Points Interview: Cannabis and control in South Africa with Thembisa Waetjen

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Today’s post features an interview with Thembisa Waetjen, a professor at the University of Johannesberg. She is a historian focusing on South Africa, who looks at twentieth century South African political and social history, with two main interests: medical humanities in South Africa and transnational Indian Ocean histories.

Thembisa recently authored ‘Apartheid’s 1971 Drug Law: Between Cannabis and Control in South Africa‘ in the upcoming Fall 2022 issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Find out more about Thembisa’s background, article and future research plans in this interview.

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Points Interview: Cocaine and nightlife in late 19th century Rio de Janeiro with Athos Vieira

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Today’s post features an interview with Athos Vieira, a historian from Brazil, who recently completed a Ph.D. in sociology from Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Athos recently authored ‘Cocaine and the night: The social life of a drug in Rio de Janeiro during Brazil’s First Republic, 1885-1920s‘ in the upcoming Fall 2022 issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Find out more about Athos’ background and article in this interview.

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Points Interview: ‘Born addicts’ in North Africa with Nina Studer

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Today’s post features an interview with Nina Studer, a UK-based historian. Nina focuses on the history of medicine and colonial medicine in Middle East and North Africa.

Nina recently authored ‘’The native is indeed a born addict, but so far he has not yet found his true poison’: Psychiatric theories on overconsumption and race in the colonial Maghreb‘ in the upcoming Fall 2022 issue of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs. Find out more about Nina’s background, article and future research plans in this interview.

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Telling Methadone Stories: Men in Ties

Time has a way of turning lived experience into memory and from then into stories that seem, by turns, improbable and fantastical (yes, kids, I used a typewriter to prepare my college research papers!). In the improbable category, one might include my attendance at the Yale School of Medicine’s conference marking the centennial of heroin, held in New Haven from September 18-20, 1998. Organized by the late David Musto, billed as a sweeping review of the heroin’s past and present, it lives in my memory as reunion of Nixon administration drug policy alumni. Egil “Bud” Krogh was there, handing out copies of his short volume The Day Elvis Met Nixon, which described in detail the culturally resonant meeting that Krogh helped arrange (a meeting in which the King asked the President for a federal drug enforcement badge). Daniel Patrick Moynihan was there, delivering an opening-night address that embarrassed some of us younger historians in the audience with its confident declaration that no one had heard of a drug problem back in his childhood days. And, of course, the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP) was well-represented, with both of its Directors—Jerry Jaffe and Bob DuPont—in attendance and giving presentations. In between the addresses and presentations—for which junior folks like myself had been invited to offer commentaries—they told stories, especially methadone stories. 

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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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Secret histories of drugs – legal and illegal – in southern Africa

Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature a series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from Thembisa Waetjen, Associate Professor of History, University of Johannesburg, Julie Parle, Honorary Professor in History, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and Rebecca Hodes, Director, AIDS and Society Research Unit, University of Cape Town. 

If you want to score heroin in some of the historically black suburbs, or townships, of Johannesburg, South Africa, you need to find yourself a ‘Snyman’. A ‘Snyman’ is a drug dealer. The word is used in tsotsitaal, the creole, urban dialect that emerged during the colonial and apartheid eras of segregation.

‘Snyman’ entered this lexicon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was around this time that cannabis smugglers supplying the gold mining compounds and nearby settlements began to diversify into pharmaceuticals. One drug of choice was methaqualone, also known as Mandrax.

Today, most young people who rely on a Snyman to supply them with a bit of a heroin admixture locally known as nyaope aren’t aware that they are invoking the name of a mid-century professor of medicine at the University of Pretoria, Dr HW Snyman. In 1961 Snyman headed a governmental commission that bore his name. Its recommendations led to the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act of 1965.

This means that, at the height of the apartheid era, black entrepreneurs trading in illicit pharmaceuticals adopted and repurposed the name of a white medical expert who enacted the state’s vision of drug regulation. In calling themselves ‘Snyman’, they showed a hefty dose of defiance as well as ironic humour.

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Teaching Points: A New Survey Course – The History of Drugs and Alcohol in American History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. He contributes to our Teaching Points series, which investigates the role of alcohol and drug history in the classroom. 

The history department at Utica College, acutely aware of falling enrollments in history courses throughout the US, has decided to re-cast the 100-level “survey courses” in more thematic terms that we thought might appeal more to student interests, and possibly add some new majors in the process. I teach American history at Utica, and debuted my HIS 128: Drugs in American History this term.

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The Great Recession wasn’t kind to history

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