"In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness.
– Princess Irulan
, in the movie adaptation of Dune
Most fiction that deals with recreational drugs either explicitly states that they are bad
, or uses them as a neutral plot element. However, there is also fiction where the use of drugs is shown to have positive effects. One way of doing this is having someone gain a deeper understanding by taking drugs.
In these kind of stories drugs can help a character in adjusting to her situation and understanding the things around her better, or they can even make her gain some new knowledge she couldn't have otherwise acquired. In the latter case drugs are usually implied to have supernatural or mystical qualities, and using them gives the character a temporary access to what amounts to Psychic Powers
When this trope is used, the drug in question is usually either cannabis, ecstasy, or some type of hallucinogen
, such as LSD, peyote, mescalin, or psilocybin. A Fantastic Drug
may also be used, but its effects are often portrayed similarly to those of real life drugs. For obvious reasons, drugs that make one act selfishly or aggressively – such as cocaine or amphetamine – are rarely depicted as pathways to deeper understanding.
If the story focuses on a drug with a long history of ritual use (such as peyote), it's common for the characters to imitate these ancient rituals while taking the drug, sometimes with the help of a native mentor
. In visual media, if the drug use entails a hallucinatory trip
, it's usually illustrated with bright colours and surreal imagery. If a human mentor isn't there to guide the character through the trip, a Spirit Advisor
may appear and serve as a guide.
If Higher Understanding Through Drugs
is used as a defining character trait, the character is typically an Erudite Stoner
. Junkie Prophet
is a subtrope where the use of drugs specifically helps someone foresee the future.
is a Sister Trope
where an intoxicant temporarily enhances someone's physical
(instead of mental) capabilities. If a drug grants someone actual physical superpowers, we're dealing with a Super Serum
No Real Life Examples, Please!
The point here is to outline a trope used in fiction, not to take a stance on whether or not drugs can have positive effects in real life.
- In an issue of Animal Man, a peyote trip helps the eponymous character realize he's a character in a comic book, though he forgets it once the trip is over. Animal Man is accompanied by a Native American called James Hightower, and the peyote ritual is depicted in stereotypical Native American terms, but with the twist that Hightower is a scientist and a not a shaman of any sort. Both of them also get an totem animal guide for the trip.
- In The Invisibles, there are several occasions where characters gain deeper knowledge via drugs, both real and imaginary ones. The most notable example of the latter is the blue mold the protagonist Dane and his mentor Tom smoke, allowing Dane to contact the Barbelith, though it's later revealed that the mold was just regular mold with no narcotic qualities at all.
- In V for Vendetta, officer Finch takes a dose of LSD, which gives him some rather creepy visions, but also helps him figure out various things, including the whereabouts of the terrorist he's tracking.
- In Watchmen, Adrian Veidt eats a ball of hashish and has a vision that eventually leads to his plan of "conquesting the evils that beset men".
- In the fan-written Shadowrun supplement called "Better Living (and Dying) Through Chemistry", The Awakened (magical) version of peyote allows the user to astrally perceive and project as if they were a mage, and gives bonuses for the use of magical skills, thus allowing them to act as if they understood magic better.
- In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the protagonist goes to a house party, and eats a cannabis brownie without knowing what's in it. Soon after, the otherwise quiet and reserved character is sitting in a lotus position babbling all sorts of stuff, some of it silly, some of it quite insightful. As a result of this, he gains a bunch of new friends.
- Human Traffic, a movie that focuses on British rave culture, doesn't shy away from showing the comedown, but it still gives a rather positive portrayal of how the empathy-inducing effects of ecstasy help the various characters bond with each other.
- In the indie film When Do We Eat?, a patriarch who's fallen out with his family gets slipped ecstasy in the middle of a Passover seder. He goes on a bridge-building spree and the family is in a much happier place by the end of the night. The ecstasy turns out to be fake.
- In Altered States, experimenting with drugs and sensory deprivation tanks can lead to de-and-evolution.
- Inverted in the Philip K. Dick story Faith of our Fathers. The main character, a loyal member of a People's Republic of Tyranny, takes a drug that makes him perceive his country's dictator as an evil, inhuman being. Except it turns out this isn't a metaphor; the dictator really is an inhuman monster, and everyone in the world is drugged so that they hallucinate he's a human being. The main character was actually given an anti-hallucinogen, and so, for a brief time, was the only non-drug addled person on the planet and able to see the dictator for what he really is.
- Sherlock Holmes uses cocaine (legal in Victorian London) when he doesn't have a case, because otherwise his mind will burn out like a powerful engine running without a load. Played straight with tobacco: he famously calls one case "quite a three-pipe problem" and stays up all night smoking to solve it.
- The story "Carcinoma Angels" in Dangerous Visions features someone trying to do this in an attempt to use the higher understanding of his own body functions and mental state to cure cancer. It works, but now he can't find his way out into the physical world again.
- Frank Herbert used this at least twice:
- The appendix to Dune listed several "awareness-spectrum narcotics" that increased the user's understanding and mental abilities, including melange (by Guild Navigators), the Fremen "Water of Life" (which affected Paul Atreides and his sister Alia), and the drugs used by Bene Gesserit Truthsayers (who were Living Lie Detectors).
- In The Santaroga Barrier the drug Jaspers increases the comprehension and understanding of anyone who consumes it.
- Around the end of The Last Continent, Rincewind drinks a lot of beer so that he can think better and guess what he has to do.
- In Memory, a scientist is questioned under "Fast Penta", a kind of truth serum, and discovers it helps her think outside the box in order to figure out a complex scientific mystery.. After being cleared of the charges against her she asks if she could try Fast Penta again in order to help her creativity.
[[folder:Live Action TV]]
- The BBC's modern-day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes riffed on the Sherlock's "three-pipe problem" (see the entry in Literature) with him wearing three nicotine patches because the case was "a three-patch problem".
- Another Sherlock Holmes example: This trope was discussed and averted in an episode of CBS's Elementary. In this adaptation Holmes was once hooked on drugs, but is currently sober. A former friend and practicing drug dealer comes for Holmes' help when his daughter is kidnapped and being held for ransom. The drug-dealer spends a good deal of the episode trying to convince Sherlock to use cocaine again, because he believes the detective works better and can close cases quicker when his mind is under the influence. Sherlock refuses and eventually loses his temper and nearly strangles him, then proceeds to solve the case sober. An inversion is also suggested in the series, in that Sherlock uses drugs in hopes of dulling his ever-active deductive senses.
- This trope is invoked in the late '60s Dragnet, where at least one criminal of the week espouses it. In a different episode, Friday recommends that a teenage boy try the local library instead.
- House fully encourages the use of drugs in some cases in order to reach an epiphany he thinks is already trapped in his mind. Well, drugs and in one case electric shock therapy. Also House sometimes encourages drugs or experiments or dangerous procedures to be performed on patients in the hope of revealing symptoms they may have.
- The stereotypical enlightening peyote trip is parodied in the Simpsons episode "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer". In it, Homer eats some "merciless peppers of Quetzalzacatenango" and goes on a hallucinatory trip, complete with colourful Mayincatec imagery and a coyote Spirit Advisor, who urges him to "find his soulmate". Homer eventually figures out, unsurprisingly, that Marge is his soulmate. It remains unclear whether his trip had supernatural qualities, or whether it was just a regular hallucination.