Drugs have formed the basis for some of the best movies of the past few decades. From dark and gritty dramas based on serious addiction, to the kind of lighthearted stoner comedy pioneered by Cheech and Chong, audiences love to watch people indulging in narcotics. We are even seeing hugely popular TV shows where drugs are the central issue: Weeds, Breaking Bad, even the new Netflix series Narcos all revolve around drug culture. We are fascinated by the underbelly of addiction and the extravagance of casual consumption in equal measure.
While there are plenty of real-life drugs to explore in film, there are just as many fictional ones that have been brought to life on the silver screen. Whether it’s because a fantasy world deserves a fantasy drug to match, or because the plot requires something that leads to a whole new kind of high, these ten movies decided to create entirely new narcotics, with wild and wonderful names to match.
Some of these are addictive, either physically or psychologically, and most are dangerous- either to the user or to the people around them when they are on it. All of these are fictional, though some have their roots in reality.
10 CPH4 – Lucy (2014)
Scarlett Johansson stars in this drug-based action flick, where a young woman is caught in the middle of a smuggling deal and forced to become a mule for a substance known as CPH4. A large bag of the drug is surgically implanted in her abdomen, and she is told that she’ll now be flying across the world; the idea is that on the other end, she’ll be cut open again to deliver the package. Of course, things go horribly wrong. The bag breaks inside of her, flooding her system with this new drug, which essentially gives her superhuman abilities. As the effects progress, she gains more powers, quickly going from simply being incredibly smart to having the power to alter reality as she fights to understand what is happening and how she can stop it.
The concept is based on that oft-quoted “fact” that humans only use 10% of their brains (which isn’t particularly true, but that’s not a reason it can’t make great movies!), and the idea that a drug could unlock our full potential. As Lucy’s trip progresses, we see how much of her brain she is theoretically using (up to the magic number of 100%). CPH4 is actually based on a molecule that pregnant women produce six weeks into their pregnancy; something that acts as a catalyst for the formation of the human mind (according to multiple interviews with director Luc Besson).
While we don’t hear anything about the addictive properties of the drug in the film (only that it's going to be the next big thing), it’s safe to assume that accessing this amount of power would be incredibly addictive. It’s also not entirely explained how the drug is meant to be taken – we see people snorting small amounts, and perhaps a smaller dose would have only temporary effects. In Lucy’s case, the volume of the drug in her system makes the effects permanent. We do know that the drug is dangerous, though. Not only does Lucy slaughter an impressive number of people during her transformation, but her body begins to disintegrate. Definitely not one that is worth the trip
9 Moloko/Milk Plus - A Clockwork Orange (1971)
In this dark tale of a dystopian future England, our protagonist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a violent and cruel teenager who hangs out with his friends at the Korova Milk Bar. Here, the group of youths order milk mixed with various drugs (vellocet, synthmesc, drencrom); it’s explained that this is a way for them to get around laws that restrict the sale of alcohol to minors. After being “sharpened” by the moloko, the boys head out for “a bit of the old ultra-violence,” their favorite way to enjoy themselves, rampaging through the darkened streets, robbing, beating and gang-raping victims. It’s on one of these excursions that Alex is betrayed by his gang and thrown in prison, where the rest of this disturbing tale unfolds.
It seems that Moloko isn’t particularly addictive, as we later meet two of his “droogs” who have grown up and become constables, presumably not still visiting Korova. However, this isn’t stated outright, and there is nothing to say that the two aren’t still using it – they're certainly no less violent than they used to be. However, there is no doubt that Moloko is dangerous to those people who are in the path of its users. Alex and the boys use it to “sharpen up,” to make themselves even more aggressive, violent and uncaring before they go out to cause chaos. It’s not clear how much of this is just part of the boys character, and how much is down to the effects of the drugs, but they seem to play no small part in inciting their violent tendencies.
8 Nueroin - Minority Report (2002)
Another tale of a dystopian future, Minority Report features a world where offenders are caught before they’ve even committed a crime, courtesy of a trio of "pre-cogs" who can psychically predict the future. They are controlled and used by PreCrime, a law enforcement agency headed up by John Anderton (Tom Cruise). Other than this system, which effectively prevents crime, the world is very similar to our own. Retinal scanners and cameras are far more prevalent, however, and there is a powerful drug available called Nueroin.
Nueroin (similar to heroin, and obviously based on its name) is an inhalant which creates a feeling of euphoria in the user. We see Anderton using the drug while watching videos of his missing son, and it’s obvious that he has an addiction to the illegal substance. However, he manages to function despite this, even while we see that many others become much more stereotypical addicts. The murder of one of the pre-cogs’ nueroin-addicted mother is one of the central plot points of the film, although the drug itself isn’t entirely central to the story.
7 Nuke – Robocop 2 (1990)
In this sequel to Robocop, the streets of Detroit are flooded with a new drug: Nuke. Nuke is an injectable narcotic that causes feelings of energy and euphoria, but is incredibly addictive. It’s widely available courtesy of druglord Cain (Tom Noonan), who builds a cult (the Nuke Cult) around the drug. Cain wants to sell with impunity, and will do anything to gain this power, including murdering the Surgeon General when he speaks out against the substance. Cain’s drug empire (and his own God complex) brings him directly up against Robocop (Peter Weller) as they battle for control of Detroit, but it is also his eventual downfall.
Nuke appears to be similar to crack cocaine, with the same kind of intense addictiveness and short-lived euphoric highs. There are a few different types of the drug ("Red Ramrod," "White Noise," "Blue Velvet" and "Black Thunder"), referred to as “a nuke for every mood,” but the most prevalent by far is Red Ramrod. The drug has all the usual dangers of any highly addictive mood-altering substance, and is one of the most addictive fictional drugs on this list.
6 NZT – Limitless (2011)
Introduced in the 2011 film by Neil Burger, NZT is also the central element of the new spin-off TV show of the same name. Similar to CPH4 (mentioned above), NZT is a new designer drug that allows the user to access the full potential of their brain. (Again, based on the idea that we use only ten percent of our brains in the first place.) This little clear pill is almost instantly effective, at which point the user can understand and use any information that they have even so much as glanced at in their lifetime; remembering medical articles glanced at in a waiting room ten years ago, understanding how to play a musical instrument just by having listened to it, or even becoming an instant martial arts master based on ten minutes of a Jackie Chan movie. The effects only last for twelve hours, but those hours can make people successful beyond their wildest dreams.
Despite seeming like the ultimate designer drug, NZT has some serious issues. While it’s not seemingly physically addictive, mentally and emotionally it’s almost impossible to not want more. Who would want to return to being average once they’ve experienced this kind of intelligence and awareness? The drug is also in very short supply, and the film revolves around the various users being killed for their supply. NZT is coveted by anyone who knows of its existence, which is dangerous in and of itself. Finally, even if someone had an unlimited and secret supply, the withdrawal is about as brutal as it gets. The drug eventually kills all of its users, as their bodies simply can’t handle it. (With two very notable exceptions: Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) and Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), who have found a way to use the drugs without side effects.
5 Scat – The Faculty (1998)
In this high school sci-fi, it’s time for the students to save the world from aliens, with the help of their handy-dandy drug: Scat. Despite the (presumably unintentionally) hilarious name, Scat is actually a home-made combo of “mostly caffeine and some other household shit” made by the resident dealer, Zeke (Josh Hartnett). A psychoactive upper, scat is a white powder that Zeke ingeniously sells inside emptied disposable pens. Apparently the teens want to be able to do the drug right under their teachers’ noses, and this way, they can simply screw off the end of the pen and snort it at their desks.
The drug isn’t particularly dangerous to humans (beyond the fact that snorting caffeine and “household shit” isn’t exactly good for you), but it’s deadly to the alien beings in the film. The teens eventually save the world with their own variation of home-made meth, which is a strange kind of a moral, even for a ‘90s B-movie like this one.
4 SLO-MO – Dredd (2012)
Another dystopian future with some interesting new drugs, Dredd paints a version of the United States called Cursed Earth, an enormous crime-riddled city where law is kept by the Judges. The film follows Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he and a recruit try and take down a drug lord pumping SLO-MO through the streets.
The drug itself is an inhalant that slows down the users’ perception of time, as well as seemingly inducing a mild euphoria. Colors seem brighter, vision sharper, the world in general is more intense. Because the drug slows down perception, any pleasurable sensations (wink wink) seem to last far longer, while any painful ones feel never-ending. Excellent if you are having a lovely warm bath, less so if a drug lord has decided to skin you alive.
It’s also worth pointing out that the drug only changes perception, not reality. Reaction times and the actual speed and reflexes of the user aren’t improved – otherwise it would be far harder for Dredd to succeed in shooting them. Like most real-world drugs, this one is dangerous to those involved in making or dealing it, and dangerous due to its addictive properties as much as anything else.
3 SOMA – Brave New World (1980, 1998)
The film adaptations of the book by Aldous Huxley feature a much cleaner, more sanitized dystopian future than most of the others on this list. The opposite of the crime-ridden streets seen in Dredd, RoboCop 2 and A Clockwork Orange, both versions of Brave New World paint a picture of perfect harmony and human satisfaction. Life is strictly regulated and maintained according to emotional conditioning and a caste system, and emotional ties are almost non-existent. The family unit is dissolved, along with pregnancy and child-rearing, in favor of population control via “hatched” genetically engineered babies who are raised to accept their assigned place in the world.
Much of this mandatory satisfaction is achieved with the use of SOMA, a hallucinogen that leads to a feeling of euphoria, but which simultaneously sedates the user so that they accept whatever is happening in the world. SOMA is widely available and use is encouraged (almost mandatory), used for recreation, sex (which is a recreational activity, and often a group one) and in “religious” services (hymns, hypnosis, and sex).
While most people in this world consume SOMA only enough to keep themselves slightly “out of it”, it is possible to overdose – simply slipping away into a SOMA haze. The danger, however, is not in the usual forms of rash behavior to achieve a fix, or in health problems resulting from the drug. The danger is in the fact that SOMA makes people complacent. The name comes from the Latin for “sleep”, and the suggestion is that SOMA leaves the population sleepwalking through life, accepting the fact that they are, in essence, enslaved.
2 Spice/Melange – Dune (1984)
In this sci-fi classic, Spice (or Melange) is the most sought-after and valuable substance in the universe. Spice is depended upon for intergalactic travel (among other things), but comes from only one planet: Dune (aka Arrakis). The film adaptation of the novel follows a battle for ownership of the planet, and thus, the supply of Spice.
The drug itself is described as red, and smelling of “bitter cinnamon”. Its effects include giving the user a longer life, more vitality, and increased awareness. Its use in space travel comes from the fact that in some humans, Spice unlocks a prescient ability – the user can see into the future, knowing how to complete a journey safely. These incredible effects coupled with its rarity make it worth more than anything else in the world of Dune. A small amount of Spice can buy you a home in some places, or be traded for any number of other goods.
However, Spice is incredibly addictive, and withdrawal is fatal. Once someone is addicted to Spice, their choices become to find the steep price for more, or die. This clearly creates conflict around the drug, and while using can be a mark of pride in affluent circles- the user showing off that they can afford it- it can also be a cause of shame for others who are struggling to afford their habit. The drug has an odd side-effect of turning the eyes blue over time – for those ashamed of their habit, this change is hidden with contact lenses.
Finally, Spice isn’t just dangerous for the users. The drug is mined from the planet Dune, but this process can wake up “sand worms” – monstrous creatures that are more than capable of swallowing a mining vessel whole. Greed and desire for control of the supply also makes the drug extremely dangerous for those with the mining rights to Arrakis, as rivals try to wrest control from them.
1 Zydrate – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
In this gothic musical horror, a worldwide epidemic sees organs failing all over the world. Luckily, there is a way to survive: organ transplants provided by a company called GeneCorp, which leases the body parts like we would cars. Of course, the payments are high, and when people can’t afford their organs, a Repo Man (Anthony Stewart-Head) is sent to take them back with chilling brutality.
Zydrate is a bright blue drug in a little glass vial, which is plugged into a gun and taken like a high-pressure shot. The drug causes feelings of total euphoria and numbness. It’s made from human bodies at the moment of their death, but this doesn’t seem to put off the huge number of people using it. Intended for use instead of an anesthetic before surgery, its addictive properties have led to a street form being sold for recreational use (and other addicts simply having excessive amounts of surgeries in order to get their hit).
The greatest danger with Zydrate is addiction. Not only does it lead to all the usual horrible results of extreme addiction (crime and prostitution for more), but because it’s used as an anesthetic, addicts often keep getting surgeries that they can’t afford- ending with a visit from the repo man.
Did we miss any other fictional drugs? Let us know in the comments!