It has already been established that the typical dosage of “Spice” for a dependent user was approximately 2 grams per 70 kilograms of body mass per day. Of course for the drug to cause genetic changes as seen in the Guild Navigators, it would have to be on a much higher scale.

By way of contrast, a typical Heroin (I am basing the comparison on heroin because it is highly addictive and the statistics are probably a little more reliable than those for Cocaine) addict requires 200-300 mg per day, a factor of 10 difference compared with Melange. There are an estimated 11 million addicts worldwide (https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/global-heroin-market), and a worldwide production potential of Opium of 7,400 mt per year, but an total consumption of 3,700 mt per year (UNODC World Drug Report 2010). (Income from this is estimated to be split 3:1 between traffickers and growers/harvestors.)

That’s 3.7 million kilos per year, to supply 15+ million Opium and Opium derivative users who require only a tenth part of a dosage needed by a Melange user.

Let’s consider the economics of Spice production. On the “open market”, the value is 62,000 Solaris per gram.

The famous Base Calculation:

10 billion Solaris per year / 62,000 Solaris per gram = 161.3 kilograms per year

In the year previous to the Atreides takeover, the Arrakis yearly “legal” profit was 10 billion Solaris per year. After maintenance, salaries, CHOAM cut, and military expenditures the greedy Harkonnens probably got a 50% profit margin (the Atreides hoped to achieve 12-15% profit margin). Using the 3:1 standard profit conversion, this results in a production of only 1300 kg. per year to supply a universe of addicts.

Adjusted Estimate:

10 billion Solaris / 50% / 15,500 Solaris per gram ≈ 1300 kg.

Even if the production estimate is doubled to take in the illegal aspects (smugglers and Fremen), this still results in a production of only 2600 kg. per year, an amount the DEA would proudly display as results of a single good raid.

An addict such as Piter de Vries consumes 2 grams a day (minimum) times 330 standard days a year is 0.660 kilos per year. With an entire universe of addicts and casual users, (and remember, the Navigators are probably consuming 100 times this amount) how does 2600 kg. a year supply the demand?

Putting this into perspective...

Let's say that the wholesale price is a ridiculous 10 bucks a gram (the wholesale price for cocaine where I live);

10 billion bucks / 10 bucks a gram = 1000 mt of powder,

...which is is still less than total opium production to satisfy one sad little planet of addicts.

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    You're only estimating 11 million users? I would think that with a galaxy of planets that have trade with Arrakis, there would be far more than that. Also, where are you getting the prices for spice? Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 6:22
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    @Thunderforge 15+ million is the number of opium and opium derivative users on Earth. And you make my point. The price for spice is posted as per Valorum's answer referenced, as well as in Book 1, and the appendix. Open market value is 620,000 Solaris the decagram, which works out to 62,000 the gram. How could 2000 Kg supply so many people? Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 6:30
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    Well, as TV Tropes says, Writers Cannot Do Math. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 6:39
  • @Cascabel Done. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


The Spice must flow!

The opening of Dune begins with the current operators of Arrakis being sidelined due to their systematic incompetence in managing the production of Spice. The important thing to note is not how much money they're making each year, but rather how little. With millions of planets in the known universe (and potentially a few hundred wealthy addicts on each planet, consuming as much as 1-2 grams per day, plus low-level users ranging in the tens of thousands) this clearly requires a production of multiple tonnes per day in order to feed the supply.

The Harkonnens, after decades of mismanagement and under-supply have reached a point where they're producing less than 1% of what's needed. The slack is evidently being taken up by stockpiles, adulteration and a sophisticated smuggling operation involving two kinds of smugglers, those that operate their own own crawlers and ships and those that have deals with the Fremen.

On top of that, the bribes that are paid to "keep the skies clear" may equate to hundreds of tonnes a year based on the numbers of Fremen we see at Tabr collecting, sorting and harvesting spice (times the number of sietches). We can reasonably assume that the guild is stockpiling some, using some and selling the remainder.

So what happens when the spice flows?

By the time of the God Emperor (and beyond) spice production has returned to a normal level. We learn in Dune Messiah that there are now quite literally billions of addicts across the million worlds

Without melange, the Guild’s Steersmen could not navigate across space. Without melange, billions upon billions of Imperial citizens would die of addictive withdrawal.

and in Heretics of Dune, we get a good idea of the kind of production that can be managed without the Fremen continually harassing the producers

Ninety thousand long tons! Half a year’s harvest from the deserts of Rakis. Even a third of it represented a significant bargaining chip in the new balances.

Heretics of Dune

  • A well-reasoned and documented answer. Probably been 30 years since I read "Heretics" so I didn't remember that bit. However, why did the Atreides people express such shock when informed of the amount taken the previous year: "...a muted gasp...."Is there anyone here so naive he believes the Harkonnens have packed up and walked away from all this merely because the Emperor has ordered it?" Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 16:47
  • @cascabel - Because 10 billion solaris is hardly small change
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:13
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    @Cascabel - Yep. The maths here is decidedly off kilter.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:13
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    @SudoSedWinifred - Assuming we take the sequels and prequels (based on Herbert's notes) as canon, there are multiple examples of the Harkonnen apologising to the Emperor for failing to meet production targets.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 16:35
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    @SudoSedWinifred - The implication is that over the past few decades, the Fremen have become far more damaging.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 18:16

The 620,000 Solaris/decagram figure you cite is given as an upper bound on the price of melange up to that time. Figuring backwards from the highest market price, assuming constant demand, what you actually get is the lowest-ever spice supply. That this quantity is insufficient to meet your (sensible, I think) estimate of demand within the known universe should be no surprise.

Since withdrawal from melange is fatal and addicts are sometimes quite wealthy (most of those who aren't provided a spice ration or stipend by an employer), it stands to reason that the price is quite sensitive to demand shortfalls, and the average price may in fact be orders of magnitude below the cited maximum figure. I argue that the price fluctuation over time would be much greater than the factors considered in Valorum's answer and bring Herbert's figures into the realm of plausibility.

Also, Guild and Imperial allotments of spice may not be paid for, and would then not be covered in the financial reverse-figuring. The Empire is due its taxes, after all, and adequately supplying the Spacing Guild with Spice is a precondition of even meeting your tax obligation to the Emperor, nevermind selling even a single gram on the open market.

  • I'm not going to argue economic theory with you: I'm just a dude with a Casio calculator. So what was the Spice production estimate in metric tonnes the last year the Baron controlled the planet? And why even after it has been brought under control it still does seem to be sufficient to supply demand? (180,000 tons per harvest) Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 0:48
  • Unfortunately, not having any pricing figures (or canonically exact demand figures for that matter), I cannot figure what the production would have been. However, what do you mean by "sufficient to supply demand?" The Baron's original period of control over Arrakis ended because he and the Emperor were scheming together to destroy Duke Leto, not due to production shortfalls, right? It was his nephew Rabban (and Muad'dib's rebellion) that screwed up production and upset the emperor and guild. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 1:00
  • Also, the history of the empire is long. Most families (and organizations) that need it have it stockpiled for the near term. Production shortfalls are usually only an immediate threat to subordinates and the weakest houses, yet provoke an immediate response from the Emperor and Guild who have installed the ruler of the fief there specifically to ensure production. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 1:02
  • Production figures are given in Heretics of Dune. Requirements are easy enough to calculate based on maintenance dose and number of users (billions upon billions, according to Dune Messiah) Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 1:41
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    Heretics of Dune is post-Scattering, Arrakis has been unmade and remade again, and both the supply (and some time thereafter, the demand) for melange had been crushed during Leto II's rule. I would say that drawing quantitative conclusions about melange production prior to Leto II from data from after the Scattering is questionable, at best. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 2:31

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