Points Recommends 2016: The Best Media for Anybody Interested in Drug History

Editor’s Note: If you’re anything like me, you’re interested in intoxication and, perhaps ironically, have precious little time for entertainment. So, why not get your fix for both at once? We asked some of our contributing editors what made their best-of lists this year in books, TV, movies, music, and Web content. Not all are explicitly related to substances, but hopefully you find enough media to keep you occupied through the New Year. Points returns from its holiday hiatus on January 3. Enjoy!


Emily Dufton: There’s “Brave New Weed,” a book which claims to be “an adventure into the uncharted world of cannabis,” i.e. the author “traveling around and smoking his brains out,” as reviewer Matt Taibbi puts it. This is one of a wave of new books about pot which emphasizes the fun of the new industry, even as it outlines its pitfalls. I find many of these books a little too celebratory with Jeff Sessions as the potential new attorney general, but it’s always interesting to watch the arsenal grow.

There’s also “Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany,” which looks very good. Written by the German novelist Norman Ohler in his first dip into history, it seems accomplished: well-written, incisive, and able to shed new light on an old topic. Well, old to ADHS historians anyway; we’ve long known about the Nazis interest in uppers.

61ocjfo2zylMichael Durfee: For timely work by a powerful, honest new voice from Baltimore not-named Ta-Nehisi Coates, turn to D. Watkins.  His first work, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America is a much-needed meditation in a post-Freddie Gray Baltimore.  His second work—more germane to our interests—is entitled the Cookup: A Crack Rock Memoir—a first-person drug trade ethnography explaining what happens when a young man tracked for higher education suffers the loss of his older brother who left behind the kind of accrued wealth one might find in East Baltimore, a “starter kit” to enter the drug game. Continue reading →


Anti-Narcotics as Social Critique: Earle Albert Rowell’s Crusade



Earle Albert Rowell

We are introduced to David Dare in Experiences of David Dare in Bible Research, a novel written by Earle Albert Rowell in 1933. Dare, presenting a series of lectures on biblical prophecy to a town of agnostics gradually wins over the Emersons, a local family who become convinced by Dare’s lectures and convert to Christianity. Four years later, Dare and the Emersons reappear as a team of anti-narcotics crusaders, saving a wealthy family, the Marvels, from the perils of addiction in Dope Adventures of David Dare.

Dare’s creator, Earle Albert Rowell had written several short books on religion and drugs through this period. One about the opium habit from 1929 Battling the Worlves of Socitey and another about the new scourge of marijuana in his 1939 book, On The Trail of Marihuana. Described by his publishers as a well traveled anti-narcotics crusader, a member of the White Cross International Anti-Narcotics Society. He and his son Robert, Earle’s opium pipe in hand, had criss-crossed the country educating the public about narcotics and writing about his work. Continue reading →

The Points Interview: Richard Grace

Editor’s Note: Today’s interviewee, Dr. Richard J. Grace, is Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College. His book, Opium and Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine and James Mathseon (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2015) will soon be available in Chinese from Beijing United Publishing Co.


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. And what do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about it?

Opium and Empire explores the lives and careers of two of the most influential British merchants  in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century. These Scots, William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), operated a partnership at Canton (now Guangzhou), trading in various commodities,  and engaging in insurance, shipping, and finance. Their most important commodity was opium, which was illegal in China. For the most part they served as agents for investors far afield, especially in India, by marketing their opium for a fee, to buyers in the Gulf of Canton. The Chinese buyers would smuggle the cargoes of opium ashore, sometimes with the connivance of local government authorities. Continue reading →

The Points Interview: Michael Lewis

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview is with Dr. Michael Lewis, author of the new book, The Coming of Southern Prohibition (out now from LSU Press). He is an assistant professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University. Contact Dr. Lewis at mlewis@cnu.edu. 


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Coming of Southern Prohibition is a story about profit from liquor sales- who gets it and how the government sometimes uses morality and fear to make rules to ensure they get more of it. In 1892 South Carolina’s Governor Benjamin Tillman did just that, creating a statewide system of liquor stores that kept all the liquor profits for the state and county government. The subsequent decisions that South Carolina counties made about how many liquor stores they should permit and where these ought to be located were influenced as much by the chances of increasing profit than they were by preventing
alcohol sales to the “riff-raff” of society.

Continue reading →

Probably Not Secrecy, Based on the Minutes of a 1942 Meeting

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is provided by alcohol scholar Ron Roizen and was originally available on his blog. The author would like to thank Paul Roman, Tom Babor, Gabor Kelemen, and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.


Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, Summer Seminar, 1943

A single, seemingly inconsequential document has shed a little new light on an old mystery.

But first, a little background.


In 1993 I presented a paper at the Alcohol and Temperance History Group’s international conference in London, Ontario, Canada (Roizen, 1993).  The paper’s full title was, “Paradigm Sidetracked:  Explaining Early Resistance to the Alcoholism Paradigm at Yale’s Laboratory of Applied Physiology, 1940-1944.”  I saw it as a continuation of the historical story I’d recounted in my dissertation, completed just two years earlier (Roizen, 1991).  My dissertation had taken the early history of the “modern alcoholism movement” and the so-called “new scientific approach to alcohol” from Repeal (in 1933) to what I regarded as a pivotal historical moment in 1939.  What particularly interested me about the new Yale-based alcohol science group, in the following 1940-1944 period, was its preference for a quite different paradigm, namely an “alcohol problems” paradigm, over an “alcoholism” paradigm.  That same preference, I argued in my paper, revealed how fragile and open-ended paradigmatic evolution was in the alcohol social arena in this period.   The post-Repeal ascendancy of the alcoholism paradigm, as Yale’s experience from 1940-1944 showed, was anything but a foregone and ineluctable historical inevitability.  This was meaty stuff for my larger project – namely, my attempt at a sociological reconstruction of the development of a new scientific specialty around alcohol in the U.S. in the aftermath of Repeal.


Guido R. Rahr, Yale Class of 1925 photo

In the course of researching my “Paradigm Sidetracked” paper I delved a little into the longstanding mystery surrounding the Yale alcohol group’s sources of funding support.  The issue wasn’t central to my investigation, but – and in due course – it would take on added significance in a special way, which significance I’ll briefly discuss in the concluding section of this report.  In any case, I got very lucky.  My query about the group’s funding to the Yale University Library resulted in a welcome reply letter from library staff member Susan Brady, enclosing four illuminating documents.   These were four letters written in 1943 (see L-1, L-2, L-3, & L-4), the substance of which included revelatory discussions of two salient subjects: (a) the handling of outside donations to the Yale alcohol group’s then-new Summer School of Alcohol Studies and (b) the generosity of one Guido R. Rahr.  Rahr, these letters showed, was a generous backer of the Summer School and other enterprises at Yale’s alcohol group.  L-2, from Rahr to Haggard, revealed that Rahr was supporting the School at a rate of $5,000 per month for three months — summing to $15,000 (or about $208,000 in 2016 dollars).  These amounts, wrote Rahr, would “…completely cover the work which you are undertaking.”  L-3, from Haggard to Yale University Secretary Carl Lohmann, noted that Rahr had supplied substantial contributions in the past for the support of the alcohol group’s periodical, the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (QJSA), which commenced publication in 1940.

Continue reading →

New Developments at the ADHS

Editor’s note: We at Points are thrilled to announce new developments concerning the Alcohol and Drug History Society. Today’s post was provided by Noelle Plack, the organization’s secretary-treasurer, and Virginia Berridge, its president. For more information, check out the society homepage at https://alcoholanddrugshistorysociety.org.


Over the past 18 months there have been several exciting developments at the Alcohol and Drugs History Society that we would like to highlight.

The Society’s Officers have changed. Professor Virginia Berridge of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine took over as President in July 2015 from Professor Scott C. Martin. Dr Noelle Plack of Newman University, Birmingham has replaced Cynthia Belaskie as Secretary-Treasurer. Our thanks go to both Scott and Cynthia for their service to the Society. Dr Tim Hickman of Lancaster University has been elected Vice President of the Society. Dr Sue Taylor also of the LSHTM has become the Society’s Media Officer, while Dr Dan Malleck of Brock University remains the Editor of the Society’s journal, The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs.

The Society’s Executive Committee has been refreshed and now contains a mix of established and early career scholars representing a diverse range of specialties from across North American and Europe. The Executive Committee will provide guidance on strategy and developments of the Society; sub-committees have been created to oversee the development of a new Constitution as well as work on the website and future conference planning. The new Executive Committee as well as minutes from Society meetings can be found on the website.

The Society’s journal is also transforming with the intention to negotiate publication with a commercial publisher. Talks have begun with a leading academic international publisher and it is hoped that a formal relationship can begin in 2017. This would be a major advance for the Society and would enable wider circulation, integration into broader academic networks and a lessening of the administrative burden for the current editor. The next two volumes of The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, 29 (2015) and 30 (2016), should be out by the end of the year. Once these are published, we can then proceed with further negotiations and any proposals will be put to the Society’s Executive Committee.

The Society’s biennial conference will take 22-25 June 2017 at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. The local organizers are Prof. Toine Pieters and Dr Stephen Snelders and the theme is ‘Drinking and Drug Policies in History: Contextualizing Causes and Consequences’. The call for papers has been circulated throughout various international networks and the deadline for abstracts is 15 December 2016. More information can be found on the conference website: https://adhs2017.wordpress.com

We look forward to a stimulating and productive conference next summer and we hope to see many of you in Utrecht! For more information, including Society membership, please visit: https://alcoholanddrugshistorysociety.org

Quarrelsome Cannabis in the UK: Evidence from Canada and Elsewhere

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes courtesy of Luc Richert (lucas.richert@strath.ac.uk). It was originally featured on Active History Canada.

In September the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform in the UK stated there was “good evidence” cannabis could help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Professor Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

The co-chair of the Group, Baroness Molly Meacher, stated:

“The evidence has been strong enough to persuade a growing number of countries and US states to legalise access to medical cannabis. Against this background, the UK scheduling of cannabis as a substance that has no medical value is irrational.”

The All Party Group obtained evidence from 623 patients, representatives of the medical professions and people with knowledge of how medical cannabis is regulated across the world. It reviewed over 20,000 reports and suggested cannabis could be used for multiple health problems.

By contrast, a Home Office spokesman noted:

“There is a substantial body of scientific and medical evidence to show that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health.”

To get to the bottom of this, the House of Lords recently asked to hear from Dr Ian Hamilton of York University, where he presented on gender differences in cannabis psychosis.

Meanwhile, on October 11, the Medical Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that products containing a cannabidiol or CBD were in fact medicines. And it sent messages to 18 companies in the UK letting them know they had 28 days to get a licence to legally sell such products. These include such products as MediPen, a legal cannabis vaporiser

In Scotland, the issue was driven by government. On October 15, Scottish National Party (SNP) voted overwhelmingly in favour of decriminalising cannabis for medical use and demanded that physicians be given the power to prescribe the drug to patients suffering from painful conditions.

One delegate argued before passage of the Resolution that Scotland was lagging “behind the times” and this, of course, followed Nicola Sturgeon’s lukewarm backing of medical cannabis in May, 2016. Medical marijuana remains a complex policy issue. Yet, as was made clear during the party conference in Glasgow, there many other countries, including Australia, France, Finland, and Germany, which have moved ahead with medical cannabis.

Moving forward, then, questions remain about the suitability and scope of available evidence. Do we possess enough to take a sound policy decision? Or is more research in the basic science and clinical use of cannabinoids needed?

Evidentiary basis and recognition

The first physician to introduce cannabis to Western medicine was W.B. O’Shaughnessy of Scotland. In 1841, after observing its use in India he tested cannabis on animals to satisfy himself it was safe for human consumption.

Physicians soon began to prescribe cannabis for a variety of physical conditions such as rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, tetanus and as a muscle relaxant. It was used too for various forms of neuralgia especially treating migraine attacks, epilepsy, depression and sometimes for asthma and dysmenorrhoea.

However, the 1890s found some doctors suggesting that the potency of cannabis preparations was too variable, and individual responses to orally ingested cannabis seemed erratic and unpredictable. According to An Ephemeris of Materia Medica, “Cannabis Indica has fallen considerably in the estimation of the profession, both in the old country and in this, due no doubt to its variability and often noticeable uncertainty of action.”

With the invention of the hypodermic syringe in the 1850s, there was also an increased use of opiates and soluble drugs that could be injected for faster pain relief. Cannabis was difficult to administer by injection because it is highly insoluble.

Yet, “British doctors and scientists consistently acknowledged the potential of cannabis as a medicine for a range of complaints and conditions.” In Cannabis Britannica, James Mills argued that authorities in British healthcare have known “for 200 years” that cannabinoids have therapeutic potential. Recognition of medical cannabis’s possibilities, in other words, has not driven regulatory reform or policy changes in the medical sphere.

Evidence about Canadian cannabis

Medical cannabis has been available in Canada since July 2001, after the Ontario Court of Appeal declared that sufferers from epilepsy, AIDS, cancer and other ailments had a constitutional right to light up. Prohibition of this “medicine” was, in short, unconstitutional.

Since then physicians in Canada have struggled with the science and ethics of medical cannabis, particularly with the evidence issue. At the 147th annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association in Ottawa in 2014, many doctors expressed serious reservations about prescribing marijuana. Some said they felt threatened into signing authorization forms, whereas others felt as though patients were shopping for doctors. Worst of all, there were reported cases of malfeasance, where doctors charged their patients for a prescription.

The CMA remains divided on, if not outright opposed to, being the gatekeepers of medical marijuana. It has suggested physicians should not feel obligated to authorize marijuana for medical purposes and physicians. A cursory survey of the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals a mix of ideas that underline the existence of “conscientious objectors” to cannabis use and a vital need to fill “the cannabis knowledge gap.” According to the CMA:
“…marijuana is a complex substance, and there is not sufficient clinical information on clinical safety and efficacy.”

For many physicians, society’s demand for cannabis was far out in front of the available evidence about the safe and effective use of cannabis as a legitimate remedy. And the judicial system – the courts – took the lead.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada has also maintained that the current Health Canada regulations put physicians in a challenging position, one where they were asked to authorize patients’ access to a product with little evidence to support its use:

“Health Canada places family physicians in an unfair, untenable and to a certain extent, unethical position by requiring them to prescribe cannabis in order for patients to obtain it legally.”

Yet, physicians have also questioned whether the medical field as a whole was being unduly cautious and that the anti-cannabis position taken by CMA and other commentators was not entirely evidence-based.

Several physicians involved in the Canadian Pain Society, for example, are on the cutting-edge of research on cannabinoids. Dr Mary Lynch, for example, published a systematic review in the 2011 edition of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and came to the following conclusion:

“Overall there is evidence that cannabinoids are safe and modestly effective in neuropathic pain with preliminary evidence of efficacy in fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Additionally, Dr Mark Ware, one of Canada’s leading researchers and educators in the area of cannabinoids, who was asked to serve as vice-chair of the task force on cannabis legalization by PM Trudeau, has also published two landmark studies on cannabinoids. In October 2014, Dr Ware authored an article called “Medical Cannabis and Pain” for the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) that provided an excellent overview of this therapeutic area.

Do we possess enough to take a sound policy decision? Or is more research in the basic science and clinical use of cannabinoids needed? More research in the basic science of cannabis is clearly necessary. And the evidence needs to be augmented.

Political leadership in the UK

The current discussion over medical cannabis and its evidentiary basis has a familiar ring. Physicians and pharmacists consistently employed this “medicine” during the 19th century, even as many wrote of the potential dangers of cannabis following its introduction into medical circles in the 1840s-1850s.

Most medical doctors understood that cannabis was both potentially helpful and potentially harmful. These concerns stemmed from the adverse events and feelings that sometimes accompanied the use of cannabis medicines, including distortion of space and time, hallucinations, anxiety, and fear of death. And these concerns of course remain.

In Scotland, specific cannabis champions in government have taken a forward-facing position forcing a public conversation. This too is familiar, in that the political and regulatory apparatuses are propelling medical science to resolve the cannabis quarrel – much like in Canada.

From a historical perspective what is most fascinating about the intensifying debate in Scotland and the UK more broadly is how many of these issues are recognizable. Physicians and pharmacists wrote of the potential dangers of cannabis almost immediately following its formal introduction to American and Canadian medicine in the 1840s-1850s.

Most medical doctors understood that cannabis was both potentially helpful and potentially harmful. These concerns stemmed from the adverse events and feelings that sometimes accompanied the use of cannabis medicines, including distortion of space and time, hallucinations, anxiety, and fear of death.

Knowledge from Canada can frame British perspectives on cannabis. There’s potential that the Canadian experience can enhance the “evidence about evidence,” as Geoff Mulgan has put it. Doctors are divided. Scientists need to produce more work. And, much like politicians or police officers, these actors are not unbiased.

Cutting through all the haze won’t be an easy task. Cannabis has become a hot-button issue, featuring prominently in Nature and British Medical Journal this month. At the same time, libertarian thinktanks such as the Adam Smith Institute have called for the total legalisation of cannabis. All the participants in Scotland, whether it’s the SNP or physicians or law enforcement, would be wise to use recent examples from Canada’s medical marijuana past to light the way.

Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Ved Baruah, Jim Mills, Alix Mortimer, Murray Opdahl, Matt Smith, and other members of the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare at the University of Strathclyde.