In my scenario, people behave after a certain "transformation" similar to Zombies. However they are not "undead", meaning that they cannot raise again after their body functions completely are out of order. Their behavior resembles those of zombies in the following way:

  • Not capable of having verbal interaction with non-transformed humans

  • Hostile towards every mammal which is directly encountered

  • Regards human flesh as nutrition like flesh of any other mammal

My question

Is it possible that a transformation which leads to this behavior can be caused by substances that possibly exist nowadays, probably also in nature?

One option I thought of: Long exposure to a certain poisonous gas in an abandoned mine. The exposure to the gas damages sections in the human brain permanently, which causes humans to lose any common sense, behave like rabid animals and triggering them to regard every living being as possible nutrition.

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    $\begingroup$ Hostile towards every living being, or just specific ones? Are they to be hostile towards lions? Plants? Lice? Bacteria? The other two points are easy using an extreme introvert from the Wari' tribe. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ TV, Ignorance, (licit or not) Drugs? $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ "Not capable of having verbose interaction with not-transformed humans" -- This implies that they CAN have verbose interaction with transformed humans...? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking about so-called "bath salts". There are plenty of reported incidents of people under influence acting pretty much like zombies. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 19:09

9 Answers 9


I read How to Design a Plague that Causes Insanity? and Would a prion be the most likely cause of zombies?, yet I think the question is different here, and very interesting. It's reality-check, so I went to the wikipedia.

1. Not capable of having verbose interaction with not-transformed humans
This seems to be quite straightforward: Communication Disorder. My personal preference goes to larynx malfunction (e.g. esophageal voice) combined with hearing impairment (frequent ear infections).

2. Hostile towards every mammal which is directly encountered
This is quite easy: make them always hungry (Hunger). For some reason, glucagon - epinephrine - ghrelin levels are always high within their system. They feel always hungry, even when they're bloated full. Maybe their insulin and cholecystokinin (CCK) levels are always too low to stimulate the feeling of satisfaction as well.

3. Regards human flesh as nutrition like flesh of any other mammal
Thats' a bit tricky. In general, humans consider other mammals as source of food, although in general we prefer vegetarian prey (e.g. stag) to meat-eating predator (e.g. lion) steaks. Expanding that to include humans is unusual, but it has been done. It's called Cannibalism, and it has been known to occur in situations of extreme HUNGER (see #2). No biological reason has been proved to create craving for a particular food (over others, see Food Craving). It's usually attributed to psychological reasons. So I would say, that if somehow they could be out of the state of continuous hunger, they'd stop hunting humans.

Further research should propose specific viruses or parasites that could create such conditions as in #1 and #2 simultaneously. But! First, I'm not an expert in that field (or the specific stackexchange), and second, I'm not sure this is the answer vector you're looking for.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure people eat cows and not wolves as its easy to feed the cows grass. It is hard and uneccisarily complicated to feed cows to the wolves (and then eat those wolves). $\endgroup$
    – starlord7
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ wait... so if the ghrelin levels in the someone's brain are high enough they would just start committing cannibalism!?!?! :O $\endgroup$
    – Hi0401
    Commented Jun 10, 2023 at 8:38

You're looking for some sort of (micro-)parasite.

Parasites are nature's masters of reprogramming other animals to behave in odd ways. Expecially toxoplasma gondii is known to infect humans and it's possible that it affects us similarly to mice, which get attracted to feline urine, so that the cats can eat the mice and thereby get infected with the parasite. (It's likely that humans with the parasite also are more attracted to cats).

In your case you'll need to come up with parasite that somehow benefits from the infected humans eating other mammals (I've currently no idea for that). The answers to this question, seem to go in the same direction so maybe also have a look there

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    $\begingroup$ This is probably the best realistic answer, because we already know of parasites that cause these kinds of odd behaviors in animals (and possibly people; toxoplasma is a hell of a drug!). If you absolutely need a drug and not an animal, then what you ought to do is have your drug be the distilled active compound created by "farming" the parasites themselves to create the drug. $\endgroup$
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to add en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhizocephala as a great candidate. It turns crabs into zombies. $\endgroup$
    – gwally
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ If you go the not-quite-real-world-but-a-plausible-step route, perhaps include the The Last of Us disease which is a Cordyceps fungus that can now infect humans. $\endgroup$
    – Nick T
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ That explains cray cat ladies...... $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ Ophiocordyceps unilateralis "also referred to as a zombie fungus" - "Yeast stages of the fungus spread in the ant's body and presumably produce compounds that affect the ant's hemocoel, utilizing the evolutionary trait of an extended phenotype to manipulate the behavioral patterns exhibited by the ant." $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 23:24

Bath Salts is a broad classification for a type of drug that has been linked to zombie like behavior in humans. It is a psychoactive drug that often triggers extremely violent and anti-social behavior.

There was a famous zombie like attack that took place in Florida a few years ago.

Face-Eating Cannibal Attack

Bath salts are an alternative drug for Heroin users.

Those would be the closest "substance" that you could use as a reference.

You could use the idea that scientists engineered a virus that produces this compound or a stronger variant of it.

  • $\begingroup$ First, I think you mean bacteria not viruses. Viruses produce nothing except themselves via hijacking the cells. Retro-viruses can repurpose the cell into doing something different like producing chemicals however the virus itself doesnt do it. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Second, the face-eating cannibal attack was a statistical anomaly. It is an incredibly complex behavior to cause an association between a persons face and food, that it is highly unlikely that any chemical or chemicals was the sole factor. It is more likely that there were other conditions and experiences that culminated in this behavior that were intensified by the drug. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 14:22

To start with…

Real life substance you require would have to precisely damage human brain, which would be pretty hard to perform. This way you wouldn't have to administer 'substance' again and there would be no cure for state of 'zombification'. Traditionally Zombies were created with tetradoxin, which precisely administered by shamans allowed to keep targeted people virtually dead till brain damage would occur. Resulting damage was often disabling ability to communicate and think, however really rarely resulted with zombie's indiscriminate hostility against every living creature or cannibalism.

For more modern approach it would be some narcotic or drug with strong withdrawal symptoms and degrading effect on human brain (may be, for example, old military stimulants or neurotoxin). Some natural substances (mostly marked as narcotics) may easily trigger expected hostility, however effect is usually unpredictable, temporary and chance for cannibalism is rare to occur. For given scenario of abandoned mine it could be used for military to store some secret, non-public weaponry.

Precise combination of debilitating chemicals and enraging ones could over time degrade human, however it would be hard to encounter in normal environment.

For exposure on gases it could be mist with kind of modified rabies virus (technically more substance than living beings). It could result with expected hostility and lose on communication skills (brain damage and instilled by virus desire to infect other creatures). Still it would be rare for one to devour human flesh (maybe expect for specific local culture). Additionally it would result with rather short life expectancy for zombies.


It's not a question of what will do it but a question of how it does it.

What can be anything from a disease, parasite, drug, fungus, mad doctor, nanobots, voodoo witchdoctor.

Firstly it needs to restrict the higher brain functions (Cerebrum) effectually reducing the person to an animal level. There is no logic, reason or compassion, just survival.

Next it needs to affect the Hypothalamus which controls hunger and thirst so effectually you end up with a starving animal no matter how much it eats.

It could also affect the amygdala to increase aggression and perhaps stimulate the adrenal gland for increased speed and strength

Finally what would be cool is if the infected could recognize other infected (via smell most likely) and the brain releases oxytocin creating a pack mentality.

What you end up with is super fast and strong zombies that hunt in packs

If you want slow shamblers, you'd decrease adrenal activity, increase hunger more and reduce overall brain function


Okay, I am not here to argue with anyone, but I am a recovered heroin addict... I know bath salts are NOT used as an alternative to it. For a number of reasons:

  1. The effect will do nothing to aide a heroin addicts "hunger" for the drug.
  2. Methadone is easily accessible to anyone in those circles so bath salts just would not cut it. There are other reasons but this is not the forum for it.

But, on another note about the bath salts, I personally have seen a guy dive through a double glazed window onto the road below and when he hit the ground he proceeded to repeatedly headbutt the concrete floor, splitting his face open, smashing his nose, but felt No pain. So, for a short time, I guess you could say, he was in a similar state to what a zombie would be it.

As in pure rage, directed at anything that got in his way.
That's my "2 cents" for what it's worth.

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    $\begingroup$ I mean, there was that story a while ago about a guy who was high on bath salts and tried to chew another guy's face off... $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, after seeing what the one guy did to himself, I completely believe it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ 1+ for your valuable remark and for being brave enough to abstain from heroin! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, it take more will power than I ever knew I had, that in conjunction with help from good friends and family. Unfortunately a lot of people don't get the support that I got through this. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding and congratz on your recovery! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:25

I'm surprised no one has said Rabies yet.


  • 1-3 month incubation time (time from infection to turn)
  • Agitation + Anxiety + Confusion + Paranoia + Hallucinations + Insomnia (= aggressive + tired)
  • Fear of water (hydrophobia) because of the difficulty in swallowing (won't swim)


  • Not very infectious (mutate to transmit via bite)
  • Death soon after turning (3-10 days, mutate this to be less lethal)

Rabies is probably the closest thing to a zombie virus that currently exists. There was even a documentary (forgot show name) about how Rabies could cause the zombie apocalypse if it just mutated to be transmittable via bite.

  • $\begingroup$ Ermmm, isn't rabies already transmissible through saliva in the active stage? $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 23:22

Yes K2 has that effect.


Also bath salts has that effect.


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    $\begingroup$ Yes, this needs to be fleshed out a little bit. Perhaps also link the name of each substance to a more durable location like Wikipedia. This has received delete votes in review — I'll wait a day before converting it to a comment, in hope that it gets edited. Look at the Rabies answer for inspiration: he doesn’t just say Rabies, period. He summarizes the relqvant details about it. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 9:16


It's common for a hypnotist show to make voluntaries behave like a dog or chicken and to try to eat raw potatoes. If it's a really good hipnotist he making a volunteer behave like a zombie is possible.
But how to extend it to apply as a "mass hypnosis"?
Hysteria can play a role, but maybe you also need some sort of drugs effect, maybe poisoning the air or water to make people more susceptible.
Note that you don't need to affect 100% people to make a huge mess, even if you can only affect a small initial contingent, clever use of the media can spread the hysteria like a wildfire.


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