Monday, December 3, 2012

Inducing Hallucinations in a Character Using a Natural Substance

I’m writing a character left for dead in the desert in the Southwest USA. He is dehydrated and starving and eats or drinks something that makes him hallucinate. What can I use?

Dehydration alone can cause decreased level of consciousness, but true hallucinations wouldn’t be likely if the character can still walk. Consider having him come across a cactus; here’s why:
Peyote comes from a species of cactus; the active ingredient is the compound mescaline. Peyote causes visual and auditory hallucinations, lasting from a few hours up to a day. In contrast to LSD, most users are aware of being intoxicated, and peyote isn’t associated with flashbacks. It can be psychologically addictive. The character is likely to emerge without negative after effects related to the peyote itself.
Peyote has been used for centuries, including in Native American religious ceremonies. When cultivated, the cactus is cut off at ground level; the new growth consists of nodules, known as peyote buttons. These can be smoked, chewed, or soaked in liquid to make an extract. Because of its bitter taste, some users dry the plant, powder it, and put it in capsules. Excessive peyote ingestion causes nausea, anxiety, a racing heart, and occasionally delusions, during which the user can do self-harm.
Mescaline (the active compound in peyote) has been synthesized and sold as a drug. Like many illicit substances, it is often cut with other drugs or substances, which can contribute to a toxic ingestion. The unpleasant side effects have limited its popularity.

Questions? Comments?
Kelly has worked in the medical field for over twenty years, mainly at large medical centers. With experience in a variety of settings, chances are Kelly may have seen it.

Sometimes truth seems stranger than fiction in medicine, but accurate medicine in fiction is fabulous.
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  1. What is the time frame of the story? Today the peote cactus is a controled substance. It is legaly cultivated in fenced areas and the man would probably be promptly rescued, although he'd have to be quick with an explanation of his presence. The cactus is rare in its native environment, mostly in the Chihuahuan Desert Region of the U.S./Mexico border, a delightfully forbidding place to dump a character. The cactus is round and spineless, which would tempt someone to eat it, however, it is small, hard to find, and bitter tasting. The man would more likely run into the Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus. Heavily spiked, but has moisture in its body and showy edible flowers and fruit. The peote ingestion is a possible scenario, but the man would have to have a strong reason to end up with it. (Maybe the people that dumped him left some buttons on him, hoping that if his body was found the authorities would assume he'd been a misguided hophead?) Or how about a scorpion sting? The sight of one of those creepy-crawlies gives me hysterical visions of self-generated flight.

  2. Hello, Dianna.
    Thanks for reading and commenting!
    Yes, peyote is controlled, but is legal for use in Native American religious ceremonies(and in some states the religious use isn't restricted culturally).
    As far as the intended scenario (beyond what I've given above) I'm not privy to what the author intended. The prickly pear and scorpion scenarios are certainly plausible. I agree, scorpions are in their own league as far as frightening/painful.
    Cheers, Kelly

  3. We were recently discussing desert plants and Datura came up...could he have somehow ingested that? For either Peyote or Datura, I'm trying to envision a scenario where he'd intentionally expose himself to either one. Unless some "helpful" individual left him a canteen with a "tea" of one of the dangerous substances.

  4. Hello, Mona. Thanks for commenting.
    I'm not familiar with Datura (I plan to look it up).
    Since peyote is small and spineless, it might appear more benign to a starving man. I'm not sure the average man left for dead in the desert would be familiar with peyote's appearance.
    The canteen angle is a good one, IMHO.
    Cheers, Kelly