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Many people who join a cult don’t initially realize that’s what they’ve done. It usually takes a string of incidents to bring any type of awakening from the spell of derangement.

A classic red flag is when a leader tells everyone to drink something odd or dangerous. Given historic precedent, that should pop whatever bubble followers have built around themselves right away.

The poison-laced Kool-Aid that killed hundreds at Jonestown in 1978 is probably the best known example, but there are others, and they’re not all in the past.

For instance, the Daily Beast reported that a leader of the anti-vaccine movement, and self-proclaimed head of the “Vaccine Police,” Christopher Key, is now advising those who follow him to drink their own urine to treat COVID-19, rather than get vaccinated. “Urine therapy,” as he calls it, has been around for centuries and is much healthier and safer than a vaccine, he claims.

First and foremost, no, drinking your own urine will not protect you from a deadly virus. There was a time in this country when that would’ve gone without saying. I miss those days.

Secondly, gross.

Now, Key isn’t necessarily a typical cult leader. As far as I know, he hasn’t sequestered a group of followers at a compound somewhere after bilking them of their money and property, while bracing for a bloody standoff with the government.

Anti-vaxxers are a broad tent. Although many have similar political leanings and a penchant for swallowing conspiracy theories, their misplaced distrust of safe and effective vaccines can sometimes be the only thing they have in common. Most of the engagement occurs online, where they swap “research,” which often is long-debunked junk science, or stuff that’s just entirely made up.

However, they do have certain folks they recognize as leaders in their shared belief system, and Key is one of them. He’s now telling anti-vaxxers to drink their own urine — and claims he does it himself to stave off COVID-19. This is when several hands from people with questions should be shooting up.

Even Key realizes on some level how ludicrous his advice is.

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“I know to a lot of you this sounds crazy ...” he said. Yes. Yes it does.

It makes me wonder if Key is out of ideas, as a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 840,000 Americans and more than 5 million worldwide continues to mutate and disrupt lives in the face of vaccine hesitancy. Or maybe he’s gotten to the point where he’s just screwing with people, to see if they’ll do it. No doubt, some will.

Key isn’t necessarily wrong when he says urine therapy has been around for a long time. People used to think there were medicinal properties to that particular bodily waste — the key phrase there being “used to.” Urine removes toxins from your body. Putting them back in through oral consumption is a pretty dumb idea. And, even though some on nature survival shows have resorted to drinking urine when water is unavailable, medical experts will tell you that’s another wrong move, as drinking that stuff can cause dehydration.

Perhaps the most prominent myth about urine is that it will help a jellyfish sting.

I was stung by a man ‘o war jellyfish in Hawaii when I was a kid. As I was writhing in agony on the beach, a woman came by and told my parents that someone needed to urinate on me, because some compound in urine relieves the pain. As she walked away, I looked up to my mom and dad and said, through gritted teeth, “Please, nobody pee on me.”

My father, who happens to be a family physician, assured me that no one would, adding it was a sort of urban legend that is completely false. God help anyone else that lady passed on the beach that day.

If you don’t want to take my father’s word for it, the Cleveland Clinic has an entry on its website that discusses how this folk “cure” isn’t just useless, but makes the sting worse. So, really, if you try this on someone, you’re just adding insult to injury.

Anyway, the overall point here is that vaccines are safe and effective, and drinking urine does nothing other than enable you to tell someone you once drank urine — and that’s not even a good story you’d want to share.

When someone you’ve taken advice from before tells you urine is a cure for anything, it’s time to stop listening and, maybe, take a step back and look at what else you’ve done at their urging. It just might be your ticket out of the rabbit hole.

Ben Fields is the opinion editor. He is currently working from home. He can be reached at Follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.

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