Zoom Roundtable: The Past, Present, and Future of Drug History

Mark your calendars for the upcoming Zoom Roundtable, “The Past, Present, and Future of Drug History,” on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 from 5:00 PM–7:00 PM Eastern Time. The Roundtable will feature presentations by: Paul Gootenberg, Stony Brook University, “The Globalization of Drug History, 1990–2020”; Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, University of Colorado Boulder, “The Historiography of Drugs …

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Remembering Civil Rights Lawyer Samuel Carter McMorris and his Fight Against Unjust Drug Laws & Police Brutality

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Black History Month comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

Samuel Carter McMorris in the Makio, Ohio State University’s yearbook, in 1944.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court struck down California’s “narcotics addict” law in the case Robinson v. California. Samuel Carter McMorris, the lawyer who argued and won the case, was a fierce criminal defense lawyer for the Black community in Los Angeles during a tumultuous era. Robinson was the second of two criminal cases McMorris successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, both of them at his own expense on behalf of indigent clients. Yet McMorris has been lost to history, left without so much as a Wikipedia page.

As McMorris knew, abuse was inherent in California’s narcotics addict law. A quarter of drug arrests in Los Angeles during the 1950s and early 1960s were solely for the crime of addiction, a charge that did not even require the physical presence of drugs themselves. The testimony of an officer that he had observed injection marks on the arm of a suspect was ordinarily enough evidence for a conviction. Police freely and frequently demanded that citizens roll up their sleeves and expose the insides of their arms so officers could inspect for needle marks. This “evidence” was so conclusive in court that suspects in custody sometimes disfigured themselves by burning the area with lit cigarettes. McMorris’s legal activism helped overturn the criminalization of addiction and this type of invasive drug enforcement.

Early Life

McMorris was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920. His father, Arthur, was a policeman, and his mother, Marie, was a homemaker; Samuel had four younger sisters. When he graduated from East High School in 1937, his class named him both “most industrious” and “most conscientious.” He worked as a traveling salesman, served in the Army, then attended Ohio State University, where he attained a law degree in 1950. 

Pictured in 1950 with the staff of the Ohio State Law Journal, Samuel Carter McMorris was the first Black student to serve in that role.

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“The Environment was Just Ice”: Desegregating the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy

Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, today’s post about the desegregation of the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy comes from Christian Brown, a PharmD candidate at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and Ben Urick, an Assistant Professor in the Center for Medical Optimization at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

William Wicker and Mona Boston Reddick
William Wicker and Mona Boston Reddick, two of the first Black students at the UNC School of Pharmacy. Images from the 1965 UNC Yackety Yack yearbook and the April 8, 1967, issue of the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy.

When thinking about school desegregation, many picture 6-year-old Ruby Bridges, flanked by federal marshals and ascending the steps of her New Orleans elementary school in 1960. Others may think of the Little Rock Nine, who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 under the watchful eye of the 101st Airborne Division.

On the campuses of public colleges and universities around the South, though, many of the first Black students were graduate and professional students who successfully challenged the color line and gained admission to previously segregated state-sponsored programs as early as the 1930s. Although some of this history is well-known—particularly about the desegregation of law schools—the desegregation of other types of professional schools has not received much scholarly attention.

The history of the color line at Southern schools and colleges of pharmacy has been particularly understudied. Recognizing this gap in the research, we decided to investigate the history of our own institution, the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. We recently began the UNC Pharmacy Desegregation Oral History Project (in partnership with the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy) to collect and record the experiences of the first Black students at the UNC School of Pharmacy. We hope to connect their stories to current pursuits of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School and in the profession at large. To date, we have successfully interviewed two of the School’s earliest Black graduates, and we’re excited to share some of our preliminary findings.

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Cocaine in 1980s America: Fine for the Wealthy & Well-Educated; Bad for the Poor

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

Crack is Wack Keith Haring
New York City “Crack is Wack” mural first painted in 1986 by artist Keith Haring. Image courtesy of cookiespi on Flickr.

The years directly preceding the American “crack epidemic” of the 1980s are worth re-examining. Cocaine was by no means new, and people had been using and sometimes smoking, or freebasing, the drug for years. In the early eighties, however, many cocaine users were well-educated white professionals, wealthy celebrities, or captains of industry. By about 1986, though, dealers began condensing cocaine into “crack” that people could smoke instead of snort. As the perception of people who used cocaine changed from white and wealthy to Black and poor, every aspect of reporting changed, too. We can see this unfold in real time, by tracking news coverage in the New York Times archive.

Hollywood Cocaine

Robert Lindsey’s front-page story “Pervasive Use of Cocaine Is Reported in Hollywood” appeared in the Times on October 30, 1982. It described how drug use had become so widespread that companies insuring movies had begun to amend their policies to reflect drug-related risks. Lindsey quoted an unpublished survey of stuntwomen that claimed more than half of the women asked actively used drugs or knew someone who did.

NYT Headline Cocaine1
New York Times, October 30, 1982.

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“The Adventurous Tasters,” a Story for Fat Tuesday

Editor’s Note: Today’s timely Mardi Gras-themed post comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

The place: Paris. The year: 1850. “It was mardi-gras, and copious libations of flaming punch had prepared the natives for anything or everything.” So began a tale reprinted widely by newspaper editors across the globe. 

(Here in the United States, Mardi Gras 2021 surely will be the soberest on record, New Orleans itself having condemned “superspreader” crowds, called off parades, shuttered bars, and banned most alcohol sales.)

An illustration of Fat Tuesday revelers from the 1859 book Les Rues de Paris [Streets of Paris].

In 1850, though, the local Parisians were the type to spend a lot of time hanging out at a café. So that’s where they were on Mardi Gras, drinking punch (likely made of rum) at a café just up the block from an apartment where a physician lived with his family. 

This physician had received an excellent imported shipment of cannabis extract, and he was keen to share it for recreational use on this most celebratory and hedonistic day. The drunken revelers were willing participants—”adventurous tasters”—living in the same city at the same time as that famous literary circle, the Club des Hashischins. The doctor showed up with 15 grains, or about 1 gram, to distribute at the café. “Not more than a single grain was given to each,” read the article. Some swallowed it like a pill, while others smoked it or smeared it on a cigarette paper to smoke with tobacco. One grain was dissolved in a glass of Curaçao for the “master of the house; [but] his two young and handsome daughters were forbidden to taste of the drug.” 

Of course one of the daughters found a way to sample the cannabis; it would hardly have been a story otherwise. After about 45 minutes, the girl shrieked and “was suddenly struck with delirium and hysterical movements of a very alarming appearance,” according to the article, which went on to describe her ordeal:

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The Complicated Legacy of James E. Brown (c. 1802–1853), Liberian Colonial Apothecary

Editor’s Note: From the Collections is a new feature at Points that highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from AIHP publications and collections. In honor of Black History Month, Points Managing Editor Greg Bond revisits his two-part 2018 Pharmacy in History article about Liberian Colonial Apothecary James E. Brown. Read the full articles (Part 1 and Part 2) at JSTOR.

James Brown Ad
Colonial Apothecary James Brown’s 1834 advertisement in the Liberia Herald as reprinted in The African Repository, September 1834.

In the May 4, 1834, edition of the Liberia Herald, James E. Brown, the newly arrived Colonial Apothecary, placed an advertisement announcing his new business:

J. Brown, Druggist and Apothecary, late of Washington City, respectfully informs the citizens of Liberia, that he has taken the house formerly occupied by W.L. Weaver, Esq. in Broad Street, where he is now opening an extensive assortment of Drugs and Medicines, imported in brig Argus, from the United States, which he offers for sale on reasonable terms.” [1]

Over the previous two years, Brown had completed a pharmacy apprenticeship under the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS), making him one of the earliest known formally trained African American pharmacists or health professionals.

Brown had many friends in the United States who eagerly awaited updates after his departure. Finally, in August 1834, the National Daily Intelligencer, a leading Washington, DC, newspaper reported Brown’s arrival in Africa:

Many of your city readers will remember James Brown, a colored man, formerly resident here, and universally esteemed as one of the most intelligent and industrious men of color amongst us. He left this city for Liberia in November last… It will, doubtless, gratify his friends, and the friends of the colonization cause to hear of his well-doing. We have to-day seen a letter from him, in which he expressed his great satisfaction with the country and his prospects.” [2]

For the next two decades, Brown tended to the pharmaceutical and medical needs of Liberian colonists, proselytized for his new homeland, and held a series of powerful political positions.

Brown’s remarkable career—and complicated legacy—however have been little remembered. He was one of the first African Americans to receive formal health sciences training in the United States, but he was a vocal life-long supporter of the extremely controversial colonization movement. He strongly advocated for African American freedom, justice, and self-determination, but he failed to extend the same principles to the native Africans he encountered in Liberia. This post provides a brief introduction to the life and times of James E. Brown, Colonial Apothecary.

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“Sipping on Some Sizzurp”: Lean, Southern Rap, and Cultures of Intoxication

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.

Three 6 Mafia, UGK (Underground Kingz), Project Pat, “Sippin On Some Syrup”

“Sipping on some sizzurp, sip, sipping on some, sip / Sipping on some sizzurp, sip, sipping on some, sip”

With bass rattling and drums stuttering, what was this magical elixir that Memphis rapper Project Pat so thrillingly (and alliteratively) extolled? “Sippin’ on my Syrup”—released in early 2000 by Pat’s brother’s group Three Six Mafia and UGK—was an anthem that introduced the titular intoxicant to wider public consciousness.

Known by a variety of names including “Syrup,” “sizzurp,” “purple drank,” “Texas tea,” or “lean,” the drink was a potent cocktail of cough syrup (containing codeine and promethazine), a sugary carbonated beverage (typically Sprite), and hard candy such as Jolly Ranchers to add further flavor. Users report a woozy euphoria that is both relaxing and trippy and that feels”almost like you’re floating away from your body.”

Future, “Dirty Sprite”; Image courtesy of Discogs.

By the time of “Sippin’ on my Syrup’s” recording, lean had become closely associated with major southern cities—or, more precisely, with the popular “dirty south” rap and hip-hop sound that produced Outkast, Big Tymers, Goodie Mob, Ludacris, 2Chainz, and, more recently, Travis Scott, Migos, and Megan Thee Stallion, to name just a few. Lance Scott Walker’s authoritative Houston Rap Tapes suggests that blues musicians had been adding cough syrup to their wine or beer as early as the 1960s, and, by the nineties, it was the intoxicant of choice for those in the rap game.

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Turning Back the ‘Diol: CBD Hemp Prices Crash; History Repeats Itself?

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.

CBDProducts
A sampling of the “rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products.”
Image courtesy of Jeoy Pena via Wikimedia.

The booming market in Cannabidiol (CBD) products has gone bust. The boom was touched off by the federal re-legalization of hemp in the 2018 farm bill, which led many farmers, investors, and entrepreneurs to stake their hopes on a new crop supplying a rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products—from gummies to lotion to lip balm. The benefits and risks of such products are still being substantiated by science, but consumers gobbled them up, anyway, looking for relief from ailments ranging from arthritis to insomnia.

Now, there are simply too many CBD products and companies on the market, using far too little hemp. Places like Colorado, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley report an oversupply of hemp, and per-pound hemp prices have plummeted. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) reluctance to approve CBD products has irked some in the industry, but the driving factor for the bust appears to be simple economics.

Akin to WWII Program

This is not the first time Americans have produced too much hemp for their own good. In 1942, the federal government suspended its cannabis prohibition to create a domestic hemp industry to supply cordage for the US military during World War II. After years of being told that the crop was a dangerous and addictive drug, American farmers were suddenly encouraged to grow thousands of acres of hemp. In a flash, the government built 42 hemp processing facilities across the Midwest, providing hundreds of jobs and invigorating depressed rural areas.

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