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So, it’s the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Life is tough, and the daily struggle for water, food, and medicine is taxing on its inhabitants. People want to escape the wasteland.

In the wastes, there is one gang of criminals known as the Moreno Family. The Moreno Family deals in things like slaves, and gambling, but most importantly to this question, drugs. But they want to expand their product. They currently produce marijuana, but the money is in fast turn-around and high addiction rates, so they want something more powerful. The unfortunate thing is they have less technology than their ancestors.

So my question is: what recreational substance can be produced with minimal (let’s say....early 1900s) tech?

Other information:

This takes place in the southwestern United States. The Moreno Family settle in the area once known as Fresno (California).

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    $\begingroup$ Alcohol seems an obvious choice. $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2020 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming you have the plants, opiates or cocaine variants should both be producible. Whether they'll grow in a postapocalyptic wasteland is another question. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jul 7, 2020 at 3:16
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    $\begingroup$ related, a history.se post about drugs in middle ages. You don't have to have current technology to produce some drugs, and as always, history is a great source of inspiration $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Jul 7, 2020 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ Given the location, I was going to suggest mescaline (peyote). But it doesn't seem to be addictive. $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2020 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ Upvote for alchool as the most likely to make in a wasteland post-apocalypse. You can make it from almost anything that can ferment. Maybe they won't be able to grow grapes so no fine Cognac. But they may use a wide selection of crops: potatoes (vodka), rice (sake), rye and oats (whiskey). $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2020 at 10:18

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  • Papaver somniferum can be grown for producing opium.
  • Potatoes, cereals, fruits can be used to produce alcohol based drinks, ranging from beer and wine to vodka, whiskey and bourbon (probably in the post apocalypse nobody will sue you for calling whiskey something brewed in California).

I think the last option is easier to conceal and will give less risks of inducing a famine, because those can be used as food source, too, while if you plant poppies you are not planting anything else in the same time.

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  • $\begingroup$ often places used the wastage (pealings, grain dust, damaged or over/underripe fruit, for making alcohol. ussually things deemed unsuitable or unsavory for human consumption. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 8, 2020 at 2:04
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The very first thing you need to do is hie thee to google and enter in: illegal drugs 1890s.

Basically this is my go-to when I have a question like this. If I know the approximate time period for tech level, I check in with what we have had during that time as a jumping off point. Any year ending in an 00 will have a tendency to include the entire century (and so much changed in that century) so I err on the side of subtracting or adding 10 years to get a better picture. Plus you are likely to get a decade instead of a century.

Since the tech available is, to your reckoning, what is available in what you say is the year 1900, this is a place to start.

What you will find is that opium and cocaine were just...WILDLY popular. They can produce that with the tech available in 1900 for CERTAIN!

I also invite you to take a look at this lovely link on the history of prescription drugs

There you will see that by 1900:

1900 - Opium, morphine, heroin and cocaine in wide use in over-the-counter medicines made by a pharmacist or a manufacturer (known as patent medicines).

So...heroin & opium--both those are poppy-based. Cocaine is based on the coca plant.

Don't overlook high concentrations of caffeine either...

Pretty much, you can take a look at the actual drugs from the time period you want, and then research the logistics of manufacturing and growing those, up against the conditions in the setting. (Which may or may not be different because apocalypse might change weather and soil.)

Now, you might take a second look at 1900 and go "Man, I didn't know we had those drugs then, that seems advanced." And seriously, 1900 or even 1890 is...a HIGH level of tech, when looking at the whole of human history. 1900 means that an industrial revolution has happened. Factory work with machines has happened (again). So yeah. Heroin.

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TOBACCO

Tobacco is the obvious answer. It is easy to grow, it is highly addictive, and it won't kill the user for many years. Nor is it especially destructive for users in the short term. Users will still be able to work, though they may be shorter of breath and lose their senses of taste and smell. For this reason, there will be little resistance against selling tobacco compared to more quickly destructive drugs. In addition, tobacco can be consumed in numerous ways: You can smoke it, sniff it, chew it, and suck on it. For heavy users, the Moreno family could make a powerful nicotine extract for extra kicks and extra addiction.

There is good money in tobacco. In the US alone, the tobacco industry has an estimated market of more than USD 120 billion. In Soviet Russia, after early anti-smiking campaigns, the state grew cheap tobacco and encouraged workers to smoke in order to get more money in the state treasury. The state even made pro-smoking propaganda posters stating that "smoking is healthy".

Addendum: Tobacco does reduce stress and anxiety, but it doesn't really get you high. So if that is the point, mix in some non-addictive drug that does make you high.An obvious choice is the herb salvia divinorum (which is native to Mexoco, both of which can be smoked with tobacco.

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    $\begingroup$ Very good point. It doesn't need to be something that's an "illegal drug" in our time. It just needs to be something that's rare enough for them to monopolise. Only downside is that OP did mention "People want to escape the wasteland" and if that's meant to be important, then we're looking specifically for something people can get high on. OP, was that your idea? $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Jul 8, 2020 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ @A.B.: That is a very good point. I could argue that people use tobacco to relax and reduce stress, but they don't really get high. Maybe mix the tobacco with something that does give you a high. I'll ad a note about that. $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2020 at 7:33
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Since I'm playing around with the same basic idea (recreational drug use after the apocalypse), here are my $0.02 on the subject:

Even if the "tech level" available in the laboratory environment is available, you have to consider the entire supply- and industrial chain. You might know all the reactions and chemicals you need, but if the industrial base is gone it's gonna be real hard to produce anything. Even if you had found a warehouse full of the precursors and reactants you need, they won't keep forever, especially if there's no refrigeration and/or warehouses start taking on rainwater etc.

Consider amphetamine for instance, in order to synthesize it you would need to produce formamide, phenylacetone, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid and some organic solvent. To produce that in any reasonable quantity would require very specific resources, quite a few specialized workers, some very specific equipment and the industrial and societal base for all that to work reliably. It seems like multi-step synthesis would be out of reach of your average "post-apocalypse" setting.

So we're probably left with simple organic drugs or things that does not require complex chemistry and multi-step reactions and synthesis: Cannabis, peyote, opium, ephedra, caffeine, psilocybin, khat, datura, coca etc. Not all of these would be great candidates for creating a "profitable addiction", but some would be (opium, ephedra, caffeine, khat, coca - and as someone already mentioned tobacco).

Depending on how much of a society there still is, how many survivors and how "embedded" a producer is in that society some drugs are a better option than others. Pumping out opium into a post-apocalyptic society would probably be catastrophic over a couple of years, but I can easily see stuff like ephedra, coca and cannabis being prevalent without disrupting survivor societies to the point of breaking them.

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They could just have found a big warehouse of industrial chemicals which they convert into meth or whatever.

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  • $\begingroup$ Worth mentioning, actually. It may be unoriginal but it does make it play out differently in this "postapocalyptic" world from just "1900s". Depends what the OP is after. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Jul 8, 2020 at 3:02

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