HOPP Interview—Mat Savelli, “Crafting the Modern Via Psychoactivity Advertisements” 

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of the Points series of interviews with authors from the inaugural issue of AIHP’s journal History of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (HoPP) (vol. 63, no. 1). Today we feature Mat Savelli, Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Chair in the Department of Health, Aging, and Society at McMaster University. Read his article here (open access until February 2022!) and consider joining AIHP to subscribe to HoPP.

Article Abstract for “Crafting the Modern Via Psychoactivity Advertisements”

In this article, we examine advertisements for psychoactive products sold in five different geo-political jurisdictions: Canada, Colombia, Yugoslavia, India, and Senegal. We compare products and marketing campaigns aimed at selling psychoactive substances to consumers in these places over the twentieth century.

Mat Savelli Interview Title Card
Left: Senegalese advertisement from December 24, 1960, issue of Dakar Matin. The ad proclaims that Kiravi Valpierre wine is the “Perfect Product of Progress.” Image featured in the article “Crafting Modernity via Psychoactivity Advertisements” in HoPP 63.1

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SHAD Interview— “Theorizing Alcoholic Drinks in Ancient India: The Complex Case of Maireya” with James McHugh

Editor’s Note: This is the second Points interview with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 35, no. 1; Spring 2021), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Dr. James McHugh, an Associate Professor in the School of Religion at the University of Southern California You can see his article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article or any other article from SHAD’s history. 

Article Abstract

An alcoholic drink called maireya is prominent in ancient texts from South Asia and features prominently in Buddhist law on alcohol. The article considers what we can say about the chronology, the nature, and the cultural significance of maireya. Maireya became prominent several centuries BCE, maintaining this high profile until the early first millennium CE. It was theorized to be made with an innately flexible formula with a secondary fermentation. Maireya is presented as a drink of social distinction. Flexible and based on sugars, maireya was an ideal drink to pair with the cereal-based drink called surā in Buddhist law, which reflects both the tastes and theories of this early period.

Tell readers a little about yourself

I’m based in LA, as an associate professor at the University of Southern California. I research and teach various topics connected to the cultures and religions of premodern South Asia, mostly using written sources in Sanskrit and related languages. I tend to be interested in subjects involving the manipulation and consumption of what were deemed significant substances—such as aromatics like camphor or drugs and alcoholic drinks. My first book, Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture, was a wide-ranging history of the sense of smell, perfumery, and the use of aromatics in India. More recently, I have been doing a big project on alcohol, which also got me interested in some of the things we call drugs today.

SHAD Interview James McHugh Title Card
James McHugh with his homegrown Turkish tobacco. Image courtesy of James McHugh.

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Review: “Commodifying Cannabis: A Cultural History of a Complex Plant in the Atlantic World”

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. 

Borougerdi book Commodifying Cannabis
Cover of Commodifying Cannabis

I’ve been reading about pot since before my formal history training. I’ve always been fascinated by the inclusion of the standard story about the “long history” of cannabis that seemed to appear in the introduction to just about every book or article on the subject. As a teenager/young adult first experimenting with cannabis after a childhood of “Just Say No” sobriety, I was somehow comforted to know that I could tap into the wonders of a cannabis high in the same way that many ancient societies had in India, China, or the Middle East.

I have since learned a lot more about the plant, and it is clear that my assumptions had been based on problematic conceptions of “other” cultures. The growing historical literature about intoxicants has further challenged my formerly overly simplistic understandings about how societies manage drug use and about how drug policies and public opinion interact to shape beliefs about drugs. I’ve been struck, though, that the connection between ancient uses of cannabis and our more recent social and cultural contexts have often been missing from these analyses. Such a long-term historical perspective could help us better understand the dynamic flows of drug knowledge across time and place.

Bradley J. Borougerdi’s 2018 book Commodifying Cannabis seeks to make these types of connections. Borougerdi focuses on the Anglo-American Atlantic World and describes the plant as a “triple-purpose” cultural commodity. He builds on previous work by scholars like Isaac Campos who has previously investigated how re-interpretations of Spanish and indigenous knowledge influenced the circulation of information about cannabis in Mexico. Borougerdi, here, examines how orientalist assumptions shaped knowledge about the plant as it moved through the Anglo-American world. He argues that the different meanings of cannabis—attached to its different modes of use—dictated the trajectory of cannabis commodification in the early modern period, the prohibition of cannabis in the nineteenth century, and the recent re-commodification of cannabis.

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Points Bookshelf: “Bottle of Lies” by Katherine Eban

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. As part of our Points Bookshelf series, he reviews Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom (Ecco, 2019). 

Screenshot 2019-08-07 at 4.49.07 PMKatherine Eban previews Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom with shocking statistics on the state of pharmaceuticals: “Roughly 40 percent of our generic drugs are manufactured in India. A full 80 percent of the active ingredients in all our drugs, whether brand-name or generic, are made in India and China.” China is the sole source for many of America’s essential medicines, including those used in anesthesia and the treatment of cancer and HIV/AIDS. It is the world’s only source for antibiotics. One drug importer explained to her that “without products from overseas, not a single drug could be made.” 

Bottle of Lies’s popularity and positive press stems from Eban asking what appears, at first blush, to be a naïve set of questions: What are generic drugs? How are they made? Where are they made? And what are the consequences? If you surveyed the American people’s knowledge of what a generic drug is, they would probably say something to the effect of “generic drugs are the cheaper version of the name-brand.” “Patients” Eban writes, “tend to assume that their generic drugs are identical to brand-name drugs in part because they imagine a simple and amicable process: as a patent expires, the brand-name company turns over its recipe, and a generic company makes the same drug, but at a fraction of the cost.”

It doesn’t happen this way. Instead companies, “erect a fortress of patents around their drugs, sometimes patenting each manufacturing step—even the time-release mechanism, if there is one. At any point, they can tweak a drug “declare it new, to add years to their patents, a move known as ‘evergreening.’” Whatever generics hit the market, they arrived there “not with help from brand-name drug companies, but in spite of their efforts to stop them.”

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Video: Peter Hynd at Cannabis: Global Histories

Editor’s Note: Discussing the history he wrote about in Tuesday’s post, “From Calcutta in 1890 to Canada Today: Exercises in Cannabis Legalization,” Peter Hynd explores more on this topic in a video taken at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference, held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, from April 19-20, 2018. Video by Morgan Scott, Breathe …

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From Calcutta in 1890 to Canada Today: Exercises in Cannabis Legalization

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Peter Hynd, a PhD candidate in history at McGill University in Quebec, based on the paper he presented at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19-20, 2018. In it, he explores how Calcutta legalized the sale of cannabis in the 19th century, and shows how the Indian government sought to implement legalization in the most effective (and profitable) way. Enjoy!

Imagine strolling up to a licensed cannabis shop and purchasing a few grams of the finest Government stamped and sealed ganja, no questions asked.

In your mind, where are you? Denver, Colorado in 2015? Montreal, Quebec, later this year?

How about Calcutta in 1890?

Although probably not the time or place you associate with government licensed cannabis shops, during the second half of the nineteenth century the colonial government of Bengal (modern day Bangladesh and West Bengal, India) regulated and taxed the sale of cannabis drugs in a manner that appears remarkably similar to many present day models and proposals.

Screenshot 2018-07-24 09.26.55
Peter Hynd presents his work at the Cannabis: Global Histories conference at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, on April 19, 2018. Photo by Morgan Scott, Breathe Images

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