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Higher Understanding Through Drugs

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"In this time, the most precious substance in the universe is the spice melange. The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness."
–- Princess Irulan, Dune (1984)

Most fiction that deals with recreational drugs either explicitly states that they are bad, or uses them as a neutral plot element (just a Black Market item the bad guys are selling). However, there is also fiction where drug use is shown to have benevolent 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 or perspective 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 transcendent insight, or even to what amounts to Psychic Powers.

When this trope is used, the drug in question is usually either cannabis, ecstasy (MDMA), or some type of psychedelic, such as LSD, peyote, mescalin, or psilocybin. Nootrophic drugs or herbal supplements, which purportedly increase brain function, may be used. A fictional 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. Sedatives and depressants are unlikely to be used. This may be portrayed as 90% of Your Brain since psychedelic drugs increase connectivity between different brain regions, allowing people to make associations they never would have considered before.

Higher Understanding Through Drugs is often combined with Vision Quest, though the two tropes do also appear separately, because people can have visions without drugs (e.g. through sleep deprivation and hunger). 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, kalaidescopic colours, surreal, shimmering imagery and Psychedelic Rock. 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. Drunken Master is a related trope, where alcohol temporarily enhances someone's physical skills. When a drug permanently enhances one's physical powers or mental capabilities, the appropriate tropes are Super Serum (for physical capabilities) and Genius Serum (for intelligence).


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    Comic Books 
  • Grant Morrison is a big fan of this trope:
    • 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.
    • All-Star Superman ends with Lex Luthor tripping balls on the ground, reformed at the conclusion that this is how Superman sees the world.
  • Alan Moore likes this trope too:
    • 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 Swamp Thing, sharing a hallucinogenic fruit spawned from himself is how the eponymous Swamp Thing and his Love Interest have G-Rated Sex and connect with the will of the Earth.
  • Discussed Trope in The Cartoon History of the Universe, on how ancient Indian philosophers got in touch with the universe:
    [They] did it the old-fashioned way: with drugs.
  • In Preacher, the protagonist Jesse Custer finds out the truth about his past, and that of some other characters, through a peyote vision.
  • Spider-Man 2099: In the 2019 reboot, Alchemax is pitching Rapture as a more practical version of this, as it helps the user focus and basically sharpens and speeds up all their mental functions. The downside is that the drug is insanely addictive, as it bonds with the user's DNA and they end up needing it as much as air, causing hallucinations and more if not taken frequently. Ironically, Miguel O'Hara seems to reach the more metaphysical side of this trope while experiencing withdrawal symptoms, as he now can see memories from alternate versions of himself.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Just an Unorthodox Thief. Saber accidentally ingests and overdoses on Fräulein Eule, a Fantastic Drug that causes her to hallucinate. By the time she awakens, she has become able to see the world around her in a new way, the way Assassin sees it.
  • Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Buster Kincaid accidentally takes a consciousness-raising pill instead of his Food Pills and starts raving that he's in an artificial reality created by machines, e.g. thousands of fanfic writers with personal computers. Captain Proton gives him a blue pill to snap him out of it.
  • Twisted a bit in Enlightenments. Wander asks the god Dormin if they had him try mushrooms for this reason, since he did recognise them as something that holy men used back in his original home. Dormin's answer is no, they just wanted him to have some new sensations to mull over. On the other hand, it does reduce his inhibitions enough that he tells Dormin why the Queen banished him to their land, which draws the two of them a little closer together.
  • Psychedelic Epiphany Series: Referenced in Psychedelic: "Before Oblivious Now Grasping Objectives": In reference to Tree Hugger, who is referred to as a hippie in the sequel:
    "Ah, smores. That century-old delicacy, invented by some creative foal who was told to only eat sandwiches." Discord manifested some marshmallows on his talons, popping off his left arm and holding it over the flames. "I'm a little surprised you didn't suggest brownies."
    The mare frowned. "Is that a druggie jab? Cause I don't do drugs."
    "Seriously. Smoked a hookah, like, once, cause the ponies with it were all like 'gets you one with the universe, man!'" She snorted. "Yeah, no. What it does, see, it loosens the magic flow of your chakras. Yeah, you can see more of the universe, but that's because you're less of you and you're floating about in the stream, unable to control yourself. Unbalanced. Sometimes, you're not even able to get scared because you're so... wispy."
    She shivered, hugging herself. "Never again. If they need it, fine, but me? Never again."
    Discord awkwardly scratched his hoof with one of his lizard claws. "I... I shouldn't have assumed. You just seem so—"
    "Out there?" Tree Hugger smiled up at him. "Yeah, I get that a lot. When your thought process doesn't quite meld with that of the usual pony kind, people just start looking for explanations. I don't blame them." She nestled herself against him, letting out a little sigh. "If they feel they don't know enough about something, that something has to be wild in their mind. Uncontrolled, chaotic, you know? Too many of them think organization is necessary for harmony." Her hoof waved round in an indicating gesture. "Big scary trees, ooooo, who knows what's in them?"

  • Embrace of the Serpent: In order to give his white visitors a higher understanding, Karamakate the shaman gives each of the white folks he's escorting doses of caapi, a hallucinogen prepared from the yakruna plant. Theo in 1909 dreams of Karamakate looking as he'll look in 1940, but in general doesn't seem to reach the higher understanding Karamakate is looking for. Evan in 1940 seems to, however, having a vision that sends him flying over the rain forest before viewing a full-on Mushroom Samba. Whether he actually did attain any enlightenment is still uncertain.
  • 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.
  • Used heavily throughout Naked Lunch with a wide variety of drugs: beginning with an exterminator's bug powder of all things, the protagonist then moves onto powders made from the meat of giant centipedes, then a local Moroccan hash resin... and then the fluid that emerges from the skull-mounted tentacles of the alien head that has replaced his typewriter. All of these things may or may not open your mind to the fact that the world's being controlled by giant bugs that speak out of their anuses. But then again this may have something to do with it being loosely based on a book that was written almost exclusively under the influence.
  • Central to the plot of Limitless, with the protagonist using a designer drug to learn and achieve in a limitless manner.
  • Directly parodied in Italiano Medio, where the pill reduces the brain capacity to 2%, making one not care at all about the world around him.
  • The titular protagonist in Lucy encounters a synthetic blue powder which unlocks unknown portions of her brain, causing expanded awareness and eventual ascension to a higher plane of existence.
  • Low-key example: the protagonists of The Breakfast Club go from being at each other's throats to bonding and sharing deep personal revelations after sharing some marijuana.
  • Where the Boys Are '84: In this scene Laurie and Jennie give Sandra relationship advice while they're smoking a joint.
  • In Sausage Party, the foods are sentient in an alternate universe alongside humans, who otherwise see them as just lifeless objects, except when the humans are high on Bath Salts. Additionally, in the ending, the two supporting characters Firewater and Gum got really high and realize that they are actually cartoons inside a movie.
  • Robocop 2: Cain likes to say that the Nuke he's selling provides people with this, a complete control over their emotional lives, and he's a Messianic Archetype that just gets some bucks on the side (and even make "Made In America" mean something again while he's at it). The truth is that he's a wanna-be Dark Messiah with a cult of personality, and Nuke is so addictive that people are willing to commit suicidal acts of terrorism for a dose.
  • Discussed throughout the educational film LSD: You Decide, which is hosted by pop singer Tommy Roe.
  • Subverted and deconstructed in Beyond the Black Rainbow. The Arboria Institute is a New Age research compound that uses "benign pharmacology" and similar methods to try and bridge the gap between science and spirituality in order to foster happiness and enlightenment. Instead, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs and their reckless, unethical methodology just causes endless horror and misery; the founding scientist, Mercurio Arboria, is wasting away from a devastating Descent into Addiction because of his experiments, which is exacerbating his onset senility, while Barry Nyles was driven mad by a nightmarishly bad trip on LSD and an experimental viscous fluid. Even the legitimately spiritual parts of the Institute are horrifying and mind-breaking instead of enlightening; Nyles has gradually become deformed and mutated by his experiments, Elena's Psychic Powers are inscrutable and destructive, both seem to be losing touch with their humanity, and if the characters are making contact with some sort of higher power by doing all this, it sure as hell is not a benevolent one.
  • In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Javi and Nick share some LSD to come up with some ideas for Nick's next movie.

  • 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.
  • Norman Spinrad's 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.
  • The Culture:
    • In this series of science fiction novels by Iain M. Banks, the titular Culture makes liberal, indeed everyday, use of a variety of drugs for a variety of purposes. In fact, the use of psychoactive drugs is so common that humans born within the Culture are geno-fixed with drug glands in their brains, what amount to sophisticated biopharmacology labs capable of secreting a bewildering diversity of side-effect-free and non-habit-forming designer drugs and neurochemicals with just a little bit of conscious effort. Not only are these used recreationally - Culture people regularly get zonked out of their heads for the fun of it, and dosing yourself is considered a great way to take the edge off, or enhance the experience of, everything from dreadful boring faculty parties to polyspecific bacchanalian orgies — but there are also a wide variety of so-called utility drugs which can boost cognition, perception, wakefulness, energy levels, or enable the user to enter altered states of consciousness, such as meditative trances characterised by accelerated time-perception and profound mindfulness. While these sorts of drugs may seem to skirt the line between a Higher Understanding Through Drugs and a Super Serum, the stories always maintain that even with drug-fuelled performance enhancement, the users are always still just temporarily getting doped, and not actually being made distinctly or permanently better.
    • In The Player of Games for instance, the protagonist, strategy-gaming übermaestro Jernau Morat Gurgeh, plays a world-class game of ultra-high stakes Azad, during the championship match of which he dopes himself up to his hair follicles with a cocktail of potent cognition-and-perception modifiers, spending the weeks-long title game secluded in a haze of drugs and games theory, unsure if he is holding his own or merely so blasted and burnt out that he can't see that he's already losing.
  • Frank Herbert used this at least twice:
    • The appendix to Dune listed several concentrations of the "awareness-spectrum narcotic" melange that increased the user's understanding and mental abilities, including: spice, the "normal" version (by Guild Navigators), the Fremen "Water of Life", much more concentrated (which affected Paul Atreides and his sister Alia), and the drugs used by Bene Gesserit Truthsayers.
    • In The Santaroga Barrier the drug Jaspers increases the comprehension and understanding of anyone who consumes it.
  • Discworld
    • Around the end of The Last Continent, Rincewind drinks a lot of beer so that he can think better (or at least bendier) and guess what he has to do. Apparently, the state of mind where you can understand what happened to the wizards is very similar to the state of mind where Dibbler's meat pie floater sounds like a good idea.
    • According to Pyramids the best way to see the different colours of black when not in a magical field is to "smoke something illegal and look at a starling's wing".
    • In The Light Fantastic, the shamans of Skund consume fly agaric in the hope of getting a vision of Topaxci, God of the Red Mushroom, Skelde, Spirit of the Red Smoke, or even Umcherrel, the Soul of the Forest. Exactly how much wisdom and understanding these visions actually contain is another question; The Last Hero says that Topaxci is also God of People Who Tell Other People That "Dog" Is "God" Backwards and Think This Is Somehow Revelatory.
    • Implied in Small Gods, which says that if people could really see how amazing the universe is, their mental state would be very similar to the sort of people whose plastic greenhouses are seriously inspected by the authorities.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: In Komarr, 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. The hero, Miles, is temporarily enthused about the idea of using it on himself the same way - Instant Brains! - until he remembers that it really doesn't work that way for him.note 
  • The Cthulhu Mythos story "The Hounds of Tindalos" by Frank Belknap Long centers on a man who tries to use an obscure drug as a form of Mental Time Travel. At first it works brilliantly, until he goes a little too far into the past...
  • This is one of the themes of Aldous Huxley's Island (as well as his essays The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell). Contrast with Brave New World, where drugs are only used for intoxication. Perhaps significantly, Huxley was introduced to peyote/mescaline between the writing of Brave New World and those other works. In Island, the understanding-enhancing drug, called the moksha-medicine is used for rites of passage and interpersonal bonding, in a carefully prepared setting. The protagonist tries it, as well, in the last chapters, and it makes everything he's learned in the island fall into place.
  • Mentioned in the book version of 2001 in The Space Odyssey Series, where Dave Bowman recalls an experience he'd had under the influence of an unnamed mind-expanding drug (implicitly LSD) that he'd been given as part of his training. The implication is that all of the astronauts are given psychedelics to boost their intelligence.
  • The eponymous gunslinger in the first book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series takes mescaline to allow himself to access the spirit world. It's treated as an uncomfortable but necessary evil; the gunslinger doesn't enjoy the loss of self-control, but it's hardly the worst compromise he makes.
  • Characters in H. P. Lovecraft stories have variously used opium or hashish to enhance one's connection to the Dream Lands, or keep from thinking about the horrors they've seen in this world.
    • In "Celephais", the dreamer uses hashish because he wants to get back to Celephais, and ends up going everywhere but there.
    • In "Hypnos", the narrator and his companion must consume unnamed illegal drugs to astral travel to forbidden dreamscapes. Later they end up relying on drugs to stay awake to keep away the horrors they unwittingly summoned.
  • The pollen of the kiriseth flower in the Darkover novels. The cause of the "ghost winds" that occur during periods of warm weather on the otherwise cold planet, which results in the flowers blooming and spreading their pollen into the air. As the humans that colonized Darkover discovered, the pollen triggers temporary manifestation of psychic powers in most people (and can permanently trigger them in others who have the potential). However, it also lowers inhibitions and causes hallucinations, making it difficult to tell psychic visions from delusions. Darkovans use it for a number of medicinal purposes, including assisting psychic manifestation.
  • In Wet Goddess, smoking marijuana helps Zack to communicate telepathically with Ruby.
  • The Night of Wishes: The notion potion's recipe has a part that can only be understood when read in the 4th dimension. To get there, each wizard needs an injection of Lucifer's Salto Dimensionale
  • In Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus!-trilogy the consumption of LSD can break a person's psychic barriers and make them more receptive to telepathy and other astral signals. In an interesting subversion it also messes up the user's head enough to make it almost impossible for a hostile psychic to read their minds accurately. There's also AUM, a fictional drug cocktail which doesn't produce a noticeable high, but makes one incredibly receptive to new ideas. It can make even the dullest person highly creative for a short period of time, which is often enough to completely turn their life around; examples include a Flat Earth-truther who ends up becoming a respected astrophysicist and a conservative judge who switches to a career in higher mathematics.
  • In Dora Wilk Series, shamanism is literally based around a concept of shamans drugging themselves out of their minds to be able to understand spirits. Drugged, a shaman can turn into Junkie Prophet, find a way to call upon the power of spirits, understand the ghosts clearly and see them more sharply.
  • In The City of Stairs, Philosopher's Stones, which have roughly the same effect as LSD, were historically used to commune with the Divine. As such, as Shara learns first-hand in a desperate last-minute plan near the end, while taking an enormous dose will drive you mad, if you happen to know how to cast Miracles, they will make your casting of said Miracles *far* more powerful. She then creates *new* miracles, starts wiping out a whole divine army with them, and basically temporarily becomes a god, all while high as a kite.
  • House Made of Dawn: Tosamah, the "Priest of the Sun" who preaches to other Native Americans in Los Angeles, conducts a peyote ritual. This is the scene where Abel's friend Ben, high on peyote, sees "a house made of dawn." (Tosamah expressly rejects assimilation and the white man's ways.)
  • Robotech: The novelizations of the unproduced Robotech II: The Sentinels series included the Garudans, a race of Fox Folk who had this trope as their species' Hat. Their homeworld's atmosphere is a mixture of chemicals and microorganisms that drive most other species to madness if they breathe it; Garudans have evolved (with the help of the Precursor, Haydon, who uplifted them) into a symbiosis that allows them a virtually mystic awareness bordering on full-fledged Psychic Powers. During the last battle against T.R. Edwards in the novels, Rick and Lisa are forced to take a few controlled breaths of Garudan air in order to avoid the dangers of the Invid hive on Optera. The Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles miniseries retconned this element of the battle.
  • In Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard koph allows some people called "Speakers" to summon the particles of the dead and create a mental simulation to converse with them.
  • Averted in "The Visionary" from Always Coming Home. The narrator claims both herself and others attempted to enhance their visions through alcohol and cannabis, but it’s a method considered cheap, and also not very efficient.
  • It's noted in Francois Prelati's profile in Fate/strange fake that Prelati's Spellbook was written after conducting magecraft while deliberately hallucinating from taking drugs of his own creation. In that drug-induced state, he achieved the astronomically small chance of linking to a different plane and inscribed what he saw in the spellbook before sealing it away and entrusting it to Gilles de Rais. Due to the ludicrously specific circumstances under which it was written, Prelati is not actually capable of pulling that trick ever again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, shamans from the Dousan Gelfling clan consume hallucinogenic red berries that grow in the Crystal Desert in order to peek into the future and talk to Thra. urGoh the Wanderer and skekGra the Heretic also consume these berries for the same reason, and it was these berries that allowed them to figure out the Gelfling prophecy.
  • The BBC's modern-day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes riffed on Sherlock's "three-pipe problem" (see the entry in Literature) with him wearing three nicotine patches because the case was "a three-patch problem". In "The Abominable Bride", it's revealed that for particularly difficult cases he sometimes takes just about any drug he thinks might give him a boost. Mycroft is aware of this and insists he keeps a list of what he's taken.
  • Another Sherlock Holmes example: This trope was discussed and averted in the Elementary episode "A Loaded Gun, Filled With Drugs". 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.
  • Brutally deconstructed in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with the case of a teenage girl who was abusing the prescription stimulant Provigil in order to keep up with the unreasonable demands of her extreme prep school (this is actually stated to be a thing they encourage in order to increase the students' output). Due to the feelings she experiences while using it, she believes it takes her brain to the next level, but in reality, the combination of the drug abuse and the associated sleep deprivation just caused her to pretty much lose her mind.
  • Mad Men: Peggy in "My Old Kentucky Home" (with marijuana).note  Roger and Jane in "Far Away Places" (with acid). Don has an unpleasant variation in "The Crash" (with a cocktail of stimulants and Vitamin B12).
  • Doctor Who:
    • Patrick Troughton's era had as much as the writers could get away with. For example, "The Krotons" ends with the Doctor teaching people brainwashed by education how to make (literal) acid so they can free themselves from their oppressive masters and understand the true meaning of the universe. The Doctor's first regeneration itself was related to an acid trip in the production documents, shot with plenty of strange psychedelic effects, and led to him developing a host of new personality traits and skills (like a knack for disguises, social acuity, musicality and a more mellow and righteous attitude) at the cost of some permanent psychological scars from the traumatic experience.
    • In "The Brain of Morbius", the Doctor only makes the leap of inspiration to recognise the face of Morbius when high on wine laced with anaesthetic. While asleep in the drugged state he also makes a subconscious psychic connection with Morbius so profound that he even has confused memories that they were drinking together, although it's only when he's sober that he realises what had actually been going on. This is the first clue he gets in the story that Morbius is still alive.
    • "Snakedance" has the Doctor use hallucinogenic snake venom to help him work out how to defeat everybody's Enemy Within the Mara.
    • The Expanded Universe novel The Left-Handed Hummingbird involves the Doctor using various entheogenic drugs, including LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms, in order to communicate with an alien Aztec god.
    • The Telos Novella Wonderland features the Doctor making 'a form of LSD with no side effects' and feeding it to the book's temporary companion to allow her to see the hallucinatory alien he's trying to save.
  • In the Angel episode "Orpheus", Faith and (nonconsensually) Angelus go on a telepathically-shared Fantastic Drug trip while Angel's soul is being restored. While the intention wasn't to seek enlightenment (the drug was intended solely to incapacitate Angelus while the ritual happened, which was administered through Faith, near-suicidally, taking it and letting Angelus bite her) Faith does come to a greater level of mental stability and acceptance of her evil past through the trip. Probably to avoid endorsing drug use too controversially, she nearly died from the physical side effects of the substance, which wasn't intended for humans.
  • Fringe: Walter occasionally advises people to take drugs (and at least a couple of times, if needed to have it Played for Laughs, to stop doing drugs) in order to expand their understanding of the universe. Because of the show having such as things as psionic powers and the ability to go through multiple universes, it's a very common thing for characters to take him up on it and get said better understanding (and the solution to the episode's situation) as a result.
  • In the Ted Lasso episode "Sunflowers", after Richmond find themselves in a slump and Ted is at a loss for what to do, Coach Beard gets him to drink psilobycin-infused tea. It takes a while for anything to happen, but Ted eventually has a hallucination about triangles that inspires him to invent a variation of total football for Richmond to use. At the end of the episode, Coach Beard informs him that the batch was a dud, though whether the trope was really subverted or whether Beard was just resistant to the effects is left ambiguous.
  • In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Zari", Nate gets Gideon to synthesise a drug for Amaya to use in a Zambian Vision Quest to regain control over her powers. She gets a vision of her ancestors. Subverted with Nate, who takes the drug to test it but doesn't actually do the ritual, and is just stoned for the rest of the episode.
  • The pilot of The Good Place mentions a man called Doug Forcett who got high on mushrooms one night and when a friend asked what he thought happened after death, he proceeded to correctly describe 92% of what actually happens. As a comparison, it's stated that most religions only get about 5% right.
  • Referred to on Star Trek: Voyager when Chakotay tells Janeway how his ancestors would use psychoactive herbs to induce a Vision Quest; nowadays, they use a handheld gizmo called an akoonah instead, as the crew dealing with their troubles by getting stoned on mescaline would not be family-friendly.
  • In one episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation a trio of college students took LSD, two seeking some higher understanding and one seeking a high. Two ended up dead while the last claimed she met her departed mother. The ex-professor who supplied the drugs had made finding higher consciousness through LSD his life's purpose. When he realized the police would arrest him for this he overdosed on LSD and rendered himself catatonic in pursuit of that higher understanding.
  • Treadstone. In 1973 a woman in Budapest thinks John Bentley is a shell-shocked Vietnam War veteran and takes him to an underground hippie joint where she gives him a tab of acid. This releases his lost memories of what happened when he was brainwashed.

  • Lots and lots of examples of this trope emerged from the Psychedelic Music era of The '60s.
    • The Moody Blues recorded "Legend of a Mind", a nine-minute long paean in homage of drugs pioneer Dr Timothy Leary, who advocated for Higher Understanding Through Drugs.
    • Jefferson Airplane reinvented Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland as "White Rabbit", in which all the things Alice drinks, eats and secondary-smokes when she goes down the rabbit hole bring on the mother of all mind-expanding trips.
    • The Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" is about turning on to higher planes via drugs.
  • The Bonzo Dog Band's "Eleven Mustachioed Daughters" is an extended parody of songs of this type.

    Print Media 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution:
    • A select few of the normal humans with psipotential gain access to their talents through special drugs.
    • An esper that doesn’t have any natural ability for a talent tree can gain access to it by taking the appropriate PPEC. They can also increase a character’s affinity for an existing talent tree.
  • Exalted has Celestial Crack, which is often used by mortals to temporarily (and sometimes permanently) Enlighten their Essence.
  • Several Traditions in Mage: The Ascension use various drugs as Foci. The Cult of Ecstasy have the strongest reputation for this, as their entire paradigm is about using ecstatic measures to get outside of the head and embrace the full scope of the universe, but this could be exercise, dance, or music as much as it could be drugs. Likewise, the Dreamspeakers, which draw on various shamanic and animist traditions, make some use of entheogens. And then there's whatever the Progenitors are shooting up on this week...
  • In Pathfinder, Alchemists get access to Mutagens, which increase physical stats at the cost of their mental stats. However, they can gain access to (and at least one class variant starts with) the ability to make a cognatogen, which increases their intelligence, wisdom, and/or charisma at the cost of temporary penalties to their physical abilities, playing this straight. The inspiring cognatogen works similarly, although rather than directly increasing mental stats it adds an 'inspiration' pool that can be used to bolster various mental skills while in effect, and in the higher tiers allowing some mental tricks without drawing on the pool. The dedicated variant takes it farther by allowing access to talents of a different, mentally focused class, but only so long as the inspiring cognatogen affects you.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, blinkmoth serum. When used is grants the user super senses and superintelligence, but it is also highly addictive and can cause mutations if used for long enough.
  • The "Mystic Visions" card in Munchkin: Cthulhu shows a munchkin drunk off his ass.
  • One of the secret societies in Paranoia, the Mystics, claim this as their reason for taking a metric ton of cheap drugs, though mostly it's a thin veneer to justify getting high off a metric ton of cheap drugs.
  • Unknown Armies has an entire Adept school called Narco-Alchemy, based on applying alchemical practices to drug cooking in order to open one's mind.
  • Mage: The Awakening: The Mysterium uses special hallucinogens in its Initiation Ceremonies, briefly allowing mages to experience and understand magic in ways that can't quite be explained. The mystical effects are a function of the ritual; other drugs or contexts don't provide the same benefit.

    Video Games 
  • In Pillars of Eternity, this is a core of the Nalpazca WarriorMonks, including perpetually-stoned and often-insightful companion Zahua. In Zahua's personal quest, the party takes a large mixture of drugs to join Zahua on his Vision Quest.
  • In Tyranny, the player character can try Lantry's inks, which can be consumed for various drug-like effects. This leads to a lot of interesting lore, insight, and potentially prophetic visions... and quite a bit of amusement.
  • In Indivisible, the drug Ohma was used by practitioners of ancient arts in special ceremonies to achieve a higher state of consciousness and further their connection to the gods. Unfortunately, Mara began selling the stuff to the masses for money, resulting in Ohma addicts littering the streets of Tai Krung City.
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has Wyatt partake heavily in LSD because Set is convinced it might reveal information important to deciphering Da'at Yichud texts. After Wyatt suffers a particularly bad trip, he asks Set about the doorknob he's holding while undergoing detox - Set's reaction hints that Wyatt may be onto something with that offhand comment about the "God Key".
  • The Secret World features this as a popular tactic of Templar scholar Iain Tibet Gladstone; most of his career as a field researcher was spent looking for answers to the deepest mysteries of the setting with the aid of mind-altering drugs, from attempting to decipher smoke-code language via a massive water pipe, to indulging in chemically-fueled Mental Time Travel. Of course, it was in the aftermath of his attempt to visit Hell via similar methods that Gladstone was arrested by the Templars, and he's no longer allowed to indulge himself in this way... unless, of course, you count his habit of cultivating hallucinogenic fungi in his books.
  • Salt and Sanctuary has a variation where the drug in question is wine rather than a hallucinogen. The House of Splendor is a strange creed that worships a pair known as the Fool and the Prophet, who extol hedonism in all things, and their mages believe that dulling one's inhibitions draws out their primal connection to the Warp thus enhancing their magical abilities. To that end, they believe in forever partaking in revelry and indulging in wine to strengthen their connection to the Warp. They might actually be right about this, as the House of Splendor's mages sell some of the most powerful spells in the game.
  • Fate/Grand Order: The game doesn't really try too hard to hide Sherlock Holmes' drug usage. Usually it's presented as him smoking on occasion to calm his nerves, but then during events you get lines like these:
    Moriarty: ...are you listening to me, Holmes?
    Holmes: you mind? Can't you tell the secrets of the world are revealing themselves to me as we speak? I'll thank you not to talk to me right now.
    Moriarty: Ha ha ha. When did you start smoking that, Holmes!?
  • In Green Hell you start off as an Amnesiac Hero. Downing the occasional bowl of ayahuasca gives you visions that help you recover your memories and advance the plot.
  • In The Outer Worlds, Vicar Max's personal quest culminates in him and the party engaging in hallucinogens in his quest to understand his purpose in life. During said trip, he begins seeing hallucinations of his mother as well as himself, with the player being able to help him interpret said hallucinations.

    Visual Novels 
  • During Hatoful Boyfriend Holiday Star much of the cast is trapped in a shared dream created by a vengeful spirit. Yuuya is wired up to one of them and enters the dream to save them, but can't find the math professor. So Leone injects him and the professor with psychotropics. Noting that he's high, Yuuya manages to stay perfectly coherent and steady through a confrontation and finds the guy.

    Web Animation 
  • Definitely the trip out scenes in The Big Lez Show, especially in the episode "Chooma Island 2", where the characters discuss how trees move on a different plane of time and all all beings are really the same.

    Web Original 
  • In Less is Morgue, Riley's already perpetually-stoned cousin Shaz takes a horrific cocktail of hallucinogens called "The Louisiana Clam Slammer" that shockingly allows them to see Evelyn, who's normally only visible to Riley (who ate her corpse) and to other undead or spirits.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Futurama episode "Parasites Regained," the Planet Express crew shrinks down and ventures into Nibbler's litter-box, where there exists an orange powder that can expand one's mind, allowing them to see the complex web of species that exist within the litter-box, largely because Leela never cleans it out. The episode is partially a parody of the Dune franchise, with the sand of the litter-box correlating to the desert planet Arrakis, the presence of worms in both deserts, and the orange powder being a stand-in for the mind expanding Spice.
  • 'Gravity Falls'': In one segment in "Little Gift Shop of Horrors", Dipper finds a recipe in the Journal for a concoction involving mushrooms that is supposed to make you smarter, which he prepares in order to solve a puzzle. Mabel's pig Waddles eats it and becomes a scientific genius. Unsurprisingly, this wasn't in the printed Journal 3 that you can buy, even though that was the only one Dipper had at the time...
  • The stereotypical enlightening peyote trip is parodied in the 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.
  • In The Simpsons Movie, he had another Vision Quest when he was given some kind of (apparently spicy) herbal tea by an Inuit woman and did throat-singing with her. He ends up getting ripped apart by trees until he figures out that he's been totally selfish, And That's Terrible.
  • Parodied in South Park when the group is assigned to be an evening news segment for AV class. When they are consistently beat by Craig, who runs a segment consisting of cute dogs filmed with a fish-eye lens, they decide they need to take drugs to get creative inspiration. After tripping hard on cough syrup, they come to and look at their notes to see what they came up with. None of their "notes" were even legible, so they run a story on how easy it is for kids to buy and abuse cough syrup.


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Alternative Title(s): Drugs Are Useful


Anderson's Moonshine

Whatever the Anderson Brothers made their moonshine out of, it seems to have the ability to resurface suppressed memories about the Dark Presence if one gets drunk off of it. It is implied that Walter has been getting drunk off of it for this purpose and Alan remembers what happened between him arriving at the cabin and its disappearance after blacking out drinking it. Considering the Anderson Brothers are aware of the Dark Presence, they could have brewed it specifically for this purpose.

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Main / HigherUnderstandingThroughDrugs

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