Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Herbal "knockout pills"
elmenora wrote in little_details
Google and the library have failed me, so here goes.  I need a non-lethal drug, preferably plant based, that will knock some folks out when put in their food.

The scene:
Group A has invited group B to a feast, with the intention of drugging them and killing them (group A are noted warriors, so B wants to minimize the risk).  Main character figures out and manages to sneak them out before they're killed.  I know, I know... it would make more sense to just poison them, but I need some of these folks alive for later so I'm gonna just handwave that.  My question is what drug to use?

The requirements:
1.  powerful enough sedative/tranquilizer/soporific to knock out a fairly large man within an hour or so of use, and keep him unconcious for at least a few hours.
2. something that works when ingested at the same time as food (the drug is in the food).  It doesn't need to be flavorless, since there's a lot of pepper in the dish to hide any unusual taste.
3. doesn't have any life-threatening side effects from a moderate dose
4. It must be possible, with concentrated effort, to wake the person up after an hour or two.  It's okay if this involves shouting, slapping them, whatever, as long as they'll be awake enough to stumble around a bit.

I've looked through a bunch of sites on toxic and medicinal plants, and most are either too effective/toxic, or barely do anything at all.  The best possibility seems to be kava-kava, but I'm not sure if it'd be possible to wake someone up while they were under the influence.  Thoughts?

Thanks for all the wonderful ideas!  I've settled on a combination of hashish and alcohol, which ought to do the job nicely.

Is laudanum no good? That would be my first thought.

Considered it, but I'm not sure about the other effects. Apparently pre-modern laudanum tended to cause vomiting, cramps, and sweating - stuff the victims might notice easily. But if I can't find anything else laudanum would probably do the trick.

the side effects are from the opium and affect people who's stomach lining don't like the opium. from personal experience i can say that if you only use a little opium the side effects shouldn't occur within the short time period you're thinking of. after repeated exposure to small doses of the opium over a 12 hour period they're eventually likely to get the side effects. but even if they got it earlier, because your character uses a lot of opium, it's not like: OMG, someone put laudanum in my food! because the vomiting just feels like you might have eaten something bad, so if one or two characters are throwing up when they wake up, it could be put down to bad food.

I've never taken opium, but when I've been injected with morphine I haven't had any side-effects at all other than a brief but nasty "rushing" sensation presumably due to the method of delivery. That said, I didn't feel sleepy at all, nor did I feel high.

yeah, i can have it injected, but i can't stomach it. as i said, it's people's stomach lining that gives people the side effects. if there's a way to have people injected with it, that could work, but i think people might notice that, lmao. "Sir, may I inject you with your desert? The cook said it might be a bit heavy on the stomach, that's all." XD

edit: presumably if you are giving morphine by a doctor there's a reason they're doing so, which negates the 'highness'. such as being in pain?

Edited at 2011-09-04 08:56 am (UTC)

To be honest, I suspect you're going to have difficulty finding anything that fits the bill. At least anything that's just going to make someone go *thunk* without also putting them beside a warm fire/having a boring story read to them/etc.

It could be simplest just to get your character pissed, really :/

Well, I don't need them to go "thunk" exactly. Just fall asleep more suddenly than normal and stay that way through moderate disturbances.

Melatonin might work for your purposes. It can be derived from plants, and if conditions are otherwise conducive to sleep, a high dose should be sedating enough.

It does work differently on different people--my father, for instance, who weighs considerably more than I, can take 1mg and sleep all night, whereas back when it was effective, I'd take 10mg in order to sleep. That's because any sedative will also depend on any other physical conditions. Exhaustion will help; pain will make it less likely to work.

How about mandrake or henbane? I don't know if curare does anything if you eat it - but that's one that came to mind.

Can you get them drunk? A stronger liquor than they expect (spiking ale with vodka) is a pretty common method of date rape.

For various plot reasons, it has to be in the food. Otherwise, alcohol would be top of the list :)

I'm afraid that charlycrash is correct -- you're not going to find anything that fits your needs, unless your world allows for some handwaving. You might try starting with rohypnol and look for a biopharmaceutical that parallels its chemistry. But honestly? If the drug you want existed, I think it would have been used historically, frequently enough to be well-known. Date rape would be an established practice instead of a recent development. Instead, every example I can think of in history or story involves the target simply being plied with liquor.

In Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer -- a nonpareil at historical research -- has one character drug another to quick unconsciousness. She uses port wine, which is very strongly flavoured, and the recipient is a young man (low body weight). She never identifies the substance; in fact, the passage is written with a fine sleight of hand, pulling attention away from the fact that she handwaved it.

If you have a character with access to mysterious Oriental medicines or medieval Arabic medical knowledge, or a native of the Brazilian rain forest, you can at least handwave in a period manner.

Date rape is an established practice -- as is using mind-altering substances to aid and abet it. The second subset started with "getting them too drunk to know what they're doing," back when someone invented a still. The first started when two people went walking and one of them decided that there was going to be sex whether the other person wanted it or not.

(Yeah, I think I know what you mean, but... be more careful saying whatcha mean, 'kay?)

My apologies. By 'date rape' I was referring to the practice of drugging an individual to insensibility for the purposed of forced sexual assault, using something other than alcohol by itself: a type of event that has only been recognised and acknowledged as a serious problem relatively recently, in some countries. As I indicated, I can think of numerous examples of similar incidents, in history, mythology, traditional storytelling, ballads, etc., in which the assault occurs, but no substance other than alcohol is used (setting aside magic, which I'm assuming is not available to the OP). In most cases, brute force is applied without mind-altering substances. This suggests, to me, that there was no substance generally known and available that would function in the same manner as, for example, rohypnol.

Thanks. I'm just very much against defining "date rape" as "using drugs to facilitate rape" -- it clouds the already murky issue of "two people had a social meeting and one decided that there would be sex, whether they had to nag, drug, or force the other." (Since persistent "nagging" for sex, or "not quite threatening" or "getting someone tipsy" are all things that can make it unclear to the person feeling violated whether it was "real rape.") You probably know all that, but, well, for anyone who might read this who doesn't, y'know?

I do agree: what with all the various "love potions" (lust potions...) that have been attempted over the centuries, if there were a generally known-and-available substance (besides alcohol) that facilitated sex-without-consent of the drugged person... It'd be documented.

OP: does it have to not be alcohol? (And on the other front, you can justify "non-fatal" by saying that some of the poisoning-group are going to have to eat some of the drugged food, to "prove" it's "harmless." They may need to have sturdy constitutions to be sure of lasting long enough, but taking a Nap for the Team while the enemy is butchered (with some left alive to be questioned/tortured...?) would be better than taking a death for the team.)

Realistically, knocking someone out is way harder than it's usually depicted in fiction. There are different levels of sedation. Usually when someone thinks of a "knockout drug" they're imagining that the person is completely unconscious, with no response to stimuli. At that point, the person is usually also not breathing on their own.

The next level is deep sedation, in which the person will still respond to painful stimulation, and even there breathing needs to be monitored.

Moderate sedation is the safest, because breathing is unlikely to be impaired, but at that level of sedation the person usually responds to questions and similar stimuli.

Complicating all this is the fact that different people respond to the same dose of sedating medication differently, depending on weight and metabolism. Doses have to be very precise, tailored to the individual person, which is why drugging the food often isn't a good option.

All this is the reason anesthesiologists get paid the big bucks.

So, going back to your're right, the group that's doing the knocking out would, realistically, most likely just straight out poison the other guys. If they really feel the need to kill them while unconscious (as part of some dastardly plot to cover it up, maybe?), they would probably give them a dose that's more of a sleep aid and wait until they go to bed, something like a little laudanum in the food or the wine. That would help them go to sleep more easily and stay asleep a little better, although they're still going to be arousable, some more than others, and there's a risk that some might die (based on how much they drink and how they process the drug). There will be different levels of side effects, too. So if you had three guys, say, one might wake up fine, one might need help to walk, and one might be vomiting.

Depending on how realistic your setting is, you might want to consider the option of making something up and handwaving the effects to be what you want.

Something that's essentially a hefty sleep aid is exactly what I'm looking for. They just need to be out of it enough that an ordinarily light sleeper wouldn't notice someone making a bit of a ruckus in the room. It's actually better if a some of them are more arousable than others. The attackers certainly aren't worried about accidental overdoses, but I figure I can just say they were lucky.

Have you thought about valerian? It has a fairly strong unpleasant odor, and is a little slow acting, but, as I found out the hard way, several cups of tea will make you very drowsy, nearly impossible to stay awake. Not sure how you'd work that into food, but an essence/extract shouldn't be impossible

"Mandragora (mandrake) was described by Theophrastus in the fourth century B.C. for treatment of wounds, gout, and sleeplessness, and as a love potion. By the first century A.D. Dioscorides recognized wine of mandrake as an anaesthetic for treatment of pain or sleeplessness, to be given prior to surgery or cautery.[8] The use of Solanaceae containing tropane alkaloids for anesthesia, often in combination with opium, persisted throughout the Roman and Islamic Empires and continued in Europe until superseded by the use of ether, chloroform, and other modern anesthetics."

I was looking up scopalimine and found this reference to mandrake's use in history as a sleep aid and anesthetic.

I don't know how reliable this particular site is, but it goes into some detail about henbane's historical use as a sleep aid.

I recently had the same problem for a similar scenario: Rescuers of a kidnapped young prince find the campsite of the people who are transporting him. One thing considered is having the party healer - who is a master herbalist - dope their food or wine. Problem is, the Prince will probably get whatever his captors get.

If they don't have to be soundly asleep or unconscious this would be easier. It's much less risky to make several people all groggy without endangering the ones you need alive later. Given differences in metabolism, amount consumed, amount of alcohol also consumed, etc. this would leave most people drowsy and probably dozing, some sound asleep, and the rest likely impaired.

In a pre-modern setting, some sort of "poppy extract" would likely do the job. Henbane might work, but is often more potent than planned, and has a strong taste. Valerian was long used to aid sleep, but might be too mild.

Oh; is the setting European, Asian, New World, what? I get the impression it's Old World. There are different plant products available in different settings, especially pre-Columbus.

Some links to info on herbal medicines:

Hmmm, thought I had more. Well, there are plenty of online sources which can be found with a search, including scans of books on herbal medicines. One of these is _Physio-Medical Therapeutics, Materia, Medica, and Pharmacy_ by Thomas J. Lyle, published in 1932. A scan is online, somewhere, which is where I got it. Unfortunately, I can't find the link.

Oh, right, setting. It's old world mostly, but in a slightly fantasy setting so a brazilian plant turning up wouldn't be the strangest thing around.

I bet they would fall asleep if you fed them some hashish. It could be cooked into the food and it woukd make them sleepy.

Oooh, good one! Forgot all about hash.

Heh. Now I'm imagining a brownie equivalent of a candygram for Mongo. ;-)

Can't believe I forgot about cannabis... and I even live in the pot capitol of america. D'oh!

Sounds like you've got it figured, but just thought I'd say that I don't think kava is that soporific. I haven't ever tried a really strong preparation, just tincture or commercial tea, but for me it's about like the relaxation level of a couple glasses of wine, without the sense of alcoholic intoxication. If anything, I have a harder time falling asleep after taking it. And in reading about tribal use, I don't get the impression it makes people sleepy, just mellow and disinclined to do anything very productive. YMMV.

Ah, thank you. It's always cool to here from personal experience. Wikipedia claimed it caused some serious drowsiness, but it's not always the most reliable :)



2014-11-30 02:41 am (UTC)

Simply manufacture it, it is fiction after all

Herbal Knockouts


2015-01-30 09:46 pm (UTC)

Please tell me the strongest herbs on the planet that can knock someone out immeditaly?


Log in