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!



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.

Continue reading →

The Points Interview: Kyle G. Volk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome Kyle G. Volk, an associate professor of History at the University of Montana. Volk’s book, Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy (Oxford University Press, July 2014) explores the fascinating interplay between minority rights and moral reform in the United States.

Moral Minorities Book CoverDescribe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

In many ways, Moral Minorities began when I was bartending in Boston near Fenway Park. Sox fans would pour in for pregame libations, including on Sundays before 1 o’clock games. But the Sunday law prevented us from serving alcohol before noon, so thirsty patrons who arrived early would literally count the minutes until they could drink. Their anticipation was palpable. When the clock struck twelve, customers demanded their beverages, and many indulged in an hour of power-drinking before stumbling off to the ballpark. I was amazed at how powerfully a micro-regulation like the Sunday law could structure so much social behavior and also at how angry some patrons became when told they’d have to wait fifteen minutes for their Sam Adams or Magic Hat #9. So I started researching the history of Sunday laws. I found that as early as the 1840s some Americans—many of them immigrants with strong drinking traditions—organized to challenge Sunday restrictions. And I was surprised that these dissenters complained that Sunday laws violated their rights as minorities.

When I started Moral Minorities, I set out to discover how minority rights became the concern of everyday Americans and not just elites, intellectuals, and slaveholders. Sunday legislation, as it turns out, was one of three arenas in the nineteenth century where popular minority-rights activism first developed. My book argues that conflicts spurred by major moral questions of the mid-nineteenth century—Sabbath observance, alcohol, and racial equality—drove everyday Americans to battle, quite explicitly, for minority rights. As officials and advocates justified regulations of Sunday, alcohol consumption, and interracial contact with the language of majority rule, a motley but powerful array of Americans resisted and protested majority tyranny. Drinkers, liquor dealers, Seventh Day Baptists, Jews, German immigrants, black northerners, and abolitionists, I contend, reshaped American democracy by questioning the era’s faith in majority rule and by pioneering lasting practices to defend civil rights and civil liberties. In short, as these moral minorities challenged moral regulations that were purportedly supported by majorities, they gave birth to America’s lasting tradition of popular minority-rights politics. This tradition remains a major part of political life in the twenty-first century.

What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

Almost half of my book is dedicated to exploring battles over alcohol regulations, including local option laws, the Maine Laws of the 1850s, and Sunday-closing laws. I think alcohol and drug historians will find it interesting that Moral Minorities places pro-alcohol and anti-prohibitionist movements at the foundation of modern minority-rights activism. I take the political thought and behavior of drinkers and businessmen in the alcohol industry seriously and show their impact not only on the politics of alcohol regulation but on the theory and practice of American democracy. Alcohol and battles over alcohol played a major role in how Americans have historically thought about and fought for minority rights and civil liberties.

 Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?Volk image

Most interesting?: I’d say the juxtaposition of drinkers and liquor dealers with radical abolitionists and racial egalitarians. While these very different groups didn’t, shall we say, drink together, they did have the common experience of finding themselves in the minority on major moral questions in the nineteenth century. Both groups recognized their perilous minority statuses and defended themselves with a range of political and legal tactics—from public opinion campaigns and civil disobedience to the formation of rights associations, legislative lobbying, and court action. I think Moral Minorities shows that the roots of modern American rights activism were established much earlier than we thought and also that those roots were actually quite diverse.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

I was able to do quite a bit with the business of alcohol before the Civil War but focused heavily on the politics of entrepreneurs and the pro-alcohol constituency they represented. I still think we need to know more about the business of booze in the nineteenth century, and I’m eager for others to do more on this vital topic.

 BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

 Tough question. I’m going to go with Christopher Walken.

Teaching Points—Preparing for “Addiction in American Life”

It’s that transitional time of the semester: even as final paper due dates are looming for the fall, spring book orders are coming (or past) due and new course preparation demands increasing attention. In this installment of “Teaching Points,” contributing editor Kyle Bridge shares his experience crafting a course in oral histories of addiction. 

I have long held academic interests in oral history and drug history—though I suppose around here the latter should go without saying. I also enjoy teaching, so I was thrilled to learn that in spring 2015 I will be co-teaching a course titled “Addiction in American Life” through the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP). Actually, the course theme changes each semester with the interests of rotating instructors, and the idea was conceived as I was allowed to pick the topic this time around. My students will be history undergrads completing internships through SPOHP; the addiction angle is a vehicle for teaching oral history techniques and methods.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading →

Proving Cannabis – A History of Nineteenth Century Medical Marijuana

“During the month of September, 1862, I took Cannabis on various occasions,” confessed Dr. W. A. D. Pierce in the pages of American Journal of Homoeopathic Materia Medica and Record of Medical Science nearly a decade later. He did so “with the purpose of gaining, through the intoxicating influence of the drug, an insight into the phenomena of Somnambulism, Delirium and Mania, in connection with my researches in Psychology.” Pierce was not alone. Following the formal introduction of cannabis to American medicine in 1840, medical journals were filled with pages and articles recounting the self-administration and experimentation of physicians and their patients. Indeed, while autobiographical accounts of drug use like De Qunicy’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater or Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the Life of a Pythagorean often garner the most attention on the matter, medical doctors were often experimenters themselves – especially when it came to cannabis.

Personal experimentation with cannabis, like this one from Dr. Pierce, was common among physicians in the late nineteenth century.

Personal experimentation with cannabis, like this one from Dr. Pierce, was common among physicians in the late nineteenth century.

Continue reading →

You Are What You Drink: Wine, Women, and Identity

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

A recent piece in The New York Times about the wine-drinking habits of powerful female characters on television made me recall wine coolers, sweet blends of wine and fruit flavors that were packaged like soda and beer in bottles for individual consumption.  Some readers may be too young to remember them—they were most popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. Looking back now, I realize that for those of us of a certain age, they could serve as a gateway drug, and not just because of their sweet, almost Kool-Aid-like flavors.  For young women who were too naïve and uncertain to know what wine or beer or cocktail to ask for, yet well beyond the era when we would expect or want a man to order for us, wine coolers were an easy and at that time at least, socially acceptable alternative—which is no doubt what the manufacturers intended.  By all accounts, women’s drinking has gotten more serious since then, and in more ways than one.


Seriously: wine coolers (Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler advertisement)

Continue reading →

The Outbreak Narrative: What has changed this time around?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome past guest contributor, Jessica Diller Kovler (check out her previous post here). Kovler is part of the History of Science program at Harvard University and currently teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, and Discover magazines. 

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the past month, you’ve undoubtedly thought of the recent Ebola outbreak. Even if you have a background in public health, you would probably avoid the New York bowling alley visited by Dr. Craig Spencer (even though the City shut it down the day the news of his illness hit the papers). You’re probably using extra Purell, even though we’re relatively knowledgeable about the pathogen’s mode of transmission.

News reporters have scrambled to assemble our patient zero. Even our most liberal friends are arguing for shutting down the borders. We are blaming and looking for answers.

Bloomberg Buisnessweek, September 24, 2014

Bloomberg Buisnessweek, September 24, 2014

As my grandfather would ask at our Passover Seder: “Manishtana?” (What has changed?) As a social historian, I wonder what makes the societal response to Ebola any different than our collective response to the Black Death, typhoid, polio, and HIV? In the past few weeks, people have compared the response to Ebola to the first cholera pandemic of the early-19th century, the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, the polio epidemic of the first half of the 20th century, and AIDS in the early 1980s. Perhaps, as some have argued, there is a formulaic narrative in how we respond to outbreak of disease. But does this narrative also apply to epidemics involving alcohol abuse (or, in the case of the disease I’m about to describe, suspected alcohol abuse)?

From 1915 to 1927, a mysterious illness befell millions worldwide. Its symptoms were wide-ranging—no two patients presented exactly the same—and the illness left many of its survivors in a catatonic, semi-conscious state. Those who “awakened” were left with Parkinsonism, psychiatric sequelae, and severe behavior disturbance. Almost as quickly as Encephalitis Lethargica appeared in 1915, it seemingly vanished 12 years later. Thousands around the world, however, lived long past 1927, imprisoned—some for decades—in their own bodies. The lack of attention to this disorder beyond its peak, has, in recent years, earned the disease the moniker “The Forgotten Epidemic.” (Perhaps you’ve heard of the disease thanks to the 1990 Oscar-nominated film, Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, based on the work of Oliver Sacks.)

Yet the history of Encephalitis Lethargica is more than the tale of a forgotten epidemic. It is an illness narrative evoking shifting socio-medical paradigms in the second half of the 20th century that is uniquely tied to the sociomedical response to alcoholism.

Continue reading →