Starting Points

Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Drugs, Demons, and Fiends: “I Can’t Breathe” (Guest Post)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is by Suzanna Reiss, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Hawai’i and author of the recently published book, We Sell Drugs: The Alchemy of US Empire (University of California Press, 2014). Reiss offers a timely meditation on the legacy of the Harrison Narcotics Act, which turned one hundred yesterday. 

As we confront the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the first US federal drug control law, it is difficult not to be haunted by current events. What is happening today in contemporary policing reflects the legacies produced by drug control and its origins in the deep racial animosities and inequities that contributed to the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914. This centennial commemoration should provoke national soul-searching about the drug war’s contribution to racialized policing and its ties to economic inequality in American society. It certainly is not cause for celebration.

Listen to two accounts – separated by a hundred years, sharing too much.

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Recovery 101: Some Observations From Student AA

For most college students, the consequences of heavy drinking are limited to killer hangovers. In extreme cases, students may find themselves dealing with medical or police personnel from driving under the influence, alcohol poisoning, or sexual or other violent assault. (For more information on the last point, see Michelle McClellan’s astute post from earlier this week.) But some become addicted to alcohol, increasing the likelihood of all these problems and exacerbated by the ubiquity of drinking in much of college life.

The night is young (Image: Wikipedia)

I had the chance to undertake ethnographic work for an anthropology course this semester. I began observing conventional community-based AA meetings, but my network of contacts eventually pointed me to an on-campus student chapter. The group was utterly fascinating, not least because of young adults’ relative under-representation in the national organization; just over half (51%) of AA members are between the ages of 41 and 60, while the average age in the student group was no higher than 25 (only 13% of overall members are under 30).

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Beyond “Damp Feminism”: Thoughts on the UVa Rape Scandal and Campus Drinking Trends

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is written by Points contributing editor Michelle McClellan.

Like many others, I read the story in Rolling Stone magazine about a gang rape at the University of Virginia with a sense of mounting horror. Then, when I began to hear hints and then assertions that the victim’s story might not hold up, I felt angry and confused—for a lot of reasons. The fallout from this story and its aftermath has been extensive, and will likely change again before you read these words. The cover page of the December 5, 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education includes the headline “UVa Rocked by Account of Rape” but that is overshadowed on the page by a photo of recycling bins heaped high with Bud Light cans to illustrate a special report called “Alcohol’s Hold on Campus.” How, if at all, do these stories go together?

 

The Rolling Stone story

The Rolling Stone story

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PUSHING
 DRUGS 
BEYOND 
BORDERS:
 CANNABIS 
AND
 HEROIN 
IN 
MODERN 
ATLANTIC 
HISTORY – HEROIN IN NEW ORLEANS

Editor’s Note: Today we conclude the series with Amund Tallaksen’s piece entitled, “The Transatlantic Heroin Traffic and the City of New Orleans.” The other posts in this series can be found here, here, and here.

In 1968, the recently formed Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice concluded that: “there is no longer an organized narcotics syndicate in New Orleans. During the early 1950’s the Mafia left the narcotics business in this area. Since that time, the heroin business in this city has been almost completely taken over by several Negroes who are working independently and in competition with each other.”

Three interrelated events in the early 1950s transformed the patterns of heroin use and addiction in New Orleans: (1) the passage of a very strict drug law by the state legislature in Baton Rouge in 1951; (2) the conscious decision by the New Orleans Mafia to step back from the drug trade, and instead focus on less risky endeavors; and (3) the rise of a new cohort of African American drug dealers who would create interstate smuggling routes to New Orleans from cities like New York and Chicago. Continue reading

Pushing
 Drugs 
beyond 
Borders:
 Cannabis 
and
 Heroin 
in 
Modern 
Atlantic 
History – Cannabis and Contested Knowledge


Editor’s Note: We continue this week’s posts from the recent Transatlantic History Conference. Today, I (Bob Beach) am presenting my own paper “‘From
 Baghdad 
to 
Gotham':
 Commodity 
Fetishism, 
Knowledge 
Production,

 and
 Cannabis 
Sativa 
in
 New
 York 
City, 
1925‐1937.” The first two entries in the series are here, and here

My conference talk, in many ways is a postscript of sorts to Bradley Borougerdi’s talk. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, Western society did reform cannabis, removing the plant from its mysterious “Eastern” context and integrating it into modern “Western” society.

This process involved the extensive production of scientific knowledge about the plant in a number of different arenas. My research examines this knowledge production, and my talk introduced two knowledge arenas in which this knowledge was produced. I argued that despite the ostensibly objective knowledge produced in the natural sciences and medicine during this period, the old, orientalist, medico-literary knowledge remained a powerful factor in the ways that knowledge about cannabis was consumed.

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PUSHING
 DRUGS 
BEYOND 
BORDERS:
 CANNABIS 
AND
 HEROIN 
IN 
MODERN 
ATLANTIC 
HISTORY – THE BRITISH CARIBBEAN

Editor’s Note: Points continues its series on the transatlantic history of drugs with Eron Ackerman’s “Altered States: Globalization, Governmentality, and Ganja in the British Caribbean, 1880-1913.” The first post in this series can be found here.

In the mid-nineteenth century, “Indian hemp” (Cannabis Indica) made its way through the Caribbean plantation complex. After abolishing slavery in the 1830s, the British turned to India as a source of cheap labor, recruiting some 430,000 indentured workers to toil on Caribbean plantations between 1838 and 1917. Hindus and Muslims on the Subcontinent had long used cannabis (ganja) for social, religious, and medicinal purposes. When these populations crossed the Atlantic, they brought ganja culture with them.

My research explores how colonial officials and reform advocates in the British Caribbean—mainly the colonies of Trinidad, British Guiana, and Jamaica—responded to the spread of ganja. I argue that, while views of ganja varied considerably, critics shared a tendency to link its deleterious effects to other disreputable “Oriental” practices, especially those that appeared to create problems with labor management, violent crime, and moral conduct among the region’s growing East Indian population. Concerns about ganja were thus entangled in colonial power structures, articulated through orientalist discourse, and acted upon through strategies of governmentality deployed by colonial states, missionaries and moral reformers from distant parts of the British Empire. Continue reading

Pushing
 Drugs 
beyond 
Borders:
 Cannabis 
and
 Heroin 
in 
Modern 
Atlantic 
History – Orientalizing Hemp

Editor’s Note: On September 20, 2014, a group of emerging drug history scholars presented a panel at the Fifteenth Annual Graduate Student Conference on Transatlantic History at the University of Texas, Arlington. This week, Points will present abbreviated versions of these scholars’ papers, starting with recent Points blogger Bradley Borougerdi’s talk entitled “‘At Once a Curse and a Blessing': Orientalizing Hemp in an Atlantic World.”

The 1840s was an important decade for the hemp plant. Before then, most Anglos living in Great Britain and the United States thought of hemp as an important strategic commodity for exploration, a common fiber, an oil, or an ingredient in various household goods. Most were unaware of hemp’s psychoactive properties, mainly because they were accustomed to using a genetic variation of the plant with virtually no THC. This isn’t to say that Westerners were entirely unaware of hemp’s ability to induce intoxication; rather, that they were confused and associated it primarily with an exotic space known as the Orient.

Orientalism positioned hemp used for so-called “nonproductive” purposes in stark contrast to the Western, industrial, and more “appropriate” uses. In 1838, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, a British imperial agent working in India, decided to investigate “Asiatic” hemp’s medicinal qualities. Medical investigators assumed India’s lush environment had altered the plant to suit the degenerative behaviors of Easterners, but Westerners might be able to transform it into a viable medicine. Positive accounts of O’Shaughnessy’s experiments spread quickly, with medical practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic praising hemp extracts.

Around the same time, literary accounts of Westerners who “played Eastern” by consuming hemp intoxicants started circulating in France, Great Britain, and the United States. Most of these first-hand accounts exacerbated the negative associations between hemp and the Orient, which bifurcated the plant into both a curse and a blessing, paving the way for its transformation from a strategic commodity to a banned intoxicant.

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Happy Thanksgiving from Points!

Happy Thanksgiving, Points readers!

It’s been quite the year. Since relaunching Points in April, we’ve seen enormous changes in drug policy and the social and legal discussions surrounding drug and alcohol use. We’ve been able to contextualize many of these changes historically, as well as discovering new and unique ways to integrate alcohol and drug use into larger historical discussions.

We asked our stable of contributing editors what they were most thankful for this year, and here are some of their responses.

- From Amy Long: “I’m thankful that the FDA stood up to media hysterics and resistant lawmakers by refusing to back down from its approval of pure-hydrocodone pain medications Zohydro and Hysingla. The issue remains complicated, but pain patients will undoubtedly benefit from additional treatment options.”

- From Michael Durfee: “I’m thankful I have white skin.  My privilege allows that I will not be routinely perceived as potentially threatening or criminal.  My privilege assured that my youthful misadventures did not lead to punitive pathways or limit my future opportunities.  My pigment has meant that I do not fit the ‘drug courier profile’ and will not be pulled over or pushed against a wall and frisked by police.  I am hopeful, but frightened by numerous recent events and all too much history that my son will not be able to enjoy such luxuries.  When he is born, I will see a young boy, the fruit of a white father from Buffalo and a black mother from Ghana.  Law enforcement may see something entirely different.”

- From Nicholas Johnson: “I’d say that I’m thankful that this year I got the opportunity to study in Berlin and explore the international side of the history of intoxication. I’m also thankful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to blog for Points about some lesser-known aspects of WWI.”

- From Trysh Travis: “I’m grateful that, after two years on ice, when I finally got the wherewithal to write something again, I had a venue and an audience waiting for me at Points.”

- From Claire Clark: “I was also glad to see Michael Botticelli, the acting director of ONDCP (aka ‘drug czar’), who is in abstinence-based recovery himself, open the tenth National Harm Reduction Conference a few weeks ago (http://harmreduction.org/blog/drug-czar/). Just one of many recent signs of the growing public awareness that there are many different approaches to drug-related health problems, and routes to recovery.”

- From Kyle Bridge: “It sounds a bit clichéd but I’m thankful for time with my family over the holiday season. Particularly my mother, whose long career in drug offender probation probably influenced my interests more than I realize, and whose knowledge, resources, and contacts continue to aid my work.”

- From me, Emily Dufton: “I’m grateful to live in Washington, D.C., a city that is recognizing the racial effects of prosecuting marijuana possession crimes. As a historian primarily of marijuana’s social and legal policy, I look forward to being able to witness firsthand our country’s next experiment with decriminalization and legalization. I am also grateful that, at this moment at least, it seems as though we are learning from our mistakes of the past, and are moving forward with legalization in a sustainable, safe and sane manner.”

As my fellow managing editor Claire Clark put it, “It’s nice to look at the bright side of drug policy for a change!”

Happy Thanksgiving Points readers! We are grateful for you!

picture-of-turkey

Has LSD Matured? The Return of Psychedelic R&D

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Lucas Richert and Erika Dyck, and was originally published on The 2×2 Project, an online journal from Columbia University’s Department of Epidemiology.

In February 2014, Scientific American surprised readers with an editorial that called for an end to the ban on psychedelic drug research and criticized drug regulators for limiting access to such psychedelic drugs as LSD (Lysergic acid-diethylamide), ecstasy (MDMA), and psilocybin.

A few months later, Science further described how scientists are rediscovering these drugs as legitimate treatments as well as tools of investigation. “More and more researchers are turning back to psychedelics” to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, various addictions, and other categories of mental illness.

Historians of medicine and drugs have long held a view that psychoactive substances conform to cyclical patterns involving intense periods of enthusiasm, therapeutic optimism, critical appraisals, and finally limited use. The duration of this cycle has varied, but this historical model suggests psychedelics are due for a comeback tour. It was just a matter of time.

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