Bad Medicine


I’ve been obsessed with the object to impossible location plot for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I’ve figured out ways to get stuff into sealed Twinkies, 35mm film rolls, a card box the spectator has been holding from the beginning and more. This effect is another of the same genre that I developed in October 2008. Note, this effect uses a tube of medicine. Both Tylenol and Advil come in these tubes. Either will work for the effect. For that reason, I’ve used both types of tubes in the photographs below. Of course, in performance you’re only using one type.


A small tube of Advil is displayed. It is sealed. The magician displays the receipt for the medicine. It vanishes. In his hand now is a few loose Advils. The spectator then breaks the seal on the tube of Advil and opens it to find that the pills are not in there. Instead, the receipt is found there in place of the pills. Everything is examinable.


It’s a simple matter to unseal and reseal these tubes of medicine. Very carefully start to peel off the pull tab. Normally, this is just ripped off around the lid, and you open up the tube to get your medicine. However, in our case we’re going to slowly and steadily peel the tab. As you start to peel it, you’ll feel it break loose from the body of the wrapper one “click” at a time.

Slowly pull it all the way around the tube until you get to the very end. Leave the last half-inch-ish attached. At that point, you can safely remove the lid without removing the strip entirely. Take off the lid; dump out the drugs and put in whatever your load is, in our case, the receipt for the pills.bad-medicine (12)

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Take a moment to look at the images above to get a sense of this process. Once you’ve loaded whatever you’re going to load (e.g., dollar bill, receipt, card, etc.), replace the lid. Then slowly, but surely reseal the tube by carefully lining up the “teeth” from the strip to the “teeth” on the rest of the tube’s label. Get in there closely and look at it carefully as you reseal.

If you get the teeth lined up perfectly — this is easy to do since we didn’t remove the strip entirely — when it’s later reopened by the spectator, it’ll have that oh so satisfying ripping sound that sells the illusion of it being truly sealed. Once you’ve got the teeth all lined up and the strip is resealed, run your thumb around the tube starting from the part that remained connected, all the way around to the pull tab. The idea, here, is to get out any possible air bubbles and to make sure the adhesive really re-sticks itself. This will further aid in the illusion of it truly being sealed.

That’s part one of the prep work. Well, technically, it’s part two. Part one is to go to your local gas station — that’s the most common place to find these tubes o’ drugs — and purchase at least two tubes. However, pay for each one as a separate transaction. You want a single receipt for each one. So if you buy ten at once, you’ll have ten receipts and an annoyed cashier.

The idea is that you have a duplicate receipt with the same time and date stamp. If you do the transactions quickly enough, you can get two identical time stamps. Obviously, buying ten will not end up with ten identical time stamps, but you’ll get a few with one time stamp and few more with a different time stamp. If the system that prints the receipts records the seconds (in addition to the minutes and the hour), then you’ll need to cover it with your thumb during the performance. Alternatively, you can just ignore the time and only mention the date, or you can ignore both. We’ll discuss this more during the presentation.

Typically, the receipt will be wider than the height of the tube, so you’ll need to fold it over first. Then roll it up. I just roll it around a Sharpie. It’s about the perfect diameter. See the images below for clarity. Once you’ve opened the tube per the previous instructions and dumped out the pills, you can place your rolled up receipt inside and reseal as described.

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Part three of the preparation is the rattle gimmick. Have another tube of Advil that has not been tampered with and either tape it to your arm under your shirt sleeve, or use a rubber band. This way, when you shake the tube that’s loaded with the receipt, you can give the illusion that the pills are in the tube as long as you’re shaking it with the hand that has the tube up the sleeve.

Step four is to get a few Advils and put them in a thumb tip. You’ll need a deeper thumb tip than you may be used to. Look at the image below to see the thumb tip I use. You can get a sense of the height (i.e., depth) of it by looking at it relative to the tube of medicine. Put the loaded thumb tip in your right pants ticket pocket.

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The Vanish

The vanish I use is an old cigarette vanish. I roll the receipt up to be roughly the shape of a cigarette. I say “roll,” but in reality, it’s mostly folding. Then for the last “fold,” I roll it up like a cigarette. I hold it in my right hand between my first and middle finger just like you would a cigarette. Note: the two images below are kind of upside down. This only to give a better angle of the position of the receipt.

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Then as I start to place it into my left hand, I secretly shift the rolled up receipt to right thumb clip.

bad-medicine (19)While in thumb clip position, the receipt is placed in the left palm without actually letting go.

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The left fingers close around the receipt as the right hand moves away to the right giving a very powerful retention of vision that the receipt is in the left closed fist.

The right hand dies: it just drops to your side. Next, draw attention to your left hand as you casually ditch the receipt in your right pants pocket. At the same time, load the thumb tip onto your right thumb. Depending on your pants, this can usually be done without having to put your hand in your pocket. You can just stick your thumb in your pocket as you let go of the receipt inside of the pocket. You can also load the thumb tip from this same position, again, depending on the style of pocket and where the ticket pocket is.

However, even if you have to put your hand  in your pocket, this is no big deal. The illusion that the receipt is in your left hand is very convincing, so there’s no reason for them to care about your “dead” right hand. Once the tip is loaded on your right thumb, slowly open your left hand one finger at a time. While all attention is there, casually remove your right hand from your pocket.

Once your left hand is fully open, bring your hands together and brush them in that universal gesture of “washing your hands of it.” Of course be careful not to expose the thumb tip. Next, you’ll ask the spectator to pick up the tube and shake it. As she does this, load the thumb tip into your left fist. This is easy. They’re all staring at the tube. When she shakes it and no sound is heard, pause, and say, “listen.”

Place your left thumb over the opening of your closed left fist and shake your fist. They’ll hear the Advil inside of the thumb tip. Don’t worry about the sound of the pills against the plastic of the thumb tip. I’ve tested it, and it sounds exactly like a fist full of pills without the thumb tip. The thumb tip just makes it a little louder, but the sound is the same. After the sound has registered with them, slowly pour the pills into your right hand (concealing the thumb tip, of course) or ask them to hold out their hands so you can pour into their hands. After that moment sinks in dump the pills from your hand to the table (or have her dump them from her hands to the table).

Ask her to open the Advil tube. While she does this, load the thumb tip back on your right hand (or left if you prefer). Casually hook your thumb(s) into your pocket(s) and unload the thumb tip. Have the spectator remove the seal, lid and receipt. Have her check the date and time. Point out that the date is the same (more on that in the presentation section below).

You’re done, and you end clean.


Magician: Things are so expensive these days. Gas prices, medical bills, groceries, etc. It gives me a headache, but I can’t even afford a headache.
Spectator: What do you mean?

Magician: I’ll show you. Look here’s a receipt for some Advil. I had a headache at exactly 2:30 in the morning last Friday. [Point out the date and time on the receipt.] It cost me $4 bucks! I don’t have that kind of money
Spectator: Maybe you shouldn’t have quit your day job.

Magician: Maybe not. Anyway, by the time I bought the pills and got home, the headache was gone, so I never opened them. Here they are (take them out of your pocket and shake them).
Spectator: You’re weird.

Magician: Your face is weird! I kept the receipt so I could take them back to the store, but they won’t take medicine back.
Spectator: All sales are final!

Magician: Yep. I guess I don’t need this (i.e., the receipt) anymore. [Make it vanish. More on that later.]
Spectator: Wow. You’re magical.

Magician: I know. Right? Listen . . . [Shake your closed fist. Pause. Dump out the pills.]
Spectator: That gave me a headache. Can I have one?

Magician: You’re funny. Would you mind opening the Advil tube? Just rip it open. What’s inside?
Spectator: The receipt.

Magician: Wow! Can I see that? That gives me a headache too. See . . . it gave me a headache at exactly 2:30 AM, last Friday. I guess I can’t shake this headache.
Spectator: Thanks a lot. Now I have a permanent headache last Friday at 2:30 AM too.

Alternate Ideas:

When I first figured out how to open and reseal these tubes, I had a totally different idea in mind for how to use the concept. Over the years, I’ve had several different ideas as well. Below is a short list of a few of them.

Lazy Shopper

Rather than swapping the receipt, you can swap a five dollar bill. The presentation would be slightly different of course.

Magician: I don’t have much time these days. I’m always running around like a headless chicken. It gives me a headache, which is weird since I’m a headless chicken. But I don’t even have time to buy drugs for my headache.
Spectator: Stop whining so much.

Magician: Sorry. When I’m too busy to buy medicine, here’s what I do. I sit at home and cause the medicine to come to me. Of course, I don’t steal it. I send the money to the store.
Spectator: I don’t believe you.

You then perform the same effect as previously described, but with money instead of the receipt.

Much Simpler

The above two effects (receipt and five dollar bill versions) appeal to me because they have a somewhat reasonable story line. However, this next idea is more direct with less story and even less props. You start by borrowing a dollar bill. You then say that this trick is so amazing that it’ll give you a headache. As you say this, you’ve removed the tube and started shaking it. Place the tube on the table. The spectator can shake it if they want.

You then vanish the dollar bill using your . . . wait for it . . . favorite method. Have them open the tube to find that the dollar bill is inside the tube with the medicine. To do this, roll up the bill in the same way that you’d do the receipt. Then carefully unseal and open the tube. Dump out the pills. Load the dollar bill in. It will unroll enough to fit the inner diameter of the tube. Then put the pills back inside the tube right inside the rolled up bill. You’ll be able to fit all ten back in there. However, it will be too tight, and you won’t be able to hear any noise when you shake it. So only put 9 pills back in, and it’ll sound just fine.

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The advantage of this is that there are no loose pills, no rattle box and no thumb tip (unless that’s your “favorite method” for vanishing the bill). Also, you can memorize the serial number of the bill in the tube, and miscall the serial number on the borrowed bill. Have someone write down the serial number as you “read” it. Of course you’re really reciting the memorized one from the tube.

If you want to get even more clever, you can get a handful of sequential bills from a bank and scratch off the last digit of the serial number thus giving you several bills with the exact same serial number. Then when you borrow a bill, you can switch it for one of your bills. Then have them read the serial number as someone else writes it down. This will, of course, match the one in the tube. Of course, with this method, you can have several tubes prepared so you can repeat the effect multiple times throughout a night of strolling. Remember, each time you perform it, you destroy the seal, so you’ll need a fresh one each time.

In this scenario, you can either do the switch as mentioned above to have the serial number read by the spectator. Or you can just memorize the serial number as suggested earlier. You’ll only need to remember one serial number since all the tubes are loaded with duplicate bills.


You can also fit a card in there as well. However, you’ll have to fold it in half as shown below.bad-medicine (22)

Then roll it up and put it in the tube. You’ll be able to fit all ten pills in there as well. The first picture below shows the inside with only 7 pills. This is just for clarity’s sake so you can see the card. The next picture shows all ten pills. When sealed up, you can hear the pills rattle just fine.

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bad-medicine (2)Again, with this effect, you use the same premise . . . this trick is so good it’ll give you a headache. I know John Bannon and Jay Sankey both have used similar lines in their own work. I’m pretty sure that’s where I got the idea to use it with this effect.

The advantage of using the card is that you can do a simple double lift vanish or some other move that requires no extra props. You just need the tube and a deck of cards.


Of course, you can tell the story of your ex-girlfriend/ex-boyfriend and how much of a pain in the neck they were. Thus you always carried Advil with you. Old habits die hard; you’ve still got some in your pocket. In this case, you pretend to “realize” that you have it in your pocket. Then you tell the story of what a pain s/he was. Then show a picture of them . . . tear it up and/or vanish it. A nice touch with this is that you can have something written on the back of the photo . . . a note from your ex, or something like that. Of course you  put it on both photos: the one in the tube and the one you’re going to vanish. This is as close as you’re gonna get to signed object to Advil tube.

For this, all you need is the tube in your pocket, and a picture in your wallet. This kind of thing is perfect for more casual performances. If you wanted to do it strolling, you can have several pictures in your wallet (assuming that you’re going to tear one up each time you perform). Then have several tubes in your pocket.


As you can see, this idea has a lot of potential. The best thing to do is experiment with several different objects that you may be interested in loading in the tube. Just buy a tube and rip it open. Don’t worry about saving the seal. I mean . . . save the baby seals, but don’t save the Advil seal in this case. Then just try rolling up stuff and seeing what’ll fit and what won’t. You might be able to fit small coins from other countries. Also, magic & novelty shops sell miniature coins.

You could put matches in there and cause them to vanish from a match book or matchbox. Maybe you could figure out a way to do a Tic Tac/Advil transpo where the Advil ends up in a sealed Tic Tac container and the Tic Tacs end up in the Advil tube.

Stuff a few super soft sponge balls in there. Then at the end of a sponge ball routine, the sponge ball vanishes, but in its place is a red pill, or the tube itself. I like the symmetry of the red pill and the red sponge ball.

Load it will small dice and patter about how taking drugs is always a gamble. On and on and on and on. Take some time to experiment and find out what fits your personality and style.

I’ve also played around with producing the tube. Maybe causing a dollar bill to magically turn into the pill tube. You can still start the routine off by saying that this effect is so good, it’ll give you a headache, but you never show the pills. Then you perform the effect and cause the object to vanish,  or rather: transform into the pill tube.

Another untapped idea is the wrapper around the tube. It actually unrolls. See image below.

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I’ve experimented with writing a prediction on there (on the inside), or trying to hide something rolled up in there. I’m not sure what or how yet, but once you get something in there and re-roll it and reseal the pull tab, it should stay in place and can be handled with no problem. You can even glue it a little if needed to make sure it stays in place.

The Rattle Box

The rattle box (i.e., the tube strapped to your arm up your sleeve) is only needed in effects where the tube is pre-loaded with no pills in it. The only example of that above is the original effect where the pills trade places with the receipt. The rest of the effects do not require it. However, you may not even need it then. The fact that it’s sealed may be enough.

For me, however, I prefer the rattle box. I want to make sure that all things point to “This bottle is a legitimately sealed, untampered-with tube of Advil.” I have experimented with wearing the thumb tip that has the pills in it while shaking the tube. It actually works and even sounds right. However, it’s very awkward to hold the tube and properly conceal the thumb tip. I’ve played around with different grips, but never quite found one that worked for me. I like the simplicity of forefinger on top of the tube, thumb on the bottom and just shaking it.

You can, of course, feel free to experiment and see if you come up with something that’s comfortable for you and your style. In fact, I encourage it.

Multiple Repeat Performances

As you’ve seen, there are versions of this listed above that can be done by simply carrying around the tube and maybe one other item. For example the photo version only requires the photo and the tube. The dollar bill version only requires the tube if you borrow the bill, etc.

Although it’s a huge impossibility to have an object appear in a factory sealed tube, if the tube wasn’t sealed, it would still be a good effect, especially if the spectator holds the tube the entire time. So, if you want to carry a tube around with a dollar bill loaded into it, you can be able to repeat the effect without having to carry around a bunch of tubes. In this case, you’ll not be able to use the serial number because as soon as you remove the bill from the tube, they’ll want their bill back.

They think the one in the tube is theirs. You could, of course, be prepared with a bunch of duplicate bills in your wallet if you wanted to use the duplicate serial number idea mentioned earlier. Since this is not a sealed tube, but merely a tube with a lid, you’ll need to do something to make sure they “know” it’s the same bill. You could use a torn corner switch.

Then each time you perform, you have a new corner and new bill to load into the tube because you gave away the one in the tube, but you got a new one from the spectator. This is the one you vanished a moment earlier. This does mean, however, that you’ll have to carry around the loose corner where ever you go.

You can also do the photo version, however, you’ll need to have multiple copies of the photo in your wallet. The nice thing with the photo, you have the built in “duplicate” if you have a little note on the back of the photo — you’ll need this on all of the photos.

Final Thoughts

Stuff like this make my mind go in a thousand different directions. I’m assuming you guessed that after reading this effect. Take the time to play around and experiment with this idea. I’m sure you’ll find a ton of ideas that fit you. Good Luck!