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Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Watch “A Century of American Drug Use” Virtual AHA Panel

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

The annual gathering of historians for the American Historical Association’s yearly meeting is set to resume in January 2022 in New Orleans, barring a major resurgence of Covid due to the delta variant. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 meeting slated for Seattle, Washington, but the AHA selected several panels to present at its virtual AHA colloquium, which started early this year and will wrap up this month. Panels not selected for the main colloquium were still encouraged to hold sessions, and the AHA generously offered space on its YouTube channel for recordings of Zoom meetings to be uploaded.

I was part of such a virtual AHA panel entitled “A Century of Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor” that met on the most appropriate day possible for such a thing—April 20, 2021. We gathered together on Zoom with a group of 50 friends for a very productive 90-minute panel.

Virtual AHA Panel
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Personal Reflection about a World on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Cocaineweb
Cocaine. Image courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr.

Growing up in Colombia during the 1970s and early 1980s was an eye-opening experience. As a teenager living through the daily tensions of a country in constant social turmoil and violence, the thought of worrying or even thinking about marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, and their impact on the world was irrelevant. Illicit drugs and awareness campaigns were not part of the country’s social, health, or educational policies. The internal use of drugs, from my perspective at the time, was almost nonexistent. This was a problem of the marginalized and the homeless—at least that is what my Grandmother used to say. The real problems were poverty, political violence, and corruption. I quickly learned in the mid-1980s, though, when I started to travel to the United States in order to live with my Dad in Brownsville, Texas, that Colombia’s internal social, political, and economic problems (not to mention environmental problems, which I did not think about back then) were mostly repercussions of the US War on Drugs.

I vividly remember a trip to the United States when I was just 14-years old. Soon after landing at the Miami airport, I was asked by the immigration officer to step aside and follow the other officers who, out of nowhere, appeared next to me to accompany me to another section of the baggage claim area where they opened my suitcase, searched me, and questioned me about bringing in drugs into the country. The stigma of having a US passport that says that I was born in Colombia still haunts me today—and perhaps will for the rest of my life. Since then, I have been stripped and deep-searched by US customs and Colombian customs officers on so many occasions that I have built some sort of travel paranoia.

The recurring experiences of being targeted and psychologically abused while traveling inspired me to constantly reflect on the local and global impacts of illicit drugs and, more particularly, on the social, cultural, economic, and political constructs that have resulted from the American War on Drugs. My overarching conclusion when it comes to illicit drugs is that American and other Western societies are hypocritical when facing the impacts of their own addictions and relationships to drugs. With the blessing of their governments, Western societies have lived, continue to live, and will live under a social construct that advances the idea that the problem with drugs is foreign and external. When in reality, the problem is deeply rooted in Western culture itself.

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Delta-8 THC: The Latest Cannabis Conundrum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

Traditionally, cannabis has been understood as a plant of dualities and contradictions. It comes in varieties that produce either fiber or drugs, for example. It grows tall and straight or short and bushy, with broader leaves or narrower ones. At various points in its history, it has been held up as a medicine and demonized as a menace. For centuries, cannabis has had its fun confounding humanity with its ambivalent identity.

Lately, however, modern technology and new laws are helping to blur the plant’s historic binaries and show us that—for all we have learned about cannabis over the millennia—we may not know as much as we think we do. Hemp, for instance, was rarely considered a medicinal plant in Western or American cultures until the advent of the CBD craze in the 2010s. Cannabidiol (CBD), a substance that “healed without the high,” broke the cannabis plant’s industrial-medicinal binary—turns out hemp could be both, after all. But we still knew one thing for certain, and this fact provided one of the most convincing arguments for the 2018 re-legalization of hemp in the US: hemp plants cannot get you high.

Delta New Hand

Well, we were pretty sure of it, anyway. Then the CBD boom went bust, and American farmers were left with fields full of CBD-rich hemp plants they could not sell. As it often does, need begot innovation. Starting in 2019, some CBD producers leveraged modern extraction technology to pull a psychotropic rabbit out of the hemp hat. Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a molecular cousin of Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound in traditional marijuana. Delta-8 THC produces essentially the same effects as Delta-9 THC, except far more subdued—and, through chemical reactions, it can be created from hemp-derived CBD.

Delta 8 Joints
Delta 8-THC Joints. Image courtesy of Elsa Olofsson at CBD Oracle.
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Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia: An Appreciation

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.

Hamilton's Pharmacopiea Title Card
Image courtesy ViceTV.

For the unfamiliar, Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia is a documentary series that follows a young chemist, the titular Hamilton Morris, as he travels the world investigating the eccentric and esoteric cultures of intoxication surrounding the production and consumption of psychoactive substances—both common and uncommon. There is plenty of material here for the average Points reader. Indeed, prior to penning this article, I was surprised to learn via the search function that it hadn’t previously been written about on Points. After the (COVID-delayed) release of the third season earlier this year, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the show’s appeal—not least because Morris has hinted that this may well be his Pharmacopeia’s final run.

The very first episode, screened in 2016, is a good place to start. It has many of the defining features that makes Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia a compelling busman’s holiday for drug historians. In the opening sequence, Morris sets out his pitch: “I’ve been fascinated by psychoactive drugs my whole life. I love to study their chemistry and impact on society. And my work has allowed me to investigate extraordinary substances around the world.… Yet there are still mysteries that remain.”

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Points Interview: David Fahey and the History of ADHS

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. David Fahey, a long-time member—and an unofficial resident historian—of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society. Dr. Fahey is Professor Emeritus at Miami University and the author of several books about the history of alcohol and temperance.

David Fahey

Dr. Fahey, nice to get in touch with you! Members of the ADHS often get notices about new publications and conferences from you via the Daily Register. So how long have you been involved in the organization?

Historians often neglect the history of their own organizations. I will happily provide a few details.

The Alcohol and Temperance History Group (ATHG) was first created at an American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in December 1979. A US Government-funded conference about alcohol history was then held at Berkeley, California, in January 1984—which occasioned the restructuring of the ATHG; its first officers (Jack Blocker as first president); and first membership dues. I joined a few years later and took part in the formal organization after the big Berkeley conference. Early conferences of the ATHG were usually held in Canada where funding for conferences was more available than in the USA (Berkeley in 1984 was unique).

Things used to be very informal. There were very few of us. At various times I was President of the organization and Editor of the journal. At some point, I took the main responsibility for the Daily Register but with no title. In fact, several people got the right to post and very occasionally did. 

I agree that we should be paying attention to our own history! What should members know about the early days of the ADHS? Can you share any gems from the organization’s history? 

You can read the early versions of SHAD. Also see Alcohol in History: A Multidisciplinary Newsletter, Spring 1980. It provides a brief history.

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Addictions, Media, and Power: Jay Richard Kennedy and Mind Control

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, an associate professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is the author of The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2018) and the co-editor of Ends of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

In my earlier post, I told the story of To the Ends of the Earth, a docufiction hybrid about drug smuggling made with the assistance of Harry Anslinger. That movie’s production history includes Columbia Pictures and director Robert Stevenson, but the real engine behind the film was Jay Richard Kennedy, the credited Associate Producer. Born Samuel Solomonick, Kennedy was one of the twentieth century’s strangest and least-known charlatans. His bizarre career encompassed all manner of cultural phenomena: Hollywood, psychotherapy, drug and alcohol addictions, the Age of Aquarius, and, eventually, self-help cults. Like most self-aggrandizing fabricators, he kept focus on a single goal: the best way to manipulate American minds.

After his collaboration with Anslinger, Kennedy realized that mind control was not only possible with drugs and media. Another option was the talking cure. Kennedy’s wife, Dr. Janet Alterman Kennedy, was licensed in psychotherapy, and, like many therapists of her moment, Dr. Kennedy used psychodynamics, in which the interactions of the mind’s deepest energies were supposed to shape both the patient’s consciousness and reactions to other people. Kennedy found this irresistible. In 1949, a year after the release of To the Ends of the Earth, Kennedy wrote an article for the The Screenwriter arguing that the twentieth century’s two most important developments in constructive science and art were psychodynamics and film. Both, he wrote, served the “maximum function of revealing man to himself” [1].

These sentiments aptly summarized the later thrust of his life: that media and psychology were two sides of an instrument that ultimately promised control over others. As he had learned from Anslinger, mass media—like narcotics—were useful for tightening a grip on power. But without strict standards for both drugs and media, he believed, everyday Americans would become addicts and normal spectators would be transformed into madmen. Healing American society required specific approaches to addiction, governance, and media, and Kennedy knew the cure.

Jay Richard Kennedy Title Card
Left: Jay Richard Kennedy at his desk in 1953. Source: Parade Magazine, March 29, 1953.
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A Bloody Business: American Vaccine Production at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Editor’s Note: Patrick M. Walsh is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He studies the the cross-talk between bacteriology, immunology and endocrinology in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Vaccines and Blood
“Preparation of an Antitoxin” at Parke-Davis Laboratories during the 1920s. Left: “Bleeding and siphoning—Collection of blood from the immunized animal in a large bottle containing oxalate.” Right: “Removal of antitoxic plasma by siphoning after the formed elements of the blood have been allowed to settle out.” Source: Parke-Davis and Company Biological Products catalog, c. 1930, Courtesy of AIHP Kremers Reference Files.

Blood is everywhere I look in the Kremers Reference Files (KRF) at the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). It’s in trade manuals published from the 1890s to the 1930s by Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and H. K. Mulford. It’s in advertisements from meatpacking-turned-drug companies, including Bovinine and the Cudahy Packing Company. It’s in dusty, century-old newspaper clippings that describe how tons of animal flesh were transported from slaughterhouse to factory line, ripe for experimentation and drug production.

I came to the KRF to start my dissertation work about the American vaccine industry at the turn of the twentieth century, but, instead, all I found was blood. Image after image of blood being suctioned out of stable-bound horses. Blood coursing through plastic tubes that look like fiberoptic cables. Blood being rapidly deposited into oversized receptacles, red foam climbing up the sides of the glass. Some of the images look almost staged—deliberately and self-consciously reenacting a scene from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then just 80 years old.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I knew before going into the KRF that the vaccine industry was fully launched in the 1890s with the diphtheria antitoxin vaccine, that this was a “serotherapy,” and that all serotherapies involve a process of blood harvesting. It is a vampiric practice by definition. Hundreds of horses stand at attention, and scientists buzz around them like angry mosquitoes, directing their syringes with precision into pulsing jugulars, delighting at the extraction of potent antitoxins that hurtle invisibly through equine vascular systems. Antitoxin-rich blood was as good as gold at the turn of the century, and it brought companies like Parke-Davis and H. K. Mulford material, social, and political capital.

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Dr. Lilian Lewis Shiman (1931–2021)

Editor’s Note: The Alcohol and Drugs History Society was saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Lilian Lewis Shiman earlier this year. In today’s post, her colleague and friend Dr. David M. Fahey, Professor Emeritus at Miami University and former President of ADHS’s predecessor organization (Alcohol and Temperance History Group), remembers Shiman’s scholarship and career.

Lilian Shiman was a pioneering temperance historian and the author of two books and multiple articles on the topic. She began work on her dissertation in the 1960s when the English temperance movement was almost an unknown research field and without any women scholars.

Born in Bradford, England, Lilian worked as a young woman first in France and later in Canada. At the suggestion of a Toronto friend, she enrolled at Columbia University, where she met Paul L. Shiman. They married in 1956. He taught religion and philosophy at various colleges. When they lived in Colorado, she received an M.A. at the University of Colorado. When they lived in Wisconsin, she received a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. 

Finally, they settled in Massachusetts, where she held research fellowships at Harvard and Radcliffe. Lillian also received a fellowship in chemistry from the British textile firm, Courtaulds. Lilian taught at Nichols College from 1974 until her retirement in 1996.

At Wisconsin, Lilian did her research under the direction of John F. C. Harrison, a British scholar who had arranged for the university to purchase Guy Hayler’s temperance collection. Based in part on the Hayler collection, Lilian completed her dissertation the year after the publication of Brian Harrison’s great work, Drink and the Victorians. She had difficulty publishing her dissertation because she was told that Harrison had “done” temperance. 

Lilian Lewis Shiman Obituary image
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Feeling the FX: Fictional drugs in Trip City

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and currently holds a position at the University of Liverpool.

Trip City Book and Cassette 1989
Trip City (1989) book and soundtrack. Image courtesy of M HKA Ensembles.

The year is 1989, and a new designer drug is sweeping London. No, not Ecstasy—that was last year’s news. This new intoxicant is a green powder, a “product … for high rollers … It could make a day’s rest like a long holiday … FX was to be the catalyst for the ultimate leisure society.” But FX is not the consumerist panacea it promises to be. “In small doses it was harmless,” but the “wrong people abused it”; and death and violence followed in its wake.

This is the premise for Trevor Miller’s Trip City, recently reissued by indie publishers Velocity Press and originally published in November 1989. Trip City was the first “acid house novel,” a pulpy melange of Beat rhythms, Clockwork Orange riffs, and an unhealthy dose of Bret Easton Ellis’s yuppie nihilism. Despite being picked up by Avernus Creative Media—an imprint founded by Brian Aldiss who is best known for writing the short story that formed the basis of Steven Spielberg’s film A.I.Trip City largely eschews the tropes of science fiction. Indeed, according to the introduction of the new edition, much of the book is based on Miller’s own personal experience, a nocturnal world in which “Red Stripe [beer] had run like piss”’ and there was “[e]nough [ammonium] sulphate to sink the Middlesex Hospital.”

Aldiss described Trip City as “quite brilliant … in line with Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an Opium Eater,” and, in the intervening years, the novel has become something of a cult classic. This is perhaps as much for the novelty of its presentation as the quality of the writing. Released with an accompanying cassette soundtrack by A Guy Called Gerald, (famous for the acid house classic “Voodoo Ray”), original copies of the soundtrack fetch upwards of £100 on the second-hand market. In the liner notes to the reissue, Miller muses that the music is less a soundtrack and more “an atmospheric companion piece that may well transport you back to those sweaty nights in a smoke-filled club when too many pills took hold.”

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The Way Back Machine—Cora Lee Wetherington, NIDA Advocate for Research about Drugs and Women

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in “The Way Back Machine,” a series of interviews with key theorists and practitioners of alcohol and drugs research, treatment, and recovery among women and communities of color during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Through these interviews, Points co-founder and Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis works out some of the theoretical issues she articulated almost ten years ago in “Feminist Anti-Addiction Discourse: Towards A Research Agenda.”

First, a little background: in response to the heroin panic then gripping the nation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was founded by executive order in 1973 within the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) housed in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services). In the words of its founding Director, Robert L. DuPont (2009), NIDA represented “the nation’s new commitment to demand reduction as a central element of drug abuse policy, and as the center of public health activity on drug abuse.” For about ten years, NIDA functioned as what DuPont called a “three-legged stool”: it oversaw research (human and animal studies of the “basic biology of addiction” as well as drug epidemiology and drug effects); training (of clinical personnel); and service (in the areas of drug abuse prevention and treatment). But in the 1980s, things got complicated.

Beginning in 1982, the Reagan administration’s shift from categorical to block grants gave states new discretion in spending on alcohol, drug, and mental health issues. Subsequent legislation throughout the ‘80s—influenced in part by a new panic over cocaine—pushed for more prevention and treatment services for “special populations,” including youth, pregnant women, the chronically mentally ill and un-housed, minorities, and people with HIV.

The 1992 ADAMHA Reorganization Act broke NIDA’s three-legged stool approach to drug problems. Along with its coequals, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Mental Health, NIDA’s research leg moved into the National Institute of Health. The legs devoted to training and services were parceled out to two new Centers, one for Substance Abuse Prevention and one for Substance Abuse Treatment. These entities were housed in ADAMHA’s replacement, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. If you’ve followed me this far, you can probably tell: the 1980s and 1990s were a helluva time.

As Laura Schmidt and Constance Weisner (2002) have pointed out, block grant funding threatened the survival of women’s treatment programs founded in the late 1970s. States had discretion in how they spent block grants—so, if a state didn’t care about women substance users, well, too bad. In response, activists and treatment providers worked to frame women—especially pregnant women—as a “special population” deserving of their own stream of research funding.

One of the staunchest advocates for research on women was Cora Lee Wetherington, who came to NIDA as a program officer in 1987 and served as Women and Gender/Sex Differences Research Coordinator from 1995 until her retirement in 2019. As a friendly co-conspirator on countless research proposals and a tireless promoter of the (crazy!) notion that research protocols needed to enroll female subjects if they hoped to produce real-world outcomes, Wetherington helped shape a generation (maybe two!) of federally-funded feminist research. She sat down with Points Managing Editor Emerita Trysh Travis to reflect on what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Cora Lee Wetherington Moderating a Panel
Cora Lee Wetherington (left) moderating a panel at the 2018 “Opioid and Nicotine Use, Dependence, and Recovery: Influences of Sex and Gender” conference hosted by the Food and Drug Administration. Image Courtesy of FDAWomen on Twitter.
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