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Can the Replicator from Star Trek: TNG create illicit substances? Say there was a life form that lived on cocaine or THC or required them for recreational purposes, could the Replicator make these? Or are there specific Starfleet Regulations and specifications that make it impossible as they are on some sort of future opiumlist?

Below I note some details of Star Trek: TNG "Up the Long Ladder" S02E18 so be forewarned.

In Star Trek: TNG "Up the Long Ladder", the brionglóidí led by an Irishman named Danilo O'Dell are on board the Enterprise. He and his compatriots try to build a still to make alcohol but can't because a fire will be stopped by the ship's firesafety system. Danilo O'Dell asks Worf for a stiff drink and Worf tells him to order anything with alcohol from the Replicator.

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    It can't replicate hemlock
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2021 at 16:06
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    Wasn't there an episode where someone tricked the replicator into producing alcoholic drinks instead of synthehol (someone from the distant past, if I recall correctly), resulting in a female crew member being quite drunk?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 17, 2021 at 15:09

5 Answers 5

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In the EU novel DS9: Original Sin, we learn that replicators on Bajor (a Federation planet by this point in the timeline) are designed not to allow the replication of controlled substances without medical supervision.

“You know I won’t tell anybody, Tavus,” Winser said. She squeezed his arm. “But you have to be careful with something like this.” She pointed to the medkit, which he held in one hand. “The laws prohibiting anyone other than medical professionals from replicating drugs exist for good reason. Self-medicating can be dangerous.”

This shows that replicators are perfectly capable of making drugs, but that there are general policies to prevent it from occurring. One would assume that on a Federation starship, doctors (and senior officers) can override this restriction.

Notably, Troi orders a replicator to make her an illicit chocolate sundae in TNG: The Price. Not quite in the same ballpark as ordering an eightball of blow, but still indicative.

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I believe in an episode of Voyager where a member of the Q commits suicide ("Death Wish"), it is said that the replicator could not reproduce a poisonous substance. This was an answer to Captain Janeway's question as to where the Q got the substance. Not the best answer, but a small clue perhaps.

Here's the exact dialogue from the scene in question:

JANEWAY: There's nothing you can do?

EMH: He's ingested a rare form of Nogatch hemlock. There is no known cure.

QUINN: I'm sorry to disappoint you, Captain. But I would only have been pretending to fit in to this mortal existence. This is my final gift to my people. Oh! Tell them those were my last words. I dearly thank you for making this poss

(Quinn dies.)

TUVOK: Doctor, do you generally keep samples of fatal poisons in storage?

EMH: No.

TUVOK: The replicators will not produce them either.

JANEWAY: So how did he get his hands on Nogatch hemlock?

Q: I got it for him.

TUVOK: You assisted his suicide?

Q: Illogical, Tuvok? I don't think so. By demanding to end his life, he taught me a little something about my own. He was right when he said the Continuum scared me back in line. I didn't have his courage or his convictions. He called me irrepressible. This was a man who was truly irrepressible. I only hope I make a worthy student.

JANEWAY: I imagine the Continuum won't be very happy with you, Q.

Q: I certainly hope not. Au revoir, Madam Captain. We will meet again.

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    Interesting answer. But what would be the difference for a machine between a directly poisonous substance like hemlock, and a slowly poisonous substance like alcohol?
    – Tom Sol
    Mar 17, 2021 at 10:38
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    Also, most recreational drugs aren't 'fatal' except in substantial overdoses.
    – Valorum
    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:13
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    ...which is also true for water, so there's probably a threshold involved. Mar 17, 2021 at 14:14
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    @TomSol More interesting is a substance that is poisonous to one species but not to another. Real life example. Cats and Dogs can metabolize the venom of a Sydney Funnel Web spider. Humans .. not so much - death has occurred in 15 minutes in some cases. See here for more info.
    – Peter M
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:22
  • @PeterM thanks for your link, nice reading material, very informative .this is why I noted in my question that might a life form need a substance would the replicator be able to make it. Maybe out of medical necessity for instance.
    – Tom Sol
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:30
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I can't remember a TNG episode which dealt with the topic of substance abuse in form of chemical recreational drugs. But the episode The Game deals with devices which cause addiction by directly manipulating the pleasure center of the users brain. These devices get produced by the ship's replicators and they do so without requiring any circumvention of security measures.

This does of course not answer the question about whether or not the replicators can replicate recreational drugs, but they can replicate devices which have the same effect.

Another episode which deals with the topic of addiction is Hollow Pursuits, where Ltd. Reginald Barclay gets addicted to living out his fantasies on the holodeck.

Keep in mind that Star Trek: The Next Generation was filmed in the late 80s and early 90s, when recreational drugs were considered a very serious issue. It's very likely that the writers and producers of TNG considered it an issue far too hot and close to real-life to address directly within the context of their show. They wanted to portray the Federation society as a more enlightened and utopian version of their own. Substance abuse still being an issue would not have fit very well into that. And glorifying substance abuse by making it acceptable in their society would never have gone past the censors of that time.

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    Actually a very intensive episode of TNG “symbiosis”, dealt with addiction. The Ornarrans are addicted to the drugs the Brekkans are providing them (even though they don’t actually need it). This references drug addiction and enablers very closely. Mar 16, 2021 at 2:37
  • "Keep in mind that Star Trek: The Next Generation was filmed in the late 80s and early 90s, when recreational drugs were considered a very serious issue. It's very likely that the writers and producers of TNG considered it an issue far too hot and close to real-life to address directly within the context of their show." I think this is a very strong point.
    – Tom Sol
    Mar 17, 2021 at 19:32
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From a purely technical standpoint there's likely nothing stopping a replicator from creating various psychedelic substances considering the complexity of other items it can create. The main restriction is one of acquiring the replicator patterns for such potentially dangerous substances without being blocked by security measures.

One of the previous answers referenced "Death Wish" when Quinn poisoned himself and Tuvok mentions that a replicator "would not" produce it rather than "could not" hinting that it theoretically could make it but wouldn't have allowed Quinn to do so.

Moving a little away from drugs but to other hazardous material in the DS9 episode "Field of Fire" we learn that the replicator pattern of the TR-116 weapon is restricted to Starfleet personnel indicating that what a replicator can and cannot produce can be controlled.

If someone was able to procure both the patterns for a drug and either a replicator without preventative restrictions or had the technical skill or necessary clearance to bypass such measures then they could replicate it.

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This is a really interesting question, but it and most of the answers are severely humano-centric. What constitutes a drug (or poison) would vary wildly from species to species. Consider substances like cocoa and capsaicin here on Earth. How would a replicator restrict substances across ALL the species that make up the Federation? It seems like there would be easy ways around the restrictions too - get a friend from a different species to get you what you need.

Considering the advanced, enlightened society of the Federation, I would be willing to bet that the replicators wouldn't have patterns on file for the more common and/or dangerous recreational drugs (regardless of species). In addition, they would probably just flag odd requests (especially recurring ones) and forward that information to your doctor. Substance abuse is more a medical/mental health issue than a legal issue.

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  • You're right in saying that it's human-centric the question also touches the subject of other life forms needing a specific substance to survive or reach mental equilibrium.
    – Tom Sol
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:26
  • For comparison, a side-character in Rick & Morty comes from a planet whose atmosphere is 10% heroin... Mar 26, 2021 at 15:00

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