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I've been developing a species of fungus which creates a variety of drugs with hallucinogenic and increased suggestibility properties. The most useful strain of this particular fungi species can be used to 'control' individuals for a short period of time, a couple of hours at each exposure. Essentially Users do what and go where you tell them to do or go. Obviously this has the potential to take over any story-scenario it is used in, especially once its use spreads to other planets.

I need help explaining why a naturally occurring powerful drug doesn't dominate my universe.

TL:DR Basically I gave it a short shelf-life and restricted its growth to one planet.


  • The drug is going to be used as one of several story-devices to help limit the impact of my various power groups, which would otherwise be overpowered.
    • I developed the drug-device to explain why my power users had a slower-rise-to-power early history than was otherwise warranted. It gives them time to learn how things work, before developing a resistance/tolerance and becoming The Main Power.
    • Once they have a developed powerhold, the drug can still be used to keep rogue/untrained elements in check, as well as make them cautious in certain situations.
    • It gives the little guy the opportunity to control an unexpecting power player...for a short time...if they are brave and stupid enough.
    • I don't want entire populations held under its sway by any Big Bad (follow link at own risk).
  • Not looking to stop the drug-trade, just a particular story-device from dominating my universe.
  • It is used in various time-periods.
    • Not dependent on technology/knowledge level to produce, part of the basic plant-design.
    • Easy to administer, to unexpecting Users.
    • Currently working on natural spores or ground-up plant matter using natural methods of transportation. e.g. blown into an Users face or ingested etc.

To limit the drug's own story impact I needed to set some limitations on it:

  • The most powerful and desired strain is difficult to cultivate in large quantities.
  • It has a short shelf-life.
    • You cannot stockpile large amounts of it for very long.
  • Users can develop a tolerance, if used continually (for many months).
  • I don't think it's addictive.
    • Users themselves don't create demand.
    • Those wishing to control the Users create the demand.

When the story is set on one planet with limited technology, power structures and travel times, I feel that this could be sufficient to ensure it doesn't become too overpowering.

However, when my one planet joins the larger Interstellar Community, I do not know if this would still be enough. I do not want any super-powerful Evil Corp or Big Bad to find this new drug, realise its potential, mass produce it and subjugate large numbers of their populations, or enemies. I do not want it freely available in large amounts in the wider universe, but at the same time I don't want to prevent its use off-world altogether.

  • Interstellar Travel takes between weeks and months, it is not instantaneous.

Obviously I can get my home-world to try police the drug but once it gets out into the wider universe that becomes increasingly impossible. I do realise that there is no way to completely prevent its misuse by any Big Bad. I just want to make it realistically restricted in the sense that it doesn't become the answer to every problem. "...Just use those fungus-spores on him to get what you want!"

So I further limited the drug:

  • Several planet-specific factors combine so that the fungus can only be grown and produced, with any proper potency, on the home-planet.
  • Any Big Bads that manage, and afford, to artificially replicate the conditions of production are still limited by:
    • The short shelf-life.
    • Mass-produced fungus grown in lab conditions has less potency than natural fungus.

QUESTION: Is this enough, or too much, to realistically limit the funguses drug impact on my wider universe; What else can be incorporated into the basic fungus plant-design that could limit the drugs story-power?

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  • $\begingroup$ I suggest you tell us exactly what role you want the drug to play in the story. Then we can work on prevent it doing anything else. At the moment you have told us only what role you dont' want the drug to play. That makes it hard to suggest anything without ruining the drug's reason to exist entirely! $\endgroup$ – Daron May 15 '18 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron the User will follow instructions. Stop that, go there, sit there, hold this, pound this, cut that, march there, stab here. Pretty sure it's simple direct instructions. The User doesn't have to like or agree with what they are asked to do. I haven't yet figured out if it will make a person do something completely against their morals ie kill someone, but they will definitely be able to be directed in other actions. The Users are otherwise very powerful individuals, this drug would allow weaker individuals to either prevent the use of this power against them, or direct it against others. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not asking for what powers the drug has. I'm asking how the story will be different for the drug's inclusion in your world. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 15 '18 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ We could render the drug useless by saying it kills the user instantly. But that would be overkill because it prevents the drug having any role in the story. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 15 '18 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron definitely don't want to kill the User! Once upon a time there were some ordinary people...then something happened and made a very small percent of the population powerful. However, before these individuals realised their power, learnt to control it and form a power structure of their own they are subjugated by people without these abilities. The main intention of the drug was to reduce the power of certain individuals while they first learnt how everything worked. Then as they gained drug resistance, they slowly overthrow the "training wheels" and eventually become THE power..... $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 20:45

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There may be an antidote for the drug, which is far cheaper to produce and obtain than the drug itself.

For examples in real life:

  • Coffee can and will reduce the effects of some psychiatric medications, such as some anti-anxiety medicines (i.e.: propanolol). Coffee is generally much easier to obtain than psychiatric meds, and unless you live in a country where medicines are free - or if you like Starbucks overpriced coffee, caffeine will the the cheaper, more available drug.
  • Antibiotics may cut the effects of oral contraceptives. Though in this case, which one is cheaper and easier to get will vary from place to place.
  • Alcohol inhibits some antibiotics. I think I don't have to compare the logistics of obtaining medicines whose sales may be controlled by government to prevent abuse versus the logistics of obtaining a wino bag.

So let's suppose that your drug will work quite fine, unless people have eaten an antidote in the last 24 hours. Make this antidote something that most people would not eat nor drink on a daily basis, but something that one can easily get if they want to. For example... Jalapeños, which are rich in capsaicin.

Jalapeños

So anyone who is afraid of being subjected to such a drug might just base their diet on mexican food. This would make for interesting plot points, where people would have justification to shove the most powerful red peppers down their friends' throats in order to break the effects of the mind-control drug (and grant said friends with the power to breath fire like a dragon (just kidding)).

Of course, you can substitute any rare food/drink/substance you can imagine for pepper. For example, tonic soda, absynthe, Viagra, LSD, taurine (Red Bull/Monster)... Or a mix of all of these.

In the end it's not about the drug being hard to produce and obtain that keeps it from being ubiquitous, it's just that the antidote is orders of magnitude cheaper and easier to find.

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    $\begingroup$ Now that I'm reading my own post again I can't help but imagine someone blending a mix of jalapeño sauce, soda, absynthe, viagra and red bull and drinking it. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 15 '18 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ That is actually quite a simple and brilliant solution! It also gives an opportunity for the User to secretly take an antidote without the BigBad being aware and pretending to still follow orders! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ I know someone who used to blend, coca cola, redbull and turkish coffee together?!! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ "just kidding" but... why? That'd be cool. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Dec 7 '18 at 1:03
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The drug is incredibly hard to find in nature and every attempt to artificially manufacture it has failed.

Why is it so hard to find? The fungus it comes from only lives for a certain time, in small patches, and then dies off. It takes so much energy from the soil that it basically kills of the surrounding area, and then itself.

The area comes back to life over time, and the fungus comes back to life in other areas because its spores hibernate and awaken elsewhere. But it could be anywhere so there's no way to predict exactly where.

When it does reappear there's a mad scramble to get as much of it as possible, and when it dies off the drug becomes a highly expensive commodity, making it quite rare.

As for growing it in a controlled environment, well, attempts have been made, but the darned thing always dies off. Some agricultural scientists are starting to posit the view that the fungus itself may "know" when it's time to move on. Crazy, I know, but then again this is a sci-fi/fantasy story.

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There are other options you can use in there.

Increase the rate at which people become resistant. It can only be used a few times in a person's life before they're resistant.

Make it obvious that someone is under the effect of the drug. Anyone can suggest they do just about anything. Standard process for signing a binding document is for some to suggest everyone dances on the table, anyone who does so is treated for the effects of the drug before any further action can be taken.

Make the knowledge of the drug limited, but known to powerbrokers. Anyone of high status or political power is treated with the drug until they become resistant at the earliest possible opportunity. These people need to be handled by conventional means.

Knowledge/access to the masses is suppressed but it is used on large scales to repress riots or other unrest. Unruly populations eventually become entirely resistant.

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  • $\begingroup$ After Renan's answer about the antidote, I figured that any important agreements/deals/treaty signings would have incorporated a 'social' coffee drinking or pepper eating event. That way people wouldn't be able to argue that they had been under the influence when any deals were made. Gives a new slant to the previously inconsequential small talk sessions before any deals can be made. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 16 '18 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ I do think the idea of using the drug purposely NOW just to build up a tolerance for the FUTURE is an interesting solution. You would have to ensure that you trust those around you not to take too much advantage during this period! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 16 '18 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, you build it into the power structure. For hereditary systems tolerance is built by the family during childhood. For democratic systems it's done after confirmation of results but before handover of power. What's more fun is after a coup or other revolution when people haven't had time to deal with it or they weren't aware it was a thing and power has changed hands quickly. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 16 '18 at 12:42
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Edit: It seems your story demands the drug be used to control a small powerful group of people near the beginning. But you want to make the drug less of a danger later in the story. The solution has two parts.

  1. Your drug does not take effect immediately. It takes a few weeks/months to build up in the body before they are completely indoctrinated. This makes it harder for victims to realise what's going on until it's too late.
  2. The drug is easy and cheap to test for if you know what you're looking for.

Early in the story no-one knows about powers and no one knows about the drug. No one has any reason to believe their selves or their friends are being indoctrinated, and they have no way to test for this. By the time the drug becomes well known the powerful people have already been captured and subjugated. They have already reached the required concentration and you just command them to take another pill each morning.

Later the powerful people break free. The drug becomes common knowledge and a quick and cheap test is discovered. Just spit on this paper slide and the colour indicates the concentration (if any) in your system. So if you bother testing every week you're pretty much immune.

This doesn't mean everyone bothers testing every month. But important officials make a habit of it, and that makes the drug useless against them. It's possible though difficult to use it on civilians -- you have to somehow feed them a small amount every day for a month. At which point it's usually easier to point a gun to their head and say 'do this'. So the drug sees little use in organised crime or warfare for example. But there is still room for specialised characters in the story to use it if necessary.

Original Answer:

It would be helpful to know exactly what role you want the drug to play in the story. Then we can work on making sure it does that and nothing else. You've said two things you want to prevent but maybe my suggestions make the drug unfit for any use.

To prevent mass subjugation:

The drug has a limited time of effect. Say one hour. Not long enough to indoctrinate a large body of people and force them into some grand scheme. At the same time people quickly develop a resistence. Each individual can only be effected a few times. So you can't keep readministering the drug for as long as you need.

To prevent it being the universal solution for espionage:

If you want to extract information/compliance the drug only has one advantage over conventional threaths and torture. It can be done secretly. But wait it can't, because the drug's aftereffects include two days of nightmarish diarrhea and a telltale off-purple swelling of the forehead, and it is impossible to disguise under medical examination. So anything you do in secret will be revealed in an hour or so.

Another Handicap:

While the drug makes people very suggestible it also makes them lethargic and clumsy. You cannot make a brainwashed assassin because their pudding-fingers will make it impossible to fit their keys into the keyhole let alone sneak or fight anyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Uh. Is that the correct link? It's taking me to a wikipedia page about a manga Code Geass. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ The guy in Code Geass has a suggestion power that one works some small number of times one any given person ;-) $\endgroup$ – Daron May 15 '18 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Uh. Nevermind. Found what you were referencing in the plot summary. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ Just fyi for anyone too lazy to follow the link..."This power, also known as the "Power of Kings" (王の力 Ō no Chikara), allows him to command anyone to do whatever he wants, including bending their will to live, fight, or die on his behalf. This power can affect an individual just once and only through direct eye contact." $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 22:28
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Make it individual. It needs an active process to customize it for the individual which takes a week or month of human labor to do. This is not practical for a small group trying to control a large population. But it's quite practical for a large population trying to control a small group of super-powered individuals.

Make it imperfect. Use too much and it stops working. Don't use enough and it stops working. How much is needed is constantly changing. So a pint may be too much today and a quart is not enough tomorrow. Again, something that a large population can handle in managing a small group but that a small group can't use to manage a large population.

Make it difficult. You say that people need to be given simple, direct instructions. So for the most part, it will take one controller for each person controlled. Not a big deal for a large population, but ineffective when a small group tries to do the controlling.

You ask if this will be enough. I don't know. You will have to write the story and find out. You may find that you have to rewrite the story several times because the balance between what could be done and what you can counter will break frequently.

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You may want to look into already existing drugs.

If you want the one that adheres the most to your conditions, you're going to want to take a look at scopolamine.

Scopolamine is well known in Colombia and other South American countries for its hallucinogenic properties and the fact that anyone that takes some becomes extremely suggestible.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyoscine

It's been tested as a truth serum, and is known as a criminal's tool in order to kidnap or rob people. However, it also has medicinal uses.

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I think you already have some good safeguards, especially developing tolerance. However, if you want to limit it even more, or add a twist to your plot, you could add a requirement:

  • In order to be obeyed by the victim, the master must add some of its saliva to the drug mix before it is taken by the victim.

You could explain that by the need for the victim to recognize its master (maybe by the smell?).

It would add a difficulty for the offender, as his dna would be available in the victim organism for a while. Also it adds a limitation of only one person able to give orders to the intoxicated victim.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think so... You could just use a prepared perfume rather than someone's saliva. Just present the same perfume as was used to prepare the drug and the victim will recognize a master. $\endgroup$ – Renan May 15 '18 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan Have you seen the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer? It's not trivial to imitate someone odour. However, if the offender adds its saliva, it might be by the smell of its mouth, when he whispers the order to the victim. $\endgroup$ – Legisey May 15 '18 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ saw this article about an artist bottling the scent of a person the other day $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 15 '18 at 21:45
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IMO the easiest way to limit the drug to one planet is that the users are members of the one species that evolved on that planet and the other planets' inhabitants don't have the right neurochemistry to be affected at all. Or the effects are different.

If all the planets are inhabited by the same species, it could still be a story element that due to small original population of the planet's colonisation, a mutation which allows this fungus to do as it does is very prevalent in the overall population of the planet and does not exist outside it. Maybe it's not even a mutation but an engineered trait which allowed the colonists to digest some planet-specific protein and had this side-effect which was only discovered later.

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It's difficult to say if it's enough without knowing more about your story. It sounds like you don't want this drug to play a large role at all, but to be more of a background thing - a way to wave off the implications of some other story component. (For example, "Oh, yes, they could do [very bad thing], but if they did, we could use this drug to [counter very bad thing]. It's not good for much else, though") If that's the case, maybe you should ask for alternative ways to counter the [very bad thing]. Assuming you're set on this method, though, I think the more restrictions you add, the better.

A couple of ideas, depending on what works for you:

  • The drug could leave residual traces in the system of the user for a significant period of time (from a day up to a month) so that the user can easily prove he was drugged if he suspects it
  • The drug could have adverse effects on the user, including harmless visual blemishes, sickness, or even death. Depending on severity, this could range from being simply something that is difficult to spot, but causes using the drug to be risky, (it MIGHT be noticed) up to something that forces you to kill in order to use it, causing less frequent use and making it fairly obvious that it has been used.

It may also help to give a hard example of what the drug can't do in your story. For example, if it's only a slight suggestibility, demonstrate that it does not allow you to force someone to commit suicide or kill their loved ones. Suggestibility drugs have a WIDE gray area that could almost always use more definition in my opinion.

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The fungus is an infection.

An infection with this fungus lets the fungus take over the behavior of the infected. Humans are not the natural host for this fungus but can be infected (like rat scabies, which will bite us but cannot live on us). One of 4 outcomes is possible.

  1. Human is infected and controllable while the immune system battles the infection. The human might be more or less ill during this period. If the immune system wins and destroys the fungus, the human has lasting immunity. Most people are in this category.

  2. Human is infected but eventually dies of the immune reaction.

  3. Human is infected and remains chronically infected. These humans might be identifiable as such. They remain controllable.

  4. Human is infected and fungus takes control, as with natural host. You can decide on the motives of the fungus.

You should not lay out these possibilities up front but allow them to be discovered over the course of the story. The discovery of the existence of a population of persons in category 4 would give great energy midway through the story.

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