“This better not be haga.”
“I would sell haga to a slayer such as you?”
I'm actually not aware of much drug use in Howard's stories about Conan, but it's all over the place in the works of Clark Ashton Smith and Michael Moorcock.
On high tables about the walls of the alchemy, there were jars, flasks, and vials containing subtle drugs and powerful elements, some of which were drawn from the more arcanic kingdoms of nature. Disregarding the moon-powder, the coals of starfire, the jellies made from the brains of gorgons, the ichor of salamanders, the dust of lethal fungi, the marrow of sphinxes, and other equally quaint and pernicious matters, the magician soon found the essences that he required. It was the work of an instant to pour them into the seething cauldron; and having done this, he awaited with composure the return of the reptiles. - “The Flower-women” by Clark Ashton Smith
In the realms of fantasy, it is an easy thing to come up with all manner of wild and fanciful inebriants and hallucinogens. The real world has more than its fair share as well. What follows is a short list of those most common in the lands of my Doom & Teaparties campaigns.
Chocolate is typically drunk as a thick, foamy liquid (it's foamed up by pouring rapidly from one container to another) and is considered a mild aphrodisiac. Fermented and roasted beans are also ground into a powder which is used to spike other drugs, or sprinkled over or in food.
Cannabis along with hashish and sinsemilla are also fairly common. Usually it's burned in a pot that those wishing to indulge gather around so they can enjoy the fumes. It is smoked individually by some, but most consider it a more social drug. It's also baked into some
Coca leaves (not to be confused with cocoa leaves) are often given to slaves engaged in manual labor in the lands of the lizardfolk. The lizardfolk and their slaves claim that chewing the leaves boosts the slaves' energy and strength. The gods point out that the lizardfolk themselves use the leaf only rarely themselves, and claim that prolonged use makes humans docile and tame. The gods consider the cultivation and sale of coca leaves to be a crime, though rumors maintain that extracts from the leaf and root are part of the process the Shkeenites use to tame newly acquired slaves. The lizardfolk use similar extracts as part of an aphrodisiac they feed to their slaves when attempting to breed them.
Licorice is often consumed by just chewing the root to freshen the breath. The syrup from boiled roots is used to help break up coughs and cure mouth sores and fevers. However, the temples of the gods frequently serve the syrup mixed with food and sauces to their novices as a treat, because it is known to suppress the sex drive and other “antisocial” behaviors.
Large quantities of powdered nutmeg are combined with chocolate and other herbs into a potent potion brewed by lizardfolk witches to induce prophetic visions, though it's typically administered to criminals before execution or sacrifice. The effects are thought to be especially unpleasant, and such a victim can rave and babble for an entire day. Such visions are nearly always doom-laden, but the mystics and rulers of the empire take such predictions seriously.
The gods use nutmeg in the incense used during ceremonies in their temples, but the amounts are too low to produce any noticeable hallucinogenic effect. It is believed, however, to ward against airborne diseases, so the incense is often used in and around hospitals.
Anthoneiri or “dreamblossoms” is a flower from a clinging vine that grows best in Fairey. The long, leaf-shaped petals are a milky white near the center of the flower, blushing to pink and then a brilliant crimson at the outer edge and pointed tip. The stamens and pistil of the blossoms can be used to create a potion that induces a wild, sometimes violent, bestial state in the drinker, and is used by some shock troops to work themselves up into a fury before battle. The scent of the dreamblossoms is a potent aphrodisiac, and prolonged or saturating exposure can induce a temporary state of extreme satyriasis/nymphomania that, if sated, will result in a very deep, restful sleep with especially bizarre and vivid dreams. Hierodules of Tiamat are known to use this effect to attempt to contact Tiamat in her prison.
Moonglories are a small, shrub-like plant whose silvery blossoms open under the light of the silver moon. Chewing the root is a common cure for male impotence. Eating the blossoms raw is known to cause mental instability, but when properly prepared it is a potent anesthetic. A more concentrated form is sometimes combined with sinsemilla to produce a powerful hypnotic drug that can be used to make a person highly suggestible or alter their memories. It is believed to be another tool in the pharmacological arsenal of the Shkeenites.
Lotus plants come in a number of colors, each with its own potent powers. Chewing the petals of the white lotus before bed results in restful sleep full of pleasant dreams, and is thought to be a ward against the nocturnal predations of night hags and nightmares. It is often administered to mothers going through difficult pregnancies, as it's also thought to settle the tummy and curb the effects of morning sickness as well as gentle the emotions.
Purple lotus is noted for its prophetic powers. Alchemists and soothsayers use a potent mix of dried blossoms, sinsemilla, and moonglory blossoms to get hazy glimpses of the future. Chewing the petal gives a mild euphoric effect and stains the tongue a dark purple color. Some use it to enhance the effects of other drugs or alcohol. In many human cultures, maidens will chew a fresh purple and white petal before bed on nights of the full moon in hopes of having a prophetic dream in which they will get a glimpse of the face of their future husband. Purple lotus are often grown outside the temples of Hasrit, and some coming to watch the whirling dance ceremonies of the priestesses will take a petal or two to chew, though the priestesses warn that they will not be responsible for the results of such practice.
The petals of the red lotus are thought to release the emotions, to bring secret thoughts from the depths of the soul, and unleash inspiration. It is thought to be especially potent when smoked with cannabis under a full silver moon. When the petal is chewed, it does strengthen the emotions and makes the chewer more susceptible to mood swings. When dried and smoked mixed with cannabis, those mood swings can be extreme. It is grown in the temples of Uban to be used to help unlock the inspiration of the priests who are thwarted by a particularly difficult or thorny problem, but always under the supervision of other priests, since it nearly always results in the user curled up in the corner, babbling and weeping in stark terror at horrors only the smoker can see.
The petals are sometimes ground into a paste, combined with aphrodisiacs, and turned into a lip paint. This lip paint is thought to slowly excite not only the wearer, but anyone kissed, and is sometimes used by those hoping to seduce an otherwise disinterested or hesitant lover.
The most precious and potent lotus is the black. Black lotus petals are dried and smoked to produce a deep feeling of contentment, invulnerability, and, eventually, powerfully erotic dreams. (Unscrupulous alchemists will often cut dried black lotus petals with common cannabis that's been dried and dyed a dark color.) The root can be chewed to improve the endurance and strength, but also results in a dulling of the wits, and prolonged use can reduce a person to a drooling imbecile, as well as permanently stain the lips and teeth an ugly purplish black color.
It's sorcerers who prize the plant above all others. The pistil is the primary ingredient in a potion that, when properly prepared and drunk, creates a dream-like state in which the wizard's vision can pierce the veil between worlds, see into other dimensions, and, according to some, even see the very stuff of magic floating in the air like streaming ribbons or floating soap bubbles. Its use can improve the magical abilities of sorcerers, but most will only indulge when it is most necessary. Rumors of the dangers include madness, possession by beings from higher planes, and actually being physically kidnapped into such bizarre dimensions.
In certain communities, bees are cultivated near fields of the various lotus plants, and the pollen of the lotus blossoms is turned into honey. This lotus honey tends to be very sweet, slightly more viscus than common, and impart strange visions or variations on the more typical effects of using the flowers to those who eat it.
Just in case it wasn't clear, I certainly don't recommend actually trying any of this stuff in real life. Chocolate will make you fat, nutmeg will make you vomit if you get enough in you to produce hallucinations, and I suspect chewing on lotus petals isn't that good for you, either. As for the imaginary stuff, well, if you find a vine of dreamblossoms, please tell me where. ;)
UPDATE: Gavin's got the goods on a few psycho-active substances of a more crunch-affecting variety over in "The City of Iron."
Photo Credits: 00dann, davitydave, matze_ott, and NZ Alex.