages, including "May cause stigmata in Mexicans." "May cause compulsion to stand up in Catholic Mass and yell "I'm gonna whup ya wit' da ugly stick!"
- The drug Dylar in Don DeLillo's novel White Noise has a stated effect that's pretty weird in itself: eliminating the fear of death. However, its side effects are even stranger: causing the user to confuse words with the things they represent, resulting in hallucinations. And it doesn't work for its intended purpose anyway.
- Dave Barry spoofed and discussed "ask your doctor" ads in the column "Good for What Ails You," complaining about the mixed messages by first enthusiastically recommending a drug to millions of people, then pointing out then it might kill them.
I realize that the drug companies, by running these commercials, are trying to make me an informed consumer. But I don't WANT to be an informed consumer. I liked it better when my only medical responsibility was to stick out my tongue.
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Jon Stewart mentioned one drug for restless leg syndrome with the side effect of "increased gambling". He argued that if he had a gambling addiction, he'd take a drug that gave him the "jimmie-legs", rather than the other way around.
- MADtv did a skit parodying this, not by concocting a ridiculous list of side effects, but by advertising the party drug MDMA (Ecstacy) as a Zoloft-like antidepressant. (It'll give you the serotonin boost you're looking for, but will also turn you into Dopamine Boy/Girl.) Although the side effects and disclaimers rattled off at the end are fairly ridiculous:
Voiceover: Ecstasy is not for everyone. Side effects include paralysis, willingness to have sex with Margaret Cho, and listening to crappy techno music. Ecstasy is often made by community college dropouts in trailers or cockroach-infested bathrooms. Ecstasy can lead to prolonged discussion with your socks, shoes, or other footwear. Occasionally, Ecstasy can lead to death...or, in severe cases, a tendency to waste votes on the Green Party.
- Saturday Night Live:
- Had a parody ad, this time for birth control. The voiceover is totally standard, but the video shows Amy Poehler repeatedly seducing men, women, and groups into her apartment, up to an entire wheelchair basketball team.
- Another skit parodied the usual commercial side effects announced when taking these drugs. It stated that among the side effects would include hallucinations, in which it then described EXACTLY what type of hallucinations you would have: a horrifying surrealist nightmare ending in a choice between two doors. The wrong door leads to hellish misery, but the right one to eternal joy... and a moist, itch-free scalp. And maybe mild flatulence.
- Although it's not for a prescription drug, the classic skit for "Happy Fun Ball" also parodied ads of this type...before there were ads of this type! (Of course, Happy Fun Ball is a completely different trope.)
- Similar to the above, "Jimmy Tango's Fat Busters" has Jim Carrey prancing about an infomercial stage to describe his "Ride the Snake" weight-loss method, which involves a combination of a suit of vibrating heat beads and crystal meth, and being extremely up-front the moment he hears the question about how, yes, it's illegal, and yes, there are side-effects on the user's body and mind, and they are various. All concerned describe their experiences, but they also lost weight ridiculously quickly. ("Probably too fast!") However, the man himself claims the main "side effect" is people not mockingly stuffing letters into his mouth like a mailbox; he then writhes a bit, something off and yells, "GET OFF!"
- Dwayne Johnson starred in a spoof ad for Xentrex, an erectile dysfunction drug made with questionably legal ingredients. Side effects listed were "fits of rage, acne, bleeding, baldness, blindness, whooping cough, hallucinations, coma, trouble swallowing, decrease in semen, increase in semen, nasal sores, constipation, vomiting, night terrors, amnesia and suicidal urges". Johnson then notes that those are just the side effects that they tell you about, mentioning that "I get the sweats, my bones are cold, my teeth are loose, my heart gets really hot, I can read minds and sometimes I wake up driving a stolen car." He still finds the medication worthwhile, though, because "Xentrex gave me my life back. Hail Satan!"
- Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report has a regular segment entitled "Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." (a reference to his honorary doctorate of fine arts), sponsored by the fictional Prescott Pharmaceuticals, in which he constantly pushes drugs in the "Vaxadrin" family. The drugs have such side effects as minor heart explosions, vivid dreams of self-cannibalization, growing teeth ("often in the mouth"), spontaneous pregnancy, increased chances of vampire attack, involuntary Narnia adventures, and tracheal meerkat colonies.
- And now parodied again on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which featured an ad for the show itself in the style of those for erectile dysfunction drugs, and warning that "if your Late Show lasts longer than 1 hour, you're watching James Corden."
- The side-effects list was used in Becker as the main reason a split-personality patient didn't take his drugs - the "nice" personality was deathly afraid of the side effects.
Becker: It also says it causes irregular periods - are you afraid of that too?
Jim: Now I am!
- Pretty much any topical treatment for low testosterone has multiple side effects that can not only affect the man taking it but women and children who come into contact with the areas where it's applied. Stephen Colbert riffed on this at one point.
- Jazzapram, a birth control pill in Mulaney, has symptoms that include "Unmanageable hair, haplessness, cartoonishness, and an inability to know when to leave a room." It neatly explains the character flaws of a certain character.
- America's Funniest Home Videos gives you Imbesol, whose side effects apparently includes knocking yourself unconscious after taking said pill.
- [adult swim]'s Unedited Footage of a Bear eventually transitions into an ad for a decongestant called Claridryl. After the light-hearted footage of a mom playing with her kid, it starts stating the side-effects as she's driving, including "reflexive memory, aggression, and fatigue." The narration slowly fades out as the video spirals into Surreal Horror, with disturbing side-effects about Claridryl appearing on the bottom of the screen throughout.
Use only as directed. Serious neuropsychiatric events including, but not limited to, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide have been reported in patients taking Claridryl.
- And this brain-breaker is shown beneath one of the more intense scenes.
Claridryl has been demonstrated to increase the likelihood of abstinence from taking Claridryl for as long as one year compared to treatment with a placebo.
- And this brain-breaker is shown beneath one of the more intense scenes.
- In one of the Previously On
segments for BrainDead (2016), the recap is done by advertising the body-invading bugs as a medicine.
Some people with Space Bugs in their heads experience stumbling, loss of balance, or loss of hearing in one ear. This is normal since part of your brain needs to come out somewhere. Some people with Space Bugs report an aversion to sex and also alcohol, plus an interest in vegetables, vegetable juices, and the curative properties of juicing in general.
- Brain matter leakage is common but harmless.
- Effect dependent on length of infestation.
- Look for our ad in American Juicer.
- One of J.D's Imagine Spots in Scrubs involves him using a box of kittens to cure a patient's illness, before delivering one of these spiels to the camera. Apparently, the side-effects of a box of kittens include sneezing, tiny scratches, and erectile dysfunction.
- Arrested Development:
- In "Best Man For the Gob", we find out that the Funke family used to be a folk music group (Dr. Funke's 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution) whose only purpose was to advertise various pharmaceuticals. Maeby's role in the band was reciting the side effects at the end of the song.
- "Switch Hitter" has it that one of the drugs promoted by the band (Teamocil) has been reintroduced to the market and Lindsey starts taking it for her latest issues. After she experiences some side effects, the Narrator mentions them. This also contains a sort-of inversion when Lindsey says hallucinations are a side effect and the Narrator says they aren't.
- The TV adaptation of Good Omens adds a bit to the Burger Lord scene, where the cashier has to press a button on the cash register that triggers a recorded voice explaining, quickly and unclearly, that MEALS have no nutritional content, and can lead to loss of weight, hair, kidney functions and life. This apparently makes selling the stuff as food perfectly legal.
- The Eric Andre Show introduces Lexivan, a drug that can help if your wheelchair-bound father falls down a flight of stairs. (Apparently, you take the medication, not your father.) No information about the drug is given, other than that the pills are lemon-lime flavored, and "What's the worst that can happen?"
- The humorous song "Pillagers" contains an ad for Liquiflox, a fluid to help you take more pills. Its side effects include "an urge to buy a house from Ikea" and "death and reincarnation as a slug."
- The Amateur Transplants have a song advertising the fictional wonderdrug 'Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin' (set to the tune of Supacalifrajalisticexpialodocius) which, though capable of curing almost every known disease (as well as 'reversing impotence' and making you 'good at fighting') has a number of side effects including 'nausea, vomiting and losing all your hair...heart attacks, becoming gay and growing extra breasts'. The song also notes that none of the animals the drug was tested on survived, but it's alright because they lied in the research paper.
- The Austin Lounge Lizards lampoon these in their song and cartoon "The Drugs I Need" about a made-up drug called "Progenitorivox", whose side effects include (in song): "Agitation, Palpitations, excessive salivation, constipation, male lactation, rust-colored urination..."
- The Coup's song "Ass-Breath Killers" is an advert for an anti-asskissing pill.
"The makers of Dr. Misoi's Ass-Breath Killers are not responsible for corporate losses or topplings of local governments and/or regimes"
- The Christian podcast Fighting for the Faith regularly plays this for laughs with their "standard warning."
Warning: Fighting for the Faith can be dangerous to your health. Listening with caution is strongly urged while doing any of the following activities: operating heavy, deadly equipment; playing FarmVille, or any time-wasting, brain-numbing activity, for sudden awakening at the sound of a particularly stupid eisegetical statement could cause neck strain; drinking liquids; drinking hot liquids; having liquids too nearby; not having any liquids nearby. The following medical conditions have been known to occur while listening to Fighting for the Faith: Cranial Keyboard Embedment Syndrome, Sinu-Nasal Liquid Spewment Disorder, Steering Wheel Pounding Clenched Fist Strain, Continual Gaping Dry Mouthitosis, and Frustrative Disbelief Brain Explosion. Please take proper precautions! Drinking straws, padding, and duct tape are recommended.
- "Side Effects", in MID-LIFE! the Crisis Musical, indicates that the fictional drug of Lipodexterine, meant to cure high cholesterol, may induce high cholesterol, blinking and rude outbursts, stigmata in men with comb-overs, comb-overs, false optimism when consumed with beers, leg spasms if Riverdance videos are watched, and multiple nipples in lab monkeys. And sudden stoppage may cause death...
- In Warcraft III, clicking repeatedly on the Priest unit (the human side's healer) eventually results in him issuing the following disclaimer: "Side effects may include: Dry mouth, Nausea, Water retention, Painful rectal itch, Hallucinations, Psychosis, Coma, Death, and Halitosis. Magic is not for everyone, consult your doctor before use."
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines features a cigarette warning with side effects including "jock itch", "alien invasion" and "the death of cute little puppies".
- Valentine from Skullgirls lists a few of these in one of her intro quotes.
"Side effects may include nausea, headaches, and death."
- One ad that plays on the radio in Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time is Commander Qwark selling a revolutionary product called Q-Pore.
Warning: Direct contact with the skin may result in skin loss, fever, muscle tension, fragile bones, loss of eyesight, spontaneous combustion and/or full-on death.
- In We Happy Few, Uncle Jack likes to assure the citizens of Wellington Wells that any rumors that Joy causes increased aggressiveness, memory loss, paranoia, and other nasty side effects are completely untrue.
- In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, an alchemist named Velno gives Lighting a potion mixed from two poisons called Nektar that she wants her to test in battle. She promises great things, though she can't say exactly what it does and warns her that "Side effects may include dementia, gangrene, sudden death and hair loss."
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the Sunset Sarsaparilla mascot Ol' Festus has a "silly ol' advisory" about the possible effects of drinking the soft drink including but not limited to "kidney damage, nausea, digital numbness, anxiety, loss of visual acuity, dizziness, occasional nosebleeds, joint inflammation, tooth decay, sore throat, bronchitis, organ rupture, and halitosis." He does note that you have to drink a "a helluva lot" of them to actually experience them.note
- In Portal 2, repulsion gel was originally sold as a diet aid, but was pulled from shelves for "various reasons." Cave Johnson's voice-over hints at one side effect that probably contributed to the recall:note
Cave Johnson: Oh, in case you got covered in that Repulsion Gel, here's some advice the lab boys gave me: DO NOT get covered in the Repulsion Gel. We haven't exactly nailed down what element it is, but it's a lively one, and it does not like the human skeleton.
- In the Leviathans DLC for Stellaris, one of the trading enclaves sells a substance that helps colonists survive on alien worlds. Purchase it, and you'll also be given a Long List of potential side effects, including psychotic episodes, grain elevator explosions, unexpected supernova detonations, the collapse of the space-time continuum...
- In Saints Row 2, one of the Ultor Corporation's many commercials is an ad for a sleeping pill designed to treat adolescent night terrors. The ad plays soothing music and encourages the listener that "Their family deserves sweet dreams" before rattling off the list of side effects including seizures, chronic pain, jaundice, Asperger's and sudden paralysis, before ending with "...and night terrors"* Well that sounds like the key to a good night's sleep, doesn't it?
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, we hear an example in a radio ad...for hairspray:
Sissy Sprits may cause dry mouth, dilated pupils, paranoia, heart palpitations, and nosebleeds. Plus, your hair will be great!
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas another hair-care product, Castrodone, works by stopping testosterone production (as tendency towards balding correlates with high testosterone). As expected, the side effects involve making the user stereotypically "girly".
Disclaimer: May impair driving time, map-reading, and home improvement skills. Castrodon may also cause periodic moodiness, retail addiction, face-painting and menstruation.
- Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: In "Homestar Ruiner", Strong Bad orders a free sample of Total Load in the mail. Use it on Strong Bad, and he contemplates using the stuff to help him win the Race to the End of the Race... until he reads the warning label and notes the side effects include "Fits of rage, excessive back hair, and mysterious pants issues", the last of which is apparently a deal-breaker.
Strong Bad: Uh-uh, no way! My pants have enough mysterious issues as it is.
- Neurotically Yours:
- Foamy the squirrel quips about this.
Side effects may cause hallucinations. I'd rather have the runny nose! Fine! I may have some snot on my upper lip, but at least I'm not seeing Elvis in my refrigerator! Dammit!
- Foamy's friend Pilz-E rambled off a list of side-effects of all the medication he takes. He finishes off with death, but says "but I have a pill, to cure the death."
- Foamy the squirrel quips about this.
- Brawl of the Objects has a list of side-effects from competing in the show.
"BOTO may not be right for you, side effects include explosive diarrhea, the heebie-jeebies, embarrassing nausea attacks, death by mustache, addictions to kittens and possible implosion of the brain."
- Shelly was implied to suffer from five of the symptoms.
- Unusually for a parody of this trope, in Something Happens Eternazec's side effects are logically tied to the primary effect...except for itchy armpits.
- The Order of the Stick manages to hide foreshadowing in such a list.
- This episode of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, in the fifth panel.
- Penny Arcade
- Parodied in this strip.
- Followed-up here, with the success of the treatment being described in typical nerdy fashion.
- Also this one: "...not recommended for adults, or children interested in becoming adults."
- From Dume, "...Gruesome, Screaming, Meaty Death."
- Parodied in this "The Karnak Hates Everything Show" strip with Monoxyploxium. It doesn't tell you what it does at first ("Recently we decided that's none of your damn business"), only that you should buy it now because "You may very well be suffering from up to six medical crises of which you know absolutely nothing." Though apparently, it keeps your lymph nodes from exploding and spraying relatives with fluids.
- In Sinfest, the ad for Forbidden Fruit Loops ends with May cause banishment from paradise, eternal damnation, old age, suffering, painful childbirth, and death -- but that's what makes it cool!
- This Head Trip pain pill commercial spoof combines this trope with Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking and Comically Missing the Point. The side effects include: "headaches, nausea, back pain, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, suicidal thoughts, dizziness confusion... dislocated knees, vertigo, a sudden fear of heights, an allergy to ginger, an insatiable craving for kale... eighteen different cancers, eye infections, unpredictable bowel movements, annoying songs stuck in your head, stomach cramps, broken toes ..and finally, death." Further advice: "Stop taking this pill and call your doctor immediately if you find yourself looking up at the stars and wondering what your place in the universe is. Also work with your doctor to see if this pill is right for you and if the constant hunger for human flesh is worth it." The woman (who has been making increasingly disturbed faces throughout the list)'s reaction? "I might get diarrhea?!"
- In Adventurers!, a Parody Commercial for magic ends with the warning: "Magic has been linked to low physical strength in test subjects. If after using magic you have any abnormal reaction, contact your local item shop."
- MK's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: Jekyll needs to keep taking the Hyde Formula on a daily basis after trying it or he will die.
- The LoadingReadyRun sketch "Xannathor" is based on this. "The H is silent, but you won't be."
- Parodied in IISuperwomanII's "Types of Commercials". The first commercial parody is a medicine for sneezing.
Some people who have taken Sneeze Away have experienced fatigue, loss of hair, more sneezing, kidney failure, and death. If you experience death after taking Sneeze Away please contact your doctor immediately. Sneeze Away is not intended for people who have a low tolerance towards death.
- Parodied with this Scratch animation that lampoons medication commercials, which advertises a cold medication known as "Deth".
Side effects may involve blindness, death, eternal bleeding, eye fever, coma, and 99% chance that you may explode.
- Havidol is a comic parody of the whole concept. It was created to demonstrate some of the problems with aggressive pharmaceutical advertising campaigns.
- "Panexa. Ask your doctor for a reason to take it." A hilarious parody of this sort of ads, complete with an enormous number of Happy Fun Ball-like disclaimers and warnings.
- A joke ad on J.K. Rowling's website includes the following fine print: "Healer's warning: side-effects include dizziness, vomiting, and tusks."
- A viral site for the Pixar movie WALLE contains an ad for Xanadou, a medication to induce shopping euphoria. "Side-effects may include unpleasant taste, headache, drowsiness and dizziness, headaches, intestinal discomfort and cramping, temporary blindness, bleeding of the gums. Failure to use Xanadou during shopping specific excursions may result in a desire to wear drab clothing, redistribute wealth and property and attend socialist summer camps."
- This is a Running Gag on Villain Source (Your Online Source For Everything Evil) which sells awesome superpowers then lists all the unfortunate side effects in the small print.
- Claridryl, as mentioned under Live-Action TV, has a tie-in website with the following warning before it gets really weird.
Serious neuropsychiatric events including, but not limited to, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and completed suicide have been reported in patients taking Claridryl. Some reported cases may have been complicated by the symptoms of Claridryl withdrawal in patients who stopped taking Claridryl. Depressed mood may be a symptom of Claridryl withdrawal.
Depression, rarely including suicidal ideation, has been reported in moms undergoing a taking Claridryl cessation attempt without medication. However, some of these symptoms have occurred in patients taking Claridryl who continued to take Claridryl.
- Teen Titans had a parody of a magical drug, Zinthos, during a Trapped in TV Land episode. Raven usually intones "Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos" when using her powers, the commercial advertised Zinthos as from the makers of Azarath and Metrion. Some of the effects of this drug mirror her changes when she loses control of her powers: Multiple eyes, disturbing visions, fits of rage (though not bloating, cramping or loss of hair, thankfully). It also says not to get Zinthos wet, or feed it after midnight, a Shout-Out to the Gremlins movies. It also explains what happens if the viewer has trouble meditating ("Stop saying Zinthos and consult your ancient scrolls immediately.")
- Robot Chicken offers a solution to those having the mood for bear sex, Bear-alis! The roofie pill needed to get a bear tranquilized and ready for bed.
Side Effects may include sudden death from an inadequately tranquilized bear, and/or nausea and suicidal thoughts at the realization that you just fucked a bear against his or her will.
- American Dad!: Do you sometimes feel irritable, restless, uneasy, sad, normal, or just plain not high? Maybe it's time to try crack!
(Crack may cause shivers, night terrors, gay for pay, heart palpitations, homicidal paranoia, or the sensation that you're on fire. Peeing blood and seeing your friends' faces as talking skeletons are possible side effects of crack. People who use crack may experience 5-7 years in prison where brutal raping may occur. If you experience one or more of these side effects, consult your dealer. You may need more crack.)
- The Simpsons
- The episode "Barting Over" ends with Homer doing a commercial for a product that's both a hair growth formula and is a Viagra.
Anouncer: (Possible side effects include loss of scalp and penis.)
- In "Treehouse of Horror XXIX", the segment Geriatric Park features a commercial for Mr. Burns' new nursing complex where seniors are infused with dinosaur DNA.
Announcer: Possible side effects include back spikes, protective plates, giant claws, fear of asteroids, being a precursor to our modern birds, a second tail-brain, loss of ears and increased libido. If you are currently egg-laying or expect to be egg-laying, consult your paleontologist.
- The episode "Barting Over" ends with Homer doing a commercial for a product that's both a hair growth formula and is a Viagra.
- There is an episode of Brandy & Mr. Whiskers where they want whiter teeth, so they get a special gel from Gaspar.
Brandy: Maybe is worth a shot. I mean, what's the risk?
Whiskers: (reading with magnifying glass) Instant paralysis, blindness, projectile vomiting, and a sudden urge to march backwards.
Gaspar: That barely rarely happens more than once to the same person.
- In one episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim and Nergal open competing pizza places with their attempts at sabotage escalating. Nergal tells his son to spike some of Granny Grim's pizza sauce with his "horrible, ghastly elixir." When Nergal Jr. asks what it's supposed to do, Nergal just giddily mentions "I don't know, but it's ghastly."
Harold: Hello, friends! Tired of living? Those Sunday brunches got you down? Well, I can relieve all that ails 'ya, with this magic stick thingy. Side effects may include missing limbs, hair loss, and not living anymore.
- In another episode, Harold finds Grim's scythe and starts advertising it:
- In The Boondocks episode "Mr. Medicinal", Granddad received multiple prescription pills to relieve his stress. One of the pills had this type of commercial to promote it. The lift of side effects is so rediculous, he trashes all of the prescriptions and resort to smoking marijuana instead. Hilarity Ensues.
- In the episode "Any Which Way But Zeus" of The Venture Bros., some supervillains are forced to undergo an experimental procedure to inhibit their powers as a security precaution before a hero-villain summit. The list of side-effects is rattled off for them before they begin.
Stormfront: How can you have diarrhea and constipation?
Professor Incorrigible: Was "loss of life" in that list?
Watch: Just a side-effect.
- In "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman", Dr. Venture reflexively quotes a side-effect list when explaining why he's searching for an alternative cure for impotence.
Dr. Quymn: Have you not tried Viagra?
Dr. Venture: It gives me—my customers headaches, nausea, dyspepsia, and/or diarrhea.
- In "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman", Dr. Venture reflexively quotes a side-effect list when explaining why he's searching for an alternative cure for impotence.
- Packages from Planet X: Dan Zembrosky frequently receives alien packages from the titular planet, which he often toys around with before discovering that whatever they do usually has a catch.
- The Supersizer from "Fitness Crazed" gives its wearer a very muscular physique, which then turns into a large lump of mass in the wearer's body.
- The Intergalactic Extinguisher from "Return To Sender, Part 1". It disintegrates anything it zaps but causes the user to lose their outermost layer of skin.
- The Universal Telescope in "Astro-Blasters" can rearrange the location of astral bodies but causes the user's eye to morph in shape.note
- The alien camera in "Dan TV", which intercepts all television broadcasts so the user is the only one on television. However, whenever someone turns their television set off, the user is zapped.
- The alien sunglasses in "The Iron Crown Affair" expose aliens to the wearer, but also causes temporary blindness.
- The alien scissors in "Bad Hair Day" can allow the user to style hair in a variety of ways, but all the cut hair congregates in the sewers and becomes a monster.
- The alien jumpsuit in "Last Dan Standing" makes its wearer able to evade any attack, but drains energy from the wearer, causing them to occasionally fall asleep.
- The alien board game from the appropriately-named episode "The Game", allows whoever interacts with it to be able to interact with objects in real life. The side effect is that it causes the user's hands to grow in size.
- The Re-Animator in "The Song Of The Mermoo" brings dead creatures to life but de-animates the user piece-by-piece each time it's used.
- The Healer Feelers in "Dr. Strangegloves" allow the wearer to be able to instantly diagnose and repair any damaged piece of technology they touch, but also cause the wearer to experience Rapid Aging.
- The Global Positioner in "True North Strong & Freezing" teleports the user to any place on the planet but also causes the user to swap heads with whoever else they use the device with.
- Older Than Print: The 6th-century Chinese medical text Records of the Rock Chamber list the following side effects for an alleged elixir of immortality, and suggests that this means the elixir is working:
- After taking an elixir, if your face and body itch as though insects were crawling over them, if your hands and feet swell dropsically, if you cannot stand the smell of food and bring it up after you have eaten it, if you feel as though you were going to be sick most of the time, if you experience weakness in the four limbs, if you have to go often to the latrine, or if your head or stomach violently achedo not be alarmed or disturbed. All these effects are merely proofs that the elixir you are taking is successfully dispelling your latent disorders.
- One problem: As any modern toxicologist would tell you, these are classic signs and symptoms of acute mercury poisoning—and indeed, cinnabar (mercury (II) sulfide) is a primary ingredient in most Chinese "elixirs of immortality" of the era.
- Some sleep medicines list as a side effect "drowsiness"... others list "insomnia". Think they got their bases covered there.
- Also watch out, as they might cause you to "drive while asleep, with amnesia for the event".
- It can also make cause lost weekends. And lost weeks.
- Antidepressants "may increase suicidal thoughts in teens".
- Which is actually justified; two common symptoms of depression are suicidal ideation and lack of motivation, so many depressed people want to kill themselves but can't work up the energy to follow through. Antidepressants tend to first remove the patient's lack of motivation, and only then start working at helping them actually feel better. This means that sometimes when the medication kicks in, the patient will still want to die, but will actually have enough energy to make and carry out a plan.
- Diabetes Medication with the side effect of low blood sugar.
- The immortal "Contact your doctor if you receive an erection lasting longer than 4 hours."note :
- Several thousand comedians' responses: "If I have an erection lasting longer than four hours, I'm contacting a hooker!"
- Jeff Foxworthy's joke on having to go to the hospital with this is, "I'm wearing that gown they give you backwards...and walkin' the halls, baby!"
- The song from the quotes page has, among other side effects, "Do not have sex while operating heavy machinery" and "In case of an erection lasting longer than 4 hours, insert your own joke here."
- One erectile-dysfunction tablet is warning against "delayed backache or muscle ache". Is this from the drug, or from the intended effect of the drug? "Doc, I have this pain in my back after the wife and I go for a face-to-face motorcycle ride, is it from the Erectrol?"
- SNL, in a commercial for the fictional ED treatment Dr. Porkenheimer's Boner Juice, also pokes fun at that side effect:
Should your erection last less than four hours, up the dosage by as much as you like. In the rare instance that an erection lasts more than twenty-four hours, call a friend and brag about it.
- From one extreme to the other: some medications for overactive bladder have constipation as a side effect.
- One possible disease ended its list of symptoms with "and the feeling of impending doom."
- This is actually far more serious than it sounds. The human body is usually pretty good about communicating what's wrong, but it's not perfect; certain serious medical problems, like heart attacks, may show up with no discernible physical symptoms beforehand, accompanied only by the feeling that something is about to go horribly wrong.
- All the nasal decongestants that cause nosebleeds.note Mucus or blood, the choice is yours! Well, as we all know, it's a very good way to balance out your humours.
- The asthma medication Advair lists as one of its side effects an increased risk of Asthma Related Deaths. This is partly due to it containing Salmeterol.
- Many antipsychotics have sudden death listed as a side effect. It can be sudden cardiac death, or death from choking because that reflex is suppressed by the drug.
- The sleep aid Ambien lists "sleep-eating" as one of its side effects. Not listed, but known to have happened to at least one person each, are sleep-painting and sleep-sex.
- There is at least one case of someone claiming sleep-robbery as a side effect of Ambien. As in, he was claiming that he robbed a store. In his sleep. And he's a police officer.
- Speaking of sleep-sex, an Australian man got acquitted of rape because the defense claimed he had this condition.
- Many birth control pills warn "Do not take if you may become pregnant." Well, most likely she's taking the pills because she's doing things that could cause pregnancy, but that's what the pills are for... One of the proposed reasons for this bizarre phrase is a legal coverup for the surprisingly frequent situation when women wanting to get pregnant forget to go off the pill.
- It's also due to the (actually very) rare case where the dose can be low enough to not prevent conception, but still low enough to prevent implantation, technically causing the pill to act as a very early abortifacient (that possibility required a legal redefinition of the term "contraception" to include such cases).
- A surprising number of drugs have both weight gain and weight loss listed as possible side-effectsnote .
- A common topical antifungal medicine has, as a common side effect, dry, cracked skin. Doesn't sound too odd? The major symptom of the fungus it's supposed to treat is dry, cracked skin. This is the same reason why allergy medications almost always have allergy symptoms as a side-effect. It's a legal issue to prevent people from suing if they're taking the medication for the wrong condition, so it doesn't help.
- Accutane to treat skin: The list of side-effects include blood-red vision; suicidal thoughts & tendencies; and worsening of acne. Accutane worsens acne at first, then it gets better. Supposedly, some of the suicidal thoughts come from the fact that your acne is worsening so you think it's incurable.
- Rheumatoid arthritis medications can potentially result in tuberculosis. This is because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, where your body attacks itself, specifically your joints. Thus, the medications for rheumatoid arthritis are immune system suppressants; the possibility of debilitating secondary infections go up just like it would if you'd developed AIDS. Your immune system recovers once you stop the drugs — but then your arthritis comes back.
- Midol, a medication for the alleviation of menstrual cramps and related symptoms, is marked "Not to be taken if you are taking medication for prostate cancer". Apparently it's useful for addressing other kinds of cramps, too, some of which men are able to get.
- Saw Palmetto is a herbal remedy for enlarged prostate. Apparently "it can interfere with the contraceptive pill". note
- In a similar vein, finasteride (Proscar/Propecia) and dutasteride (Avodart) are used to treat enlarged prostates. It warns that it should "not be taken by pregnant women or women of childbearing potential without adequate contraception".
- And then you have medications intended for post-menopausal women... which warn you against taking them "if you are pregnant or may become pregnant". Most of the intended users of these are past having to worry about pregnancy...
- Some psychiatric medications may cause "unusually grand ideas".
- A number of medicines may, as one commercial put it, cause men to develop female breasts.
- "Do not operate heavy machinery" has been spotted on a container of, of all things, feline medication. One has to wonder what they thought the cat was doing when it was sober. In at least one case (like this one) the medicine was also one given to humans (fluoxetine— yes, the cat was on Prozac), and the pharmacists may just reflexively slap the standard warning labels on even if they don't apply to animal patients.
- Some medications (most notably, SSRIs) cause Anorgasmia or difficulty reaching orgasm. Yep, a pill meant to deal with your depression actually makes it less enjoyable to have sex with your partner.
- In a case where adverse effects can be used to treat different conditions, Paroxetine (an SSRI) can be used in the treatment of premature ejaculation.
- Weight-loss treatment Orlistat (marketed in most countries under the trademark name Xenical, and over-the-counter in the UK and US as Alli). It works by binding dietary fat to prevent the person's body from absorbing and storing the fat (thereby reducing/preventing weight gain, and in fact slightly improving weight loss when combined with sensible diets and exercise). The major side effect of this is that eating foods which are high in dietary fats will cause them to be passed through the person's body unimpeded and result in loose oily stools, and often also continual oily anal leakage (smelling vaguely like a combination between faeces and burnt grease/chipfat, and BRIGHT ORANGE). It's extremely unpleasant.
- While not a drug, the fat substitute Olestra, once marketed to the food industry as a way to reduce the caloric content of the high-fat junk foods like potato chips, suffered from essentially the same problem. Because it reduced the caloric intake by refusing to get absorbed in the gut, it ended up lubricating the stool much in the same way the unabsorbed fats did in the Orlistat-taking patients above, with much the same results. While the effects of both were greatly exaggerated by the sensation-seeking journalists, Olestra was quickly withdrawn.
- Anti-diabetic drug Metformin, marketed by Merck under the Glucophage brand, is also known to induce soft, oily stools, and promote the intestinal gas production, though not to the same extent as Orlistat. It is also frequently taken off-label as a weight loss medication because it reduces the absorption of the carbohydrates, but it pales in comparison with its side effects — which, in a subversion of the usual take on this trope, reduces in its takers the probability of getting cancer by 40%, and is implicated in extending the lifespan of the experimental animals by as much as 50%. Scientists hope that with the further study they can develop it into the medicine able of extending the human life up to the 120 years, while avoiding the Age Without Youth.
- A particularly infamous example is thalidomide, a medication used nowadays in cancer and skin condition treatments. It also used to be prescribed over-the-counter as a treatment for anxiety and morning sickness... until it turned out that, in this case, Side Effects Include causing massive, horrifying, and often lethal birth defects in babies when taken by pregnant women or even the men who impregnated them. The result was the biggest man-made medical disaster in recorded history; over 10,000 babies were born with defects, 40% of those babies died from their deformities, and thousands of women miscarried, all because the drug was marketed to the general public without proper testing. The 1974 horror movie It's Alive was inspired by this scandal, which led to a major changes in drug regulation, criminal trials, and many lawsuits.
- Side effects of this TV Tropes entry may include Ruining your life, Author Appeal, Gorn, Brontophobia, Brontosaurophobia, and Involuntary Shapeshifting. This TV Tropes entry is not for children under 12, women who are nursing or pregnant, are about to become pregnant, have been pregnant before, are trying to become pregnant while reading this entry, pregnant nurses, or people with gall bladders. Prolonged use may result in over-extending humourous situations to the point where they are no longer amusing or the ensuing of hilarity.