Drug (M)use: Drugs as a Means of Inspiration from 19th-Century Europe to 1960s America

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Timothy Cole Hale. This post is an abridged version of a paper that he will present as part of the panel, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor,” at the 2021 virtual conference of the American Historical Association next Tuesday, April 20th, at 1:00 PM Eastern. To read the full paper, please visit his website.

Left Brain v. Right Brain
Left Brain vs. Right Brain. Image courtesy of Tumisu from Pixabay.

Opium and Nineteenth-Century Europe

In his 1995 book, Night, English poet and essayist Alfred Alvarez, traces the emergence of opium as a source of artistic inspiration to the Romantic Era. Since the positive effects of the drug include an immediate sense of euphoria and numbness soon followed by severe drowsiness, it is no coincidence that the narcotic became popular at a time when writers were obsessed with dreams and nightmares. These writers believed that the dreamworld provided new experiences and new places that they could incorporate into their work. [1]

Thomas De Quincey, perhaps the most outspoken opium addict of the era, first popularized the drug in his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey believed that inspiration could transcend from the dreamworld into reality and he wrote that, “If a man could thro’ Paradise in a Dream & have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, and found that flower in his hand when awoke—Aye!” [2]

In 1804, Friedrich Sertürner identified morphine as opium’s most active ingredient, and, with the arrival of the hypodermic syringe in the mid-nineteenth century, injecting morphine became the most popular ingestion method. It is impossible to quantify the popularity of opium—especially as soldiers began returning home from the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s—but the drug was especially prevalent among artists and writers of Bohemian Paris.

The Pleasures of Opium
Drawing of the “Pleasures of Opium” by illustrator Willy Pogany from 1908 edition of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Image courtesy of Internet Archive.

And opium became the perfect substance for rebelling against the bourgeoisie, as the drug causes users to become isolated and withdrawn in their thoughts, often making it physically impossible to contribute to conversations or productivity of any sort. Opium use provided a sense of camaraderie among Bohemian users who fashioned themselves as fighting against traditional literary, art, and social norms. But what may have begun as rebellion had a side effect: the dreamworld and deranged senses provided users with fodder for their art.

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The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising

Editor’s Note: From the Collections highlights articles, artifacts, images, and other items of interest from publications and historical collections of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP). Points Managing Editor and AIHP Head Archivist Greg Bond writes about a recent AIHP online historical exhibit.

Burroughs Wellcome exhibit 1893
Burroughs, Wellcome, and Company Exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago featuring several Native Americans. Henry Wellcome stands at the left wearing a hat. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, British multinational pharmaceutical firm Burroughs, Wellcome, and Company constructed an elaborate exhibit featuring the company’s drugs, medicines, and pharmaceutical products. Company co-founder Henry Wellcome was on site for the Exposition, and, during the event, he posed for a picture at his company’s exhibit along with several unnamed and unidentified Native Americans.

There might not seem to be an obvious connection between Indigenous North Americans and a European pharmaceutical company, but Wellcome strategically utilized the imagery—and the bodies—of Native Americans to exploit a longstanding Euro-American association between Indigenous peoples and the healing power of natural medicinal plants. By arranging for the presence of the uncredited Native Americans at his company’s exhibit space, Wellcome hoped that fair goers would thereby associate his company’s manufactured pharmaceuticals with the therapeutic healing power of traditional medicinal plants.

Indigenous peoples in North America have long used medicinal plants and botanicals to treat illnesses and diseases. White Americans and Europeans quickly adopted some native plants for therapeutic purposes after arriving in North America, and they also came to strongly associate medicinal plants and natural medicines with Indigenous cultures.

Drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers—like Burroughs, Wellcome—in turn, capitalized on these beliefs and co-opted Native and Indigenous imagery and iconography to market drugs and medicines containing plants and natural products. Particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, drug companies often relied on these misrepresentations and misappropriations of Native Americans and Indigenous cultures to brand their products as “natural” and safe for therapeutic purposes.

The American Institute of the History of pharmacy recently unveiled an online exhibit titled, “The Misappropriation of Native/Indigenous Imagery in Pharmaceutical Advertising” that explores some of this complicated history. Drawn mostly from the historical collections of AIHP and the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, the exhibit interrogates how drug companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers have misappropriated Native and Indigenous imagery, customs, and beliefs to market their products.

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CAMP Shows that Cannabis Prohibition is Still King in California

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.

CAMP 1988
Law Enforcement Officers working with CAMP hold the California state flag and pose with pickup trucks filled with confiscated cannabis plants in 1988. Source: 1988 CAMP Final Report.

California fully legalized cannabis in 2016, but many people might not realize that the state and federal agencies are still fighting a guerrilla war against it. The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), started in 1983 by Golden State Republican governor George Deukmejian,  brings together local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in annual drives targeting cannabis farms across the state. The program—which still operates today—has amounted to one of the largest law enforcement task forces in American history. In 2020, despite raging wildfires and a pandemic, CAMP managed to destroy more than 1.1 million illegal cannabis plants in twenty-nine different counties.

Now, with marijuana legal in California (and in many other places), the logical question becomes: “why is CAMP still a thing, and is it necessary?” To answer these questions, we need to understand the history of CAMP, how its operations have changed over the years, and why illegal marijuana cultivation persists today.

Ambitious Goals

At its start, some thirteen years before California legalized medical cannabis, CAMP’s goal was nothing less than the total annihilation of marijuana in the Golden State. During its first decade of action, officers loaded into planes and helicopters, donned full combat gear, and braved growers’ booby traps and shotguns to pull up millions of plants and make dozens, or in some years hundreds, of arrests. The program grew steadily over the years as more California counties joined; by 1991, CAMP operations accounted for 56 percent of marijuana eradicated in the state.

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Just Say No Redux: The Elks Drug Awareness Program

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

Elroy the Elk, the official mascot of the Elks Drug Awareness Program (DAP), with an antidrug message from the program’s What Heroes Do comic book.

While in Washington DC for a Community Coalition Conference in 1999, Kent Gade, Director of the Elks National Drug Awareness Program, happened upon a speech given by John Lunt, a former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Demand Reduction Coordinator. As he listened to Lunt address a room of DEA agents, Gade was drawn to the agency’s strategies for reducing substance abuse in American communities. After meeting with Lunt, Gade pursued a formal alliance with the DEA that would provide official “credibility” for the Elks National Drug Awareness Program and “strengthen the program’s affiliations with other groups”—organizations with far superior resources for combating drug addiction such as PRIDE Youth Programs and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Allying with the DEA and affiliated groups, Gade believed, would vastly increase his organization’s informational and material resources and aid in producing more engaging and creative antidrug content. As he put it, “The DEA provides us with excellent materials and dynamic speakers. Our partnership is a tremendous asset to our efforts. The agency bends over backward for us. They are absolutely invaluable to our program.”

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was founded in New York City in 1868. Early members sought an exclusive social club where white men could fraternize and indulge in leisurely activities unencumbered by city laws that regulated the hours of drinking and smoking establishments.

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E talking: MDMA Therapy & the “Psychedelic Renaissance”

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.

Popular perceptions of MDMA (3,4 Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine) are of its identity as “molly” or ecstasy—a good-time party-drug for young people around the world. So, flicking through the Guardian newspaper a few weekends ago, I was intrigued to read a feature on a recently opened clinic in Bristol, UK, that intends to use MDMA for psychotherapeutic purposes. The bio-tech company, Awakn Life Sciences, led by consultant psychiatrist Ben Sessa and clinical psychologist Laurie Higbed, is not currently able to offer MDMA therapy, and the newspaper reports that the company is “hamstrung by the current global legislation, which says the drug can be used only in an experimental setting.”

Awakn Life Science's Laurie Higbed and Ben Sessa
Awakn Life Science’s Laurie Higbed and Ben Sessa. Image from Ben Sessa on Twitter.

Consequently, the clinic offers ketamine-assisted therapy, initially focusing on alcoholism with ambitions to eventually provide treatment for “depression, anxiety, eating disorders and most addictions.” As the article makes clear, Awakn’s clinic is part of a much wider interest in what, it calls, “psychedelic-assisted therapy,” leading to a veritable “psychedelics gold rush” as investors sense a growing market.

By coincidence, I also happened to be reading Lucas Richert’s latest book Break on Through: Radical Psychiatry and the American Counterculture. As its title indicates, Break on Through is situated in the 1970s and features, among other episodes, the early years of MDMA-assisted therapy. MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 as a hemostatic agent (i.e. to aid blood-clotting and prevent bleeding) in the laboratories of Merck, the Darmstadt, Germany, based pharmaceutical corporation. Patented that same year, the company only occasionally mentioned MDMA in internal company documents up until the 1950s. Despite these inauspicious beginnings, the patent also contained a clue to one of its further usages, alluding to its potential use “as an intermediate in the production of therapeutic compounds.”

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A Century of Drug Use – AHA2021 Panel Presentation on 4/20

The annual meeting of the American Historical Association, to be held in Seattle, was called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As part of this year’s replacement online virtual AHA2021 conference, four drug historians, including Points Contributing Editor Bob Beach, will be presenting their research about drug users in modern history on Tuesday, April 20, at 1:00PM EST. The panel is titled, “A Century of American Drug Use: Psychoactive Drugs Among Native Americans, Hippies, and the Working Poor.”

Virtual AHA Panel

The online panel is free to attend, but advanced registration is required. Please click this link to register and you’ll receive instant confirmation.

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The Marijuana Experiment

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. 

It is difficult—and perhaps impossible—to judge whether or not marijuana use is good or bad. Much research is yet needed before we can draw any definitive conclusions. Ask the daily or the occasional consumer, and you will get one set of answers. Ask a person who has had a bad experience, and you might get a negative take. And ask the anti-marijuana moral champion, and you will possibly hear “the gateway to other drugs” story. In fact, there is no concrete answer;  the judgment is personal and deep inside the brain and soul of each individual.

Yet, the law continues to punish and ruin the lives of thousands of American citizens who do not have the luxury to live in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal or partially legal. One thing is clear, though, the marijuana map is changing with each election cycle, and, like every federal policy, the weight of the majority will force the minority of states to change when the right time comes. That time might be now—under the Biden administration—but it is not yet clear. Especially so, after the recent firing of five White House staffers for “past marijuana use.”

Marijuana Legalization Map
Map of marijuana legalization status by state (from disa.com).
Read here for more information about the state-by-state status of marijuana.

The United States, like many other countries around the world including Canada and Uruguay, seems to be transitioning towards a federally legal world of marijuana. But the American process is slow, because individual states still have leverage and power over the federal government. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho— where marijuana is fully illegal—may be holding the nation back, but they are now clearly in the minority. Perhaps the millions of dollars of tax revenue each of these states leaves on the table will eventually force their leaders and their communities to the negotiating table. Perhaps the first big victory will be the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

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The Instruments of Darkness Tell Us Truths: A History of Heather Edney & The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Women’s History Month comes from Greg Ellis. Ellis and Heather Edney are currently writing an insider’s account about Edney’s early pioneering needle exchange work in Santa Cruz during the AIDS epidemic prior to the advent of protease inhibitors. Edney’s innovative ideas about harm reduction flourished in a male-dominated field and changed the face of modern healthcare and recovery. The memoir will be an imprint of Anthology Press.

junkphood - How to Spot a Coke OD
How to Spot a Coke OD, from the “Coked-Up Puffs” edition of junkphood, artwork by Brooke Lober, 1995. Image courtesy of Heather Edney

But ‘tis strange and oftentimes, to
win us to our harm, the instruments
of darkness tell us truths, win us with
honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.

—Macbeth act 1, sc. 3, l. 124-8

There is a simple principle in the field of harm reduction that drug users are the experts on using drugs. But what exactly does that mean? Strong governmental and institutional pressures to uphold systemic standards and anti-drug laws frequently foster mistrust between drug users and social service providers.

In her soon-to-be-published memoir and harm reduction manifesto, titled Sucking Dick for Syringes, long-time harm reduction activist Heather Edney recounts the history that led her to bridge the divide from the shooting gallery to the boardroom. Edney, who was instrumental in building the pioneering Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP) in the 1990s, writes about the intersection of drugs, sex, and running an illegal syringe exchange. Her innovative risk reduction modalities ultimately created some of the most revolutionary and lasting changes during the infancy of the field. Her ideas and techniques have saved countless limbs from infection and loss, prevented unknown numbers of seroconversions, and introduced the concept of holistic healthcare to marginalized and criminalized populations.

Heather Edney operated in the world of drugs for much of her young life before landing in Santa Cruz, California, at the age of 19—where she learned about the fledgling needle exchange program run by a dedicated group of volunteers. Edney employed the skill set developed from a childhood of sexual trauma and familial dysfunction, quickly rising to a leadership position and ultimately creating an internationally renowned needle exchange model.

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Apply for the AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize for the Best Unpublished Manuscript about the History of Pharmacy or Pharmaceuticals!

Editor’s Note: An exciting publishing and prize opportunity for graduate students and Early Career Researchers!

AIHP Logo

AIHP is pleased to post this reminder about the 2021 AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize competition. Each year, the Sonnedecker Prize recognizes the author(s) of the best unpublished manuscript, on a topic within the field of the history of pharmacy or pharmaceuticals, broadly defined.

The recipient of the AIHP Glenn Sonnedecker Prize will also be awarded a $1,000 cash prize, and her/his manuscript will be published in AIHP’s journal History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (University of Wisconsin Press), upon, and subject to, successful completion of peer- and editorial-review processes.

The Prize is aimed at graduate students and Early Career Scholars (ECRs). AIHP defines ECRs as holders of tenure-track positions who received the PhD within the previous three years or members of the academic precariat in limited term positions who received the PhD within the previous six years.

Co-authored papers are eligible for the Sonnedecker Prize competition—provided that all listed authors meet the necessary Early Career Researcher criteria.

Instructions for Submissions

The deadline for submission of manuscripts for the 2021 competition is June 1, 2021. To be considered for the 2021 Sonnedecker Prize, please submit a copy of the unpublished manuscript in Microsoft Word format. Email the manuscript to aihp@aihp.org using the subject heading “Sonnedecker Prize Submission” for the message. Articles should be 8,000-10,000 words, and authors should consult the HoPP Author Guidelines when preparing submissions. Papers in languages other than English should be accompanied by a translation.

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The Way Back Machine—Marsha Rosenbaum: Women on Heroin at 40

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with Women’s History Month, this is the first 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.”

Women on Heroin Cover
Cover of Women on Heroin by Marsha Rosenbaum.

When Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy #1” in 1971, the assumed abuser was male—probably a man of color, possibly a poor white man, but almost certainly a man. Women were known to use and abuse narcotics, but their numbers were small. As a result, theories of narcotics use, and the policy prescriptions that sprang from them, rarely paid attention to the woman user. Medical sociologist Marsha Rosenbaum set out to correct that problem with Women on Heroin (WOH), a field-defining study published forty years ago by Rutgers University Press.

Now retired, Rosenbaum went on to a long career as a researcher with the Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, where much of her work continued to focus on gender and narcotic use, especially the possibilities of methadone. She served as the Director for the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance from 1995-2008, where she took early and courageous stands in favor of harm reduction, marijuana legalization, and honest, science-based drug education for teens.

I caught up with Rosenbaum recently to celebrate the anniversary of WOH and discuss what lessons it might offer to feminist drug historians—including historians of the current opioid crisis.

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