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.
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.”