Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
19th century hallucinogenic drugs - specific side effects needed
yellowsub no idea
ladystormcrow wrote in little_details
Time/Place: Victorian London, circa 1887
Search terms used: "19th century hallucinogens", "Victorian hallucinogens", "Victorian aphrodisiacs", "hallucinogen sexual effects"

This is for the same Victorian urban fantasy story in my earlier post (a big thank-you to all the people who replied, btw! you guys were extremely helpful!). One of the subplots involves a young woman, Miss A, who is the daughter of a murdered professor (and who isn't the most mentally stable person, even before her father's death). Over the course of the story, she grows more and more obsessed with Mr. B, the policeman who's working to solve the murder.

Towards the end of the story arc, Miss A drugs Mr. B, and has sex with him while he's under the influence. She doesn't see herself as doing anything wrong - in her mind, it's like giving him a love potion in a romance story, and she believes she can make him fall in love and marry her, which would cancel out any sin committed by having sex before marriage. Needless to say, it doesn't work - Mr. B is disgusted and horrified when he realizes what's happened, and wants nothing to do with her.

My question is, what kind of drugs, available in the late 19th century, would leave a man complete incoherent and unaware of his surroundings, but still able to perform sexually? The "able to perform sexually" part is vital, because it's a plot point that Miss A gets pregnant from this incident.

I can't be vague and just say "she slipped him something", because Mr. B is a very analytical person and goes to great lengths to find out exactly what Miss A did to him. However, I also don't want to write a how-to manual, so it doesn't need to be a perfect real-world drug. A particular class/family of drugs, or a real one with similar effects that I could base a fictional version on, would be ideal.

Getting access to rare herbs and potions wouldn't be a problem - Miss A's father dabbled in the occult, and left behind an extensive collection, so she could easily find the right mixture to slip into Mr. B's tea or wine. It's just a question of knowing what kind of mixture she should go for. I've found a number of books and articles that talk about Victorian scholars experimenting with peyote and other hallucinogenic drugs used in native peoples' rituals, but not many reliable sources that talk about the sexual side effects of such drugs.

To clarify, Mr. B isn't interested in Miss A at all before this happens, and he has a strong sense of honor and propriety - basically, he'd never touch her if he was sober. He's also engaged to another woman, who he's very much in love with, so it's plausible he could hallucinate he's having sex with his wife-to-be.

I know this is a sensitive subject, and I'm reasonably confident about my ability to depict the psychological effects on the characters involved. I just need some help with the technical side of things.

I think Spanish fly would be useful for your purposes--I'm not sure exactly how well it works, but it was definitely known in the Victorian era (and before) to be a male aphrodisiac. As for getting him incoherent, an overdose of alcohol might work in combination with the "fly," but you would have to do more research.

I've looked up Spanish fly, and, while I don't think it would produce the effect I want on its own (from what I've read, it causes genital irritation that people can mistake for arousal), it would certainly be in-character for Miss A to include it as an ingredient in a mixture of drugs. Thanks!

I do know alcohol won't work, though. As the poster below said, too much interferes with erection and ejaculation, but also, since this takes place in Miss A's home, it would be out of character for Mr. B to drink that much - he wouldn't have anything stronger than one glass of wine, and then only if she pushed it on him.

Alcohol is probably a no go, as enough of it to seriously impair judgement can interfere with erection and ejaculation. Hallucinations from alcohol are mostly restricted to withdrawal, anyway.

I'd favor hallucinogenic Psilocybin mushrooms ("shrooms") from the New World. The wikipedia article on psilocybin mushrooms details their effects pretty well, but a weird, dreamlike state with visual and auditory changes is characteristics. She might be able to convince him she's someone else, or that he's dreaming.

those weren't known by white folks until the 1950's. there are some british species though which apparently had occasional accidental use, which you could possibly slur into "occult". (Psilocybe cyanescens is your species of choice for that.) more likely would be some wacky ritual descendant from Amanita muscaria, believed to have been the "soma" of antiquity.

there's also opium.

I hadn't thought of using mushrooms, though I've heard about Amanita and its history. My main question would be whether the 'shroom would still work if it were powdered or liquefied and mixed in a drink.

yes, that should still work.

The Victorian drug of choice for this scenario has absolutely got to be laudanum. As long as it's theoretically possible to have an erection while under its influence, it is the one to go for. It would be easy for Miss A to get hold of it, and hallucinations are a side-effect. If you actually were a Victorian writing about this scenario in a novel, laudanum would be your plot device here.

Ooh, I didn't know hallucinations could be an effect of laudanum! I did know the stuff was extremely popular in literature from the time, and from what I understand, it takes a pretty small dose to have an effect, especially if the person's not a regular user. A "love potion" of laudanum and maybe one or two other substances may be just what I'm looking for.

If you don't already know it, it might be worth having a look at The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, in which [Cut for spoilers - it may have been published in 1868 but it's a fantastic book and the twist is a good one] a character does something under the influence of laudanum that he has absolutely no memory of. It isn't an overtly sexual act but you might find it interesting as evidence that the Victorians believed that laudanum could induce a trance in which people were perfectly capable of getting up and doing things like, say, trying to put a valuable object in a safer place. Great confusion and misunderstanding ensues but the events of the night are later reconstructed by a very scientifically-minded and analytical outsider who proves that our hero was acting in good faith.

Yeah, laudanum is sounding more and more promising, at least as the main ingredient.

Also, thanks for reminding me to read The Moonstone! I've heard really good things about it (and I saw the Wishbone episode when I was a kid), so I've been meaning to go back and read the original version in detail.

I hope you enjoy it. It's a wonderful book. Dorothy L. Sayers thought it was "probably the finest detective story ever written" and she knew her stuff. Plus, it features the best butler in literature in Gabriel Betteridge.

Not directly relevant to your question, but you do know there would be a significant class difference between these two, don't you? A professor would be solidly middle/upper class. Police were equally definitely working class.

Yes, I'm aware of the class difference. Like I said, Miss A isn't a stable or rational person - among other things, she's obsessed with pulp romance stories, and sees the class divide between her and Mr. B as a "forbidden love" obstacle they can overcome. (Also, if it helps, she's aware at this point that Mr. B wasn't born into a working class background - his family's middle class too, although he's estranged from them.)

There's also a range of hallucinogenic fish that could be used. Most are tropical, but the sarpa salpa would have been available off the French coast. Apparently the Romans used it and experienced LSD like affects. The hallucinations are auditory and visual and last for over a day. He'd have to eat the fish of course. The head appears to have the highest concentration of the hallucinogens. It's hardly romantic, but it could work.

Edit: I've also heard of some hallucinogenic honey, but I can't find a reputable source that describes all of the side effects. All I can find are apocryphal stories of the hallucinogenic honey, although there are plenty of sources talking about toxic honey. Otherwise that would have worked as something to stir into a nice cup of tea.

Edited at 2014-02-24 02:42 am (UTC)

In case you haven't tried it already, erowid can be a useful site for anecdotal info about psychoactive drugs, including shrooms. You might also look at wormwood, and they have info on that too.

Edited at 2014-02-28 07:12 am (UTC)