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Fictional pharmaceuticals

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Dr Leonard McCoy, Star Trek series

Source: CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Many fictional drug references in Star Trek occur in scenes with Dr McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley

Fictional drugs have been used to add depth and realism to stories for centuries. They can inject a hint of humour, a dystopian element, a theatrical prop, or a central theme. For cynical pharmacists, some are more believable than others.

The Simpsons is a rich source of fictional pharmaceuticals, perhaps fittingly because the family’s neighbour Ned Flanders is probably the only animated pharmacist in cartoon history. The long-running series incessantly parodies US culture, and Americans’ over-reliance on drugs is a rich vein of material. Focusyn pokes fun at ADHD drugs, sounding like a combination of Ritalin and Focalin (dexmethylphenidate). Jammitin for erectile dysfunction needs little explanation.

To help them sleep, Springfield residents may use Nappien instead of Ambien, and for male pattern baldness they have Dimoxidil instead of minoxidil. But to kill two birds with one stone there’s always Viagrogaine, which, as Homer Simpson says, “gives you hair up there and what you need down there”.

Drugs have been used as sinister force in dystopian novels. Anthony Burgess dreamt up Serum 114, for example, which is injected during the Ludovico treatment to cure criminals’ violent urges in A Clockwork Orange. And Drencrom, a cocktail made with adenochrome (a genuine psychoactive drug mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his Doors of Perception) is one of the drug-laced drinks available in in the Korova Milkbar.

In Brave New World, Huxley dreamt up Soma, a hallucinogen that takes users on pleasurable, hangover-free “holidays”. Soma is produced by the State for self-medication when people are feeling down, and eliminates the need for religion or other personal allegiances outside the State.

The use of drugs in fiction dates back almost to the beginning of written fiction itself. Odysseus ingested Moly, a white flower that makes the consumer immune to magic, to escape Circe’s spells in The Odyssey. The lotophagi, or lotus-eaters, in this epic survive by eating only the lotus tree – a plant with narcotic properties.

Pharmacists may be disappointed to note that the Bard did not bother to come up with an impressive name for his potion of deathlike sleep that Juliet uses to fake her own death in Romeo and Juliet. This interesting potion causes the victim to pass out, stop breathing with no apparent pulse and appear to be dead for 42 hours. After this time the person wakes up, completely restored as if nothing has happened.

The world of science fiction is prime territory for fictional drugs. Star Trek contains many drug references, perhaps because Dr McCoy is a key character and many scenes take place in the Enterprise’s Sick Bay. Inaprovaline is a stimulant administered by Starfleet medical personnel for resuscitation purposes. Masiform D is an antidote to saplin-like poisons, but causes upset stomach in Vulcanoids. On a more mundane note, Retinax 5 is prescribed for presbyopia, or age-related long sight. Unfortunately for Captain James T Kirk, he is allergic to Retinax 5 and is one of the few people in the 23rd Century who still needs to use reading glasses.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Ned Flanders is not the only animated pharmacist in cartoon history: indeed, he isn't a pharmacist. In Season 3, Episode 3 (When Flander's Failed), we learn that he is saying "toodle-oo to the pharmaceutical game" - in which he wore the "noose" of a tie as a sales rep for 10 years - to open The Leftorium. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (Series 9, Episode 13 (I Love Lisa)), which does not have a school of pharmacy. Family Guy's Mort Goldman, on the other hand, *is* a pharmacist.

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