When I was an unfortunate looking teenager, I took a very powerful acne drug with some very scary side effects, side effects serious enough that the manufacturer included drawings of the horrible things it would do to a baby if a pregnant woman took it. But, as real life and fiction have proven time and time again, if the drug is doing its thing (whatever that may be), we’re perfectly willing to put up with a few unintended side effects.
In Afterparty, a new, near-future thriller from Daryl Gregory, the smart drug revolution has made it possible for anyone with a chemical printer and an internet connection to manufacture their own drugs at home. Even if the future, though, you should never really trust the internet. One such experimental drug, Numinous, intended as a treatment for schizophrenia, is being abused by addicts who like that it provides them a warm and fuzzy feeling of being close to God. Take too much of it, though, and the drug actually creates God for you—your own personal deity, living inside your head and giving you orders.
Numinous immediately takes its place in the pantheon of weird fictional drugs, with side effects far stranger than an itchy rash or upset tummy. Here are 10 more of our favorites, with a few notes on their intended uses and unexpected side effects:
Drug: Nexus (Nexus, by Ramez Naam)
What it does: A nanotech cocktail that allows human brains to network with one another like computers.
Side effects may include: Susceptibility to mind control by nefarious forces.
Drug: Soma (Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley)
What it does: Provides users with “holidays” intended to fulfill spiritual needs.
Side effects may include: Extreme passivity and pliability, total acquiesence to government control.
Drug: Vurt (Vurt, by Jeff Noon)
What it does: Hallucinogen, provides access to shared alternate reality through sucking on colored feathers.
Side effects may include: Alternate realities that don’t remain quite so alternate.
Drug: Spice (Dune, by Frank Herbert)
What it does: Extends lifespan, allows user to navigate paths through space-time.
Side effects may include: Blue-tinged vision, some mutation, ability to see the future, universe-altering megalomania.
Drug: Dylar (White Noise, by Don DeLillo)
What it does: Treats the existential fear of death.
Side effects may include: An inability to distinguish words and ideas from physical reality, which means you’d best not read the list of side effects if you’re taking it.
Drug: Lot 6 (Firestarter, by Stephen King)
What it does: A hallucinogen similar to LSD.
Side effects may include: Telekinesis. Not recommended for expectant mothers; may cause pyromania in gestational children.
Drug: Serum 114 (A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess)
What it does: Causes intense nausea.
Side effects may include: May induce behavior modification if administered alongside visual aversion therapy. In rare cases, may provide an excellent name for a band.
Drug: Substance D (A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick)
What it does: Recreational hallucinogen.
Side effects may include: Brain hemisphere separation, development of alternate personalities that aren’t aware of one another, paranoia (justified).
Drug: Lemon Sap (Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest)
What it does: Painkiller with narcotic effects.
Side effects may include: Moderate-to-severe zombie-ism.
Drug: Can-D (The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K. Dick)
What it does: Allows users access to virtual world of “Perky Pat,” a Barbie-like multimedia character.
Side effects may include: I think that’s bad enough.
What fictional drug do you need a prescription for?