Earth-sized planet, its inhabitants are human settlers and live in towns protected by custom-sized atmospheres. The rest of the planet is barren and always was.

The population uses the equivalent of late 19th century technology, except with machines powered by magic and no access to petroleum.
Their agricultural resources are restricted. Not that the people go hungry, but they can't afford to mismanage their cultivated lands. They practice fish farming, but don't have domesticated animals bigger than a duck.

Because of the setting, it would be impossible for these people to synthetize designer drugs, or to produce enough grain or fruit alcohol for mainstream consumption.

For plot purposes, I need this world to have recreational drugs.

I'm trying to find one or several drugs that could fit these uses:

  • In social gathering, a light consumption helps people socialize and have fun. Consuming too much would lead to stupid behavior and/or some physical symptoms like vomiting or passing out.

  • Either an overconsumption of a social drug or the consumption of a harder one creates a strong addiction and takes a heavy toll on a person physical and mental health.

  • One drug can be consumed regularly without major adverse effects, like coffee. If this one is impossible, I can work with "trace amounts of drug X is present in a common drink or food".

Also the plants or animals used to produce them where brought from Earth to this planet.

For now I chose to make psychoactive mushrooms the most common recreational drugs, because they can be cultivated in small spaces and relatively short amounts of time.

Other possibilities include marijuana (cultivated indoors), psychoactive toads (not sure how to make this one work) and some sort of cactus that could be grown in the wastelands.

Question :

Given these people resources, and leaving the legal questions and the government's stance out of the equation ;

What recreational drugs could be produced and consumed in this setting?

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    $\begingroup$ Is raising bees feasible if an initial population was brought from Earth? Their honey combined with a batch of yeast from Earth as well can produce mead. The bees would be sustainable, and the yeast would be sustainable for a few generations at least. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Aug 24 '16 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Side note: psychodelics like "magic" mushrooms aren't too good, because they don't make you addicted, aren't too good for socializing, and last kind of long for a recreational drug(whole day). They also highly increase tolerance when you take them(meaning you can't them day after day without changing dose almost exponentially), although they are indeed quite easy to get. I'd go with marijuana, opium(could use it to make laudanum) or coca; DMT is too strong and too short. $\endgroup$ – MatthewRock Aug 24 '16 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JasonC Yep, excellent idea! Plus the settlers have to bring bees in the first place since there are no local insects on this planet and they'll need pollinating insects to be able to grow their crops. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ In my experience, mushrooms usually last less than a few hours. I've never seen anyone have hallucination effects after 4 hours though euphoria can last a little longer. $\endgroup$ – bob0the0mighty Aug 24 '16 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ If your people don't go hungry, they'll have enough plants to produce alcool. $\endgroup$ – Tryss Aug 24 '16 at 20:19

13 Answers 13


Largely synthetic drugs like MDMA and methamphetamine simply require the base components and pretty simple laboratory set-ups. Meth labs in particular can be VERY low tech. But since you specify a 19th century tech and include "magic", it seems unlikely that most of the base ingredients will be available in a refined form and since very drug, I believe, ultimately has some sort of organic component it would require the colony to cultivate that plant/fungus to extract that initial compound. Huffing chemicals, like nitrous oxide or aerosol propellants is a possibility, but again, I'm not sure 19th century tech would have much of that (they seem to be drugs of absolute last resort). Plus many of these compounds have a petroleum-derived base and if your world is low on natural gas/hydrocarbon energy that would be problematic.

So what colonists are VERY likely to take with them are poppy seeds, possibly coca seeds, tobacco, and absolutely hemp and marijuana seeds. These plants have substantial medicinal value, particularly anesthetic which is vital for the practice of modern surgical technique. Hemp has numerous commercial byproducts and nutritional value, so it seems likely that THC containing varieties will also be included. Tobacco is a luxury good, plus it has nicotine, which has substantial value as a stimulant.

There will undoubtedly be some sort of grain or spirit generating starchy plant (potato, rice, wheat, corn, etc) which can easily be fermented with simple yeasts found in the environment (or brought with them in freeze dried form). Alcohol has MANY uses, from sterilization, sanitation, and industrial, besides the intoxicant effect. Even if the colonists EAT the grain, there is usually enough residual sugars in the non-edible portions to allow for fermentation. This is a necessary thing, since an alcohol based liquid is a valuable way to store food energy that otherwise would be lost to rot/pests. Perhaps in the colony there is a year round growing cycle, but you can't just dump grain into a silo forever for storage. Making beer/wine/spirits is a way to retain at least some nutritional value.

Pure psychedelics like mushrooms are a little more questionable. They have a long history with religious practices though, so it seems likely that some would be brought with the colonists.

Really though, unless your planet is totally sterile, it seems pretty likely that, given enough time, some enterprising experimental pharmacologist or chemist will find native compounds that have a desirable (though possibly long term deleterious) effect on human physiology. Even toxic compounds, if refined in some manner, can be rendered somewhat safe for human use. There has to be local sources of hydrocarbons in some form, else the entire colony would have to be recycling ALL of their carbon, which seems unlikely. These chemicals can be refined into substances that have effects on humans, if only for huffing (which is a really bad way to get a high).

DMT is a likely drug. It is present in damn near everything, but it needs some processing for it to be effective. Seems like it is highly ritualistic, so I'm not sure how well it would go over at parties/social settings, but it seems fairly easy to produce.

Worst case is something like oxygen deprivation paired with VR, sensory deprivation tanks, ASMR, or the like, basically a non pharmacological method of altering perception.

EDIT: If you want some inspiration on all the different ways humans have managed to generate alcoholic drinks out of damn near everything, I recommend Amy Stewart's Drunken Botantist. It is a fun read and very illuminating about all the different ways humans have managed to get drunk.

And really worst case, your colonists could use Jenkem :P

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! I didn't know it was possible to produce alcohol with non-edible parts of the grain! Yes the planet is completelly sterile, and always was, that's why the towns and their farms are covered by artificial atmospheres, and why there's no naturally formed petroleum (the main reason they can't produce most synthetized drugs). $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ You need some specialized yeast, but presumably the colonists would have thought of this. alcohol4fuel.com/id37.html $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 24 '16 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ A real concern for ethanol though is whether you drink it or use it as a fuel. But since you have some sort of magic for power, I guess it is "bottom's up" :) But you really need some sort of external carbon source, plus stuff like nitrogen and phosphate, for any sort of sustainable agriculture. Abiogenic petroleum theory would allow you to have a somewhat earth-like level of petroleum without precursor life. Of course that is a pretty controversial theory, but might be worth looking into. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Aug 24 '16 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ DMT lasts couple of minutes, is very strong(look up some vids on yt, people are disconnected), you can't take weak dose(because drug is so potent), tolerance gets much higher after each hit and you can't really take multiple hits. Nope, this won't work. $\endgroup$ – MatthewRock Aug 24 '16 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ @MatthewRock, you can, in spite of ignorant glorification, take small doses and it won't launch you into space. Adding an MAOI will slow the metabolization so that it can last hours. The followers of Santo Diame use it as Ayahuasca in this way. It's also just an extraction, not a "process" so given a proper solvent and a good concentration in some source, you can pull it out really easily. The universe is practically giving the stuff away. $\endgroup$ – coblr Aug 24 '16 at 19:37

Alcohol still meets your requirements and is almost certainly going to be the drug of choice on your planet. It meets all of your bullet points. Alcohol is extremely easy to produce, useful in a variety of other ways, and addictive.

Your planet is bound to have some people that take their food and ferment it into alcohol and then either share it out or sell/trade it. There may be no centralized alcohol production industry but that doesn't mean people won't make a large amount when taken as a whole.

A plus is that fermentation, in general, is used to prolong the shelf life of foods or make foods more nutritious by making the nutrients in the food easier to digest.


Huffing carbon dioxide would require virtually no resources.

Essentially all you need is a sealed bag to continuously breathe in and out of until remaining oxygen has been mostly replaced by CO2.

The effects come from oxygen deprivation, and are dangerous, and likely very uncomfortable.

Depending on the social state and general stress of this society I believe it could conceivably fit all three of your requirements, especially in the abscence of other drugs. It would not be physically addictive, however, the addiction would have to be psychological.

I would say this population was in desperate times if this became their high of choice.

As an aside, if you can get ammonium nitrate, a more comfortable experience would be nitrous oxide (whippets), which can be produced with minimal resources as long as you have a heat source, water, and various containers.

I don't know how to produce ammonium nitrate as resource-free as possible. It is naturally occurring in certain minerals. You could continue down through e.g. this process until you find things that occur in your environment. It's also used in fertilizers, which may have been brought from Earth, which could lead to an interesting dynamic where food sources that relied on the limited quantity of fertilizers were sacrificed in lieu of making drugs instead.

I can say from ... let's call it second-hand experience ... that whippets meet your requirements in at least some form. They certainly decrease the productivity of a community, that I can say for sure.

Along those lines, basically anything that replaces oxygen, is not directly toxic (like, won't just kill you immediately), and ideally tricks your body into thinking you are breathing properly (e.g. nitrous oxide, doesn't cause pain like holding your breath does with CO2, hence its high recreational use), would do here.

Also, is raising bees feasible if an initial population was brought from Earth? Their honey combined with a batch of yeast from Earth as well can produce mead, which of course nicely meets all of your requirements. The bees would be sustainable, and the yeast would be sustainable for a few generations at least. You may be able to put the first generation of yeast in stasis with your magic, and use that to re-seed periodically.

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    $\begingroup$ I've edited this to add a few more thoughts about nitrous and ammonium nitrate, as well as a suggestion to raise bees and import yeast to produce mead. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Aug 24 '16 at 16:10

The drug of choice in Victorian times, may I present Ether! It does for what ails you! it's clear and odorless, highly flammable and gets you as high as a kite. The preparation is very simple in comparison to other methods.

In order to produce ether you need alcohol, for alcohol you need sugar. How about they harvest local produce, extract the sugar and ferment it down. The local flora doesn't need to be edible, just contain sugar.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I didn't tought of Ether at all. The problem is that the planet is barren, so there's no local wildlife outside of human settlements. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @SpaceLizard you can use trimmings from agriculture, breaking down the carbohydrates and brewing. you'd get a very low % beer but with enough distillation you can get it to sufficient levels for spirits/ether. In addition, trimmings wouldn't be wasted as they can then be fed to pigs/composted after being used in the fermentation process $\endgroup$ – Chris J Aug 24 '16 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ God idea. I'll do some research on the production of alcohol from trimmings. Plus they don't have any farm animal bigger than a duck (so no pigs), there should be even more leftovers. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @SpaceLizard look up bioethanol production, biofuel is essentially refined alcohol $\endgroup$ – Chris J Aug 24 '16 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ "Ether" is easy to produce, pure ether is hard. It took the medical community over 30 years to accept ether for surgery because the early forms killed so many patients owing a lack of precision in purity and quality of the ether. Basically, the actual dosage of ether a patient got and what other chemical byproducts might be in the either, was a crapshoot. "Ether parties" were actually popular circa 1820s-1840s before it became a medicine. Purity was less of a problem because the doses where low and rarely taken, even so people died. $\endgroup$ – TechZen Aug 24 '16 at 20:16

In the middle ages people made bread with rye. There's a fungus which grows on rye called ergot. It's lethal in high doses, but in small doses it'll just make you sick... and high as a kite. It's a powerful hallucinogen.

People discovered that if you rubbed the substance against permeable skin, like armpits or genitals, you wouldn't get sick, just have a good time. Often manifesting in feeling that you were flying. Which is actually where the witches riding broomsticks meme comes from.

This article covers it and associated cultural-historical connotations. So that's definitely something that you can do with limited technology.

There's also something I heard regarding reindeer. The nomads who lived in northern Siberia, if I recall correctly, noticed that there was a toxic mushroom that reindeer ate, and then the reindeer behaved like they were drunk. So, ever curious, the locals decided that owing to the mushroom's toxicity, the best way to handle this safely was to collect and drink the reindeer's urine.

Basically, toxic mushrooms filtered or diluted somehow seem to be a very cheap and low tech way of getting off your face.


In order to optimise the effort put on drug harvesting, I suggest to focus on drug with heavy effect and mix them with food/liquid.

Thus, you can have large amount of drug with little quantity to grow (for example, a single toad can be infused with several litters of water (like tequila) and last for a month.

Then, you can also use drug who don't need attention and dedicated land to grow. For example, mushroom can grow in wood or among crops while marijuana need to be watering and occupy more place.

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    $\begingroup$ Since when is Tequila like water? The former is between one-third and one-half alcohol. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 24 '16 at 12:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I think he meant "liquid". That said, I would assume that consuming most drugs with alcohol is very bad for your health... $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 24 '16 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ You can find worm, snake or even scorpio in some bottle of Tequila. By putting the frog in a bottle of liquid (not necessary alcool) the active ingredient is slowly diluted in the whole bottle. $\endgroup$ – Metushael Aug 24 '16 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ I thought about frogs, but I don't know how this could work. Can people raise psychoactive toads in this setting ? $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ You don't really need to raise frog: you can simply harvest them in the wild. With only one frog per bottle, this is sustainable regarding population density in this setting. Same for hallucinogenic mushroom. $\endgroup$ – Metushael Aug 24 '16 at 13:41

DMT is an astonishingly common and powerful hallucinogen. Many, many animals in their death throws experience a natural DMT trip. When people go through a near-death experience and say things like they had "gone towards the light," DMT is taking them there.

People aren't so sure why this happens. A prevailing theory is that the DMT trip help eases a dying brain into acceptance of its own fate. Some believe it is a gateway to other dimensions of existence.

So, given that the supply is abundant, the question becomes a matter of extraction. OP said the society practices fish farming, so if the magic is capable of extracting DMT from the slaughtered fish at the time of death, then the preparation of meat could also double as a religious ceremony, whereby the meat is extracted to feed the body and the DMT is extracted to feed the soul.

Perhaps this is the way their society "balances the books" from a subsistence driven by the consumption of flesh.

  • $\begingroup$ This DMT thing is awesome. It has a lot of potential story-wise, plus there's no need to change too much the magic rules of this world (I was afraid most answers would feature some sort of "euphoria spell"), they just need some sort of extracting/filtering spell. So all animals produce DMT? $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of them do. In most cases, it's a routine chemical produced and used for routine biological purposes. The amounts that get produced are way, way, lower than would be necessary to experience a trip, but a large and robust enough magic filter could turn even waste products (urine) into usable portions. It is also worth noting that pure DMT degrades rather quickly in the open (without freezers, etc), so the relative haste from production to consumption could play a part in the ritual reflecting the fleeting nature of life. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 24 '16 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ The only issue is that it doesn't meet some of the important criteria. It's not really a "social" thing as it's very self exploratory, and you can have trip, after trip, after trip and not pass out or get stupid (after a few mins) like you do with booze or coca, and there's no addiction potential. Habitual, maybe, but not physical addiction like caffeine, alcohol, coca. It could be intwined with the story as pretty descriptions, but as far as little Johnny getting hooked on DMT, skipping school and going on a rampage just isn't realistic. Maybe try bath salts. $\endgroup$ – coblr Aug 25 '16 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ @fractalspawn If I lived in a barren desert bubble subsistence economy I'd get bored out of my mind - literally. The limited trip duration and short-term tolerance spikes could make people obsessed over constantly trying to reach a "higher" state through subsequent attempts, for lack of anything better to do. There has also been recent research that is finding ways to extend trips into hours, although it might not work given the limited technology of this scenario. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 25 '16 at 15:34

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If magic is a thing, then magic will influence the environment. Be it "Dust", material from outside (the sterile rock and/or literal dust) which is magically affected and thus can have some effect when taken into the body directly (topical/ingested/inhalant)or indirectly (used in food, drink, or other product preparation).

The plants and animals brought along may also have been affected, if there are no domesticated animals larger than a duck, then breeds of dogs, cats, and birds are all on the table... perhaps literally if there is no other source of meat (are livestock not consider domesticated animals?). Whether altered by the magic, or perhaps prepared with magic, some organ or other edible part or byproduct may serve as your social lubrication. (Person one: "This drink has a nice kick and buzz, but tastes like cow piss! Person two: "Well....")

Spells as entertainment or intoxicant is also a possibility once magic is available. Any party may inherently or naturally (or artificially if unconscious magic is not a thing) have a ritual component which invokes "cheer and goodwill" and leave all participants with that buzz that some find pleasant. One might even find the occasional rude/violent drunk who is more susceptible than others to the effects. It could even be an outright spell that is cast before the heroic feast. ^^

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, livestock are considered domesticated. Euphoria spells are a good idea but I probably won't use it because mind-altering magic is supposed to be newly discovered in my story. In the same time, recent inventions/discoveries are sometimes quickly repurposed as drugs, and for other... forms of personnal entertainment, in the real world, so it could fit. I'll need to think about it. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 18:42

Nutmeg, do they have access to smoking nutmeg like pirates did? Strong but easy to OD on so do NOT try this at home.

Are their industrial solvents or gasses to huff?

Morning glories, the common flower, is also smokable, can they grow flowers?

Alcohol can be fermented from food waste/scraps, what do they do with their garbage/compost? Do they have stale bread, you can make beer from a stale loaf.

On that note, you can research Jenkem and see if that was a hoax or possible.

What do they do with their dead? Access to formaldehyde?

  • $\begingroup$ The morning glories idea is perfect! Plus I suspect they could be easy to grow on balconies and such. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ To answer your questions -> 19th century tech and no petroleum so close to no chemical industry. The towns centers are pretty standard, they can hang flower pots to their windows and balconies. They don't have much food to waste, but I think they could make some ethanol with farms compost. They drop their deads in a nerby river, so the bodies go to the sea. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '16 at 15:35


Hemp, dude. Grows like weed, even on terrains otherwise little suited for crops. You know what to do with the leaves. Stems are very useful as a fiber source for textile and ropes.


It seems that your main problem with plant-based drugs is that settlers cannot waste fertile lands on it.

But in reality you cannot grow single crop every season, it will have adverse effect on soil. To avoid that you will have to rotate crops. And do you know what common rotation crop was? Hemp, member of genus Cannabis. Its relative is Humulus, more commongly known as hop.

So fields, which temporary cannot grow main crop will produce plants for brewing beer and making pot.


You sad they cannot harvest much crops, so I assume they cannot waste land to cultivate herbs and fungus, those would be relatively easy drugs to obtain. However nothing prevents them from consuming drugs that grows spontaneously. Event better, they maybe HAVE to destroy marijuama because is a infesting weed ( in reality that is extremily plausible, countries that cultivates marijuana are basically going to become deserts in 1-2 decades) that is destroying all crops, so much of they work is simply destroying marijuama and as side effect they smoke a bit too.

Another relatively simple drug to obtain are oil, painting and glue (some people just smell/drink those extremily toxic and cancerogen compounds). Everything added by other answers is still good for your plot (alchool, MDMDA, methamphetamine)

  • $\begingroup$ I stroked derivates of petroleum since according to the plot, inahbitants don't have access to. $\endgroup$ – CoffeDeveloper Aug 25 '16 at 9:01

How bout some good Ole peyote ,belladonna, glue or spray paint inhalants, chewing cocoa leaves or the liquor natives make from chewing plant and Spitting? Or a virtual reality head gear kinda like an opium den. But the kind of high you get depends on your core beliefs and characteristics....man,that could give you endless story twists and possibilities! Valerian root no special storage

  • $\begingroup$ -1 for "glue or spray paint inhalants" and "virtual reality." OP clearly states "Limited resources and technology" in the title, no less. $\endgroup$ – rm -rf slash Aug 25 '16 at 15:36

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