A deep dive into fictional drugs and how they’d mess you up

TV and movies are laden with made-up drugs and drinks for characters to get dutifully out of their mind on. Most are, naturally and eventually, fatal to the user, but some also seem like a laugh. Here we look at some of the most famous examples and what they would do to the human body…

A deep dive into fictional drugs and how they’d mess you up
Mike Rampton
Daniella Batsheva

Drugs are bad, everyone knows that. Drugs are bad, and you shouldn’t do them, and everyone should just say no. That said, some of the ones that show up in films, books and TV sometimes seem… pretty fun. The “just say no” message is a lot less convincing when applied to a drug that makes you superhuman, you know?

If going on a huge fictional bender, here are a few of the substances you might want to give a go. Don’t! But, you know, if you were going to, then these ones seem good. But don’t!

Melange (Dune)

Good enough to risk being devoured by giant sandworms for, melange – the substance at the centre of Frank Herbert’s Dune books and their adaptations – is powerful stuff. It renders you addicted immediately. That’s presented as one if its selling points, in fact, as it is glowingly described as “a poison – so subtle, so insidious… so irreversible. It won′t even kill you unless you stop taking it.” But it increases your lifespan, heightens your perception to the point you can see the future, and keeps you healthy (bar the “trapped within this addiction for life” thing), so it’s swings and roundabouts, really. Taken in high enough quantities, it also enables interstellar travel. Plus, it's vaguely cinnamony in flavour, so if you like Hot Tamales and find yourself on the sandworm-laden desert planet of Arrakis, you’re potentially in massive luck.

Moloko-Plus (A Clockwork Orange)

Before Alex, the narrator of A Clockwork Orange, goes out looking for “ultraviolence”, he and his friends visit the Korova Milkbar for a messed-up milky mixture, a potent cocktail high in calcium but higher in Christ-knows-what. He describes it, in the weird made-up language of the book (called “nadsat”) as “milk plus something else… vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other vesches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow 15 minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels And Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg. Or you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty 20-to-one…” It really makes those “Got Milk?” ads look a bit crap.

Substance D (A Scanner Darkly)

Visionary author Philip K. Dick was a massive fan of drugs – both taking real ones (his books were variously written while on amphetamines, weed, acid, mescaline, PCP and sodium pentothal) and creating fictional ones. From Minority Report’s neuroin to the hallucinogenic Can-D from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, he had a bit of a theme going. Substance D, as taken by Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly, is a psychotropic drug with a difference: eventually it separates the two hemispheres of your brain, leading to a total personality and memory split. Lead two existences at once, each unaware of the other. Of course, it doesn’t last forever: while the D initially stands for Dumbness, Despair and Desertion, eventually it leads to Death.

NZT-48 (Limitless)

There’s a fun trope in science fiction where an extraordinary performance-enhancing drug basically makes someone magical. In Limitless, the drug NZT-48 is a nootropic that lets Bradley Cooper’s character Eddie access the fabled 90 per cent of the brain that usually sits there unused, giving him perfect recall of everything he’s ever seen and superhumanly quick reflexes, making him both the smartest man alive and incredibly good at fighting. The claim that we only ever use 10 per cent of our brains is of course complete nonsense, but when it leads to cheerfully silly movies like Limitless and Lucy (in which Scarlett Johansson reaches 100 per cent brain use and telekinesis with the help of mysterious drug CPH4 then ascends from the earthly realm into the space-time continuum), it hardly matters.

The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy)

Invented by two-headed former President Of The Universe Zaphod Beeblebrox, the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster is reasonably complicated as cocktails go – ingredients include Arcturan Mega-gin, Santraginean seawater, Fallian marsh gas, the dissolved tooth of an Algolian Suntiger and an olive. Its effect is compared to “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped round a large gold brick”. Due to this potency, its creator advises drinkers to never have more than two, “unless you are a 30-ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia”.

Snow Crash (Snow Crash)

A movie version of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel has been in the works forever, and probably won’t ever happen, because the radical ideas within it are basically commonplace now – Snow Crash pretty much predicted Google Earth, Wikipedia, online avatars and the metaverse. The titular Snow Crash itself is a drug with a brain-rewriting virus contained within it, distributed in both real-life and digital form, addictive and infectious. It’s probably nowhere near as bad as the actual internet though, surely?

V (True Blood)

Short for, er, vampire blood, V is incredibly potent stuff, providing humans who drink it with basically a sexed-up version of the greatest hits of the drugs world. In addition to helping the body heal (even if incredibly close to death), heightening the senses and increasing strength, it leads to incredible sexual energy and potency, creating a fiercely erotic link with the vampire it came from. Unfortunately for fans of ridiculous, cartoonlike horniness, it is also dangerously addictive, frequently leading devotees to murder.

Slurm (Futurama)

When a soft drink has the advertising slogan “It’s highly addictive!”, you know it’s good. Championed by hard-partying slug mascot Slurms Mackenzie, it’s the soda of choice – you know, initially, before the addiction takes hold – for Futurama’s Fry, who drinks it in industrial quantities. It’s so good, and so moreish, that not even the discovery that it’s made from the anal secretions of an alien worm queen is enough to put fans off. There is also an even more addictive version called Slurm Loko, that turns your urine green and your skin radioactive. Glorious.

Soma (Brave New World)

In Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic Brave New World, the World State issues soma to every citizen in order to keep them pacified. It “makes everything feel good and happy and warm […] everyone and everything delightful and attractive”, which sounds pretty pleasant really. Of course, this being a hideous dystopia it’s all for nefarious state-control reasons rather than everyone having a nice time. The dosage is given as “half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon”. Aldous himself was particularly into mescaline; his non-fiction work The Doors Of Perception details his life-changing experiences with it.

Slo-Mo (Dredd)

As gorgeously depicted in Alex Garland’s Dredd, Slo-Mo allows residents of Mega-City One to feel like they have slowed down time to 1/100th of its normal speed, experiencing every millisecond in an exquisitely slow, euphoric way. The overwhelming shittiness of Mega-City One probably make it pretty appealing – you are able to fit what feels like hours of intense pleasure into an already packed day. Combined with something else the user enjoys, it prolongs and intensifies all the associated feelings of pleasure. However, the flipside of this is that anything appalling that happens while on Slo-Mo is similarly drawn out. Not to ruin the ending or anything, but if a plummet to your death took a really long time, that’d suck, huh?

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