TekWar Futuristic DrugLife’s hard in a dystopian world, and sometimes you really just need any escape you can get. That’s why there’s no shortage of new and exciting drugs being created in these kinds of places–or at least, they always sound exciting. A lot of the time, these futuristic drug offerings aren’t quite what you’re promised, and come with some major downsides. The next time someone offers you a first hit for free, pause and think over the points below before you wind up the latest victim of a half-baked narcotics fad.

4. What is it Supposed to Do?

accela Serial Experiments Lain Futuristic Drug

Sometimes it’s a weird nanobot.

Well, this ought to be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people pop a pill first and ask questions later. When you’re taking a drug, make sure you know what effect it’s intended to have. Boring old drugs had pretty simple options: is it an upper? A downer? Is it a fairly subdued high, or more of a psychedelic experience? There was a limited range of possibilities.

But these new futuristic drugs can have all kinds of potential effects. Perhaps it’s something that directly stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain to induce euphoria? Or maybe it’s one of those weird VR drugs, which tricks your brain into believing it’s had a pleasurable experience? A futuristic drug isn’t even always intended to get you “high” at all, but rather to enhance your senses or reflexes–like Nuke’s pills, or the popular Accela drug that floats around Cyberia. You definitely wouldn’t want to suddenly have time slow down to a crawl without knowing it first.

Always ask what this hot new drug is intended to do, or else you might end up doling out a bit of the old ultra-violence across the city after a glass of milk.

3. How is it Administered?

Cowboy Bebop Bloody Eye Futuristic Drug

Keep those eyes open.

For most drugs, there are only a few ways they’re taken–you smoke them, you inject them, you swallow them, or you snort them. But the delivery system of a futuristic drug can be quite radically different, and it’s often reflective of its intended effect. Enhanced senses and reflexes are likely to be taken through eye drops or spray, like Bloody Eye. One of the aforementioned VR drugs might be “taken” simply by activating a computer program or game and watching it play out around you through a headset. You might also encounter nasal spray, visual/hypnotic imagery, inhalers… and that’s just if you’re human. AI drugs absolutely exist and are almost inconceivable to squishy biologicals.

This is where the dangers often start to come in. Smoking damages your lungs, and injecting can harm your veins and arteries, but those are a bit more obvious. You might expect that passing drugs through your eye could cause blindness, but VR drugs are another story. VR is VR, right? Well, not always… if this virtual reality program is altering your brain chemistry, either directly or indirectly (by stimulating certain glands with lights and sounds, for example), then there’s no telling what kind of damage this could do.

2. What are the Side Effects?

Firefly Pax Reaver Futuristic Drug

Or it could turn you into a Reaver. Also a possibility.

Every drug has side effects–even legal prescriptions. This often goes double for recreational drugs, as these side effects are what get them banned in the first place. When something new and cool hits the scene, you might not have all the info on the potential consequences of taking them; addiction is the most common, and all but guaranteed with a lot of these, like generic “stims” used by pilots and doctors alike. But addiction is a small price when facing some of the other side effects a futuristic drug can have. Users might devolve into complete apathy, such that they can’t even be bothered to eat; or it could be something that creates such a high tolerance so very quickly that you can effectively only use it once. Other times the side effects aren’t usually caused by the futuristic drug itself, but rather the callously unsafe way it’s sold or delivered. If you’re really unlucky, you could stumble across a drug that’s quite pleasant for most people to take, but sends you off on one of the worst trips of all time due to differences in your body chemistry.

The side effects of even a seemingly benign drug can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared for them. Keep an eye on that new futuristic drug and see what kind of effect it has on its users–which means you can’t be one of the first to take it. If there’s a sudden spree of violence, or people turning up mysteriously dead without a scratch on them, then you’ll have a pretty good idea as to what’s the cause.

1. Who’s Profiting?

Robocop Nuke Futuristic Drug

OCP wins again.

This new futuristic drug isn’t just popping out of nowhere, though. Someone created it, and odds are that someone is looking to make a little money off of it. Obviously, you can make some money just straight up selling it, especially when you’ve got a monopoly on the supply, but you ought to know by now that this dystopian society isn’t always so straightforward. Profit comes in other ways; have you ever heard the conspiracy theories about crack being created by the government? Well, that’s small potatoes compared to some of these futuristic drug plots. That VR “game” drug that seemed so hot was just a scheme to steal the Enterprise. Pax makes you so uncaring you starve to death? Sounds like the perfect way for an unscrupulous government to put down an unruly populace. A drug like Accela or Bloody Eye is well-suited to use by military or even paramilitary forces, giving them an edge in combat at the expense of the soldiers’ health.

You might wonder, then–if it’s not intended for the public, why would any of it be allowed to hit the streets at all? The answer to that is simple… the denizens of this dystopian world, the poor and downtrodden, are out of work and out of money. These people are of no use to the ruling elite if they can’t participate in the economy, but there’s still one way that they might be valuable. You see, a legitimate drug has to go through lots of trials, with large sample sizes, to try to recognize all the side effects and make sure it does what it’s supposed to. A less legitimate drug could still benefit from such trials, but no one would volunteer for something like that.

…Unless they don’t know they’re participating, that is. In the same way that you can keep an eye on the scene to find out about this new drug, so can its creators. A destitute population, eager to escape their misery through any means possible, whose deaths won’t even register in any official capacity?

Exactly what the MegaCorp doctor ordered.

That’s all for this week. Any other fictional, futuristic drug that you think is worth mentioning? You can let me know in the comments, or message me on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. I can tell you that Lance ends up having to deal with such a drug in the bonus story that accompanies Eidolon, my second novel. Pick it up today!