Shanghai: ADHS 2019

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Yesterday, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society‘s biennial conference began in Shanghai, China, and will last until tomorrow. The theme for this year’s meeting is “Changing Minds: Societies, the Sciences and Psychoactive Substances in History.” It marks the first time ADHS has met in Asia, at Shanghai University in China, one hundred and ten years after the Opium Commission in the city that did so much to shape future control regimes, and a remarkable new chapter for our organization.

Over the last two decades or so physiological models of drug and alcohol use have claimed to provide definitive accounts of the actions of these substances on human bodies, and how they function to literally change our minds.  In much the same period ideas about certain substances, from alcohol to cannabis, have begun to fundamentally shift and with this has come political change as many consumers, scientists, doctors and policy-makers change their minds, even as others refuse to do so.  The conference stops to ask ‘haven’t we seen this all before’?

After all, experts offering definitive accounts of such substances, vacillating bureaucrats and politicians, unyielding moralists and fickle consumers are all among the figures familiar to historians from other periods and a range of places.  The conference brings together those working in the field to examine the latest research into why ideas, attitudes and approaches towards intoxication and psychoactive substances have changed in historical contexts, and why they have not.  It will also establish how far these historical understandings can provide a clearer sense of just what lies behind practices, perceptions and policies today.

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Hidden Figures of Drug History: Melissa Cargill

This is the first time researching a post in my “Hidden Figures of Drug History” series has legitimately pissed me off. Usually, when I’m trying to learn more about someone like Joan Ganz Cooney, Lenore Kandel or Kitty McNeil, the fantastically-nicknamed “Babbling Bodhisattva,” my research takes me to enlightening places, where I can locate the influential impact these unacknowledged women have made on America’s long history with intoxicant use.

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Melissa Cargill

But over the past few days, as I tried to learn more about the mysterious Melissa Cargill, I became enormously upset about how overshadowed this talented chemist was by her larger-than-life partner, Augustus Owsley “Bear” Stanley III, the man “responsible” for the purest LSD in San Francisco in the 1960s, as well as the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound.”

But was Owsley really the one manning the beakers? Or was it Cargill all along?

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Fiction Points: Red Dirt Marijuana by Terry Southern

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

As the globetrotting mass of drug historians have been preparing to make their way to Shanghai for the bi-annual conference over the last few days, I (who am, unfortunately, not attending) had a chance to sit down and read some fiction. I don’t often get a chance to read much fiction. I have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five on a shelf on my desk, and the bookmark has been on page 50 since the day I purchased the book for the trip to Dwight, IL, for the ADHS conference there in 2016.

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The original hardcover edition

But this latest literary indulgence was more directly research-related. Terry Southern’s collection of short stories entitled Red Dirt Marijuana and other Tastes has been on my list following a very productive archive trip to New York City two summers ago. I spent a few days (not nearly enough) in the Henry W and Albert A Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library, checking out the collected papers of a number of Beat writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs and others.

My dissertation research is formulating an argument about a marijuana culture in the United States beyond the Beats, with which it is commonly associated in the period prior to the 1960s. My initial reasoning was simply because this cultural movement has received plenty of coverage by literary figures and historians of the period. But I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to look at the Beat archives during my time at the New York Public Library. Southern’s papers contained drafts of a couple of the stories (including the title work) as well as some correspondence between Southern and other literary and showbiz figures from the fifties through the nineties. (Southern died in 1995.)

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The Complicated Birth of the Gateway Theory

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University. 

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Richard Daley and Richard Nixon in 1971

In 1972 , spelling  out marijuana’s gateway potential to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, President Richard Nixon explained, “Once you cross that line, from the straight society to the drug society – marijuana, then speed, then it’s LSD, then it’s heroin, etc. then you’re done.” This stepping-stone rationale existed long before Nixon’s presidency, of course. Still, in the 1930s, years before the War on Drugs began under “Tricky Dick,” Harry Anslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics director from 1931 to 1962, initially shied away from this causal relationship, preferring to target marijuana on its own.

But by 1951, Anslinger had embraced the gateway theory as well, finally acceding to the growing chorus that connected marijuana to eventual heroin addiction. Rather than credit (or blame) Anslinger and Nixon for this approach, the history of the gateway theory proves that the basic assumptions and mythologies surrounding marijuana were much larger than the drug itself, regardless of which drug it eventually connected to. Instead, the gateway theory represented the widespread concerns and sense of racism that shaped Americans’ association with drug use and addiction in the post-WWII era.

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L’Affaire Sarah Halimi and “Reefer Madness” in Postcolonial France: Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

In early April 2017, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year old Malian immigrant, murdered an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman named Lucie “Sarah” Attal-Halimi in the Belleville neighborhood of northeastern Paris. Neighbors who witnessed the attack told police that Traoré appeared “crazed,” repeatedly called Halimi a “Jewish devil,” and shouted “Allahu Akbar” and Koranic verses as he violently beat her, then threw her from a 4-story window to her death. After his arrest Traoré claimed he remembered nothing from the night in question and felt “possessed by a demonic force” after “smoking too much cannabis” throughout the day leading up to the assault.

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Sarah Halimi, from The Times of Israel

In the now over two years since Halimi’s murder, the French court has wavered in its official opinions on Traoré’s sanity and thus criminal culpability. Initially, François Molins, prosecutor in Paris’s second district, argued that the attack did not constitute an anti-Semitic hate crime and declared Traoré unfit for trial as a result of an acute episode of cannabis-induced psychosis, a decision he largely based on an initial and somewhat ambiguous psychiatric evaluation produced by Dr. Daniel Zagury, the same psychiatrist who established the legal culpability of Salah Abdselam, mastermind of the November 2015 Paris attacks, and dozens of other ISIS-inspired and -trained terrorists detained in France.[1] In his report, Zagury wrote, “Today, it is common to observe, during delusional outbreaks…in subjects of the Muslim religion, an anti-Semitic theme: The Jew is on the side of evil, of the devil. What is usually a prejudice turns into delusional hatred.” Traoré’s murder of Halimi, he thus concluded, “constituted a delusional if anti-Semitic act.”[2]

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Points Interview: Bradley Borougerdi

Editor’s Note: Today we have an interview with Points and ADHS friend Dr. Bradley Borougerdi, an associate professor of history in the Department of Global Studies at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas. Dr. Borougerdi is the author of Commodifying Cannabis: A Cultural History of a Complex Plant in the Atlantic World (Lexington Books, 2018). 

Screenshot 2019-05-28 at 8.08.01 AMDescribe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

My main concern when writing this book was to try and de-scramble the loaded meaning that has surrounded cannabis as a commodity throughout history ever since people from all over the world started making there way into, across, and around the Atlantic Ocean.  Cannabis has meant so many different things to different people, so I wanted to try and provide a better understanding of why this is the case, and to explain how and why the plant has transformed in meaning so many times.

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

I hope they find it interesting how Europeans and U.S. Americans went from seeing this plant as such an important strategic commodity, to a valuable medicine, then to a not-so-valuable medicine, then a sinister banned intoxicant, and now (for some, at least) to a commodity with value again.  Of course, not all of the changes in perception of the plant’s utility fit nicely into separate and distinct categories over the course of all this history, but rather these changes in meaning overlapped with each other through time and space.  This shiftiness that cannabis has endured is fascinating.  Not all drugs have went through so many complicated transformations, and very few commodities in general have fallen in and out of favor so many times as this plant.  Investigating the cultural roots behind these changes is interesting and deserves more focus.

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

It was interesting to find that some of the source material I discuss in the chapters regarding cannabis use as a medicine in the United States during the 19th century have not really been investigated in detail by others who’ve mentioned them in their books.  For example, I found that an organization called the American Provers’ Union published a pamphlet in 1859 titled On Cannabis Indica.  Most authors who have cited this source ever since Ernest Abel’s popular book on marijuana came out in the 1980s have repeated the same mistake that he made regarding the date of this source, which he claimed came out over a decade before it was actually published.  Rather than go to the source themselves, authors simply regurgitated what he said without critical analysis.  I also think the short medical “dissertations” on cannabis from the mid-19th century that I used are interesting, and the material about the history of gardening and the intersection between hydroponics cultivation and cannabis prohibition was fun to work on.

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

Some of the material I encountered about the League of Nations has inspired me to look further into the concept of transnational drug control cultures as a neo-imperialist tool in the 20th century, and a lot more needs to be done regarding the history of hemp in Russia and the Soviet Union.  I also like the idea of looking more into the role of clandestine cannabis cultivation in the United States during the second half of the 20th century.  I think telling the story of these “Guerrilla Growers” and the cultivation cultures they established is a fascinating idea, but obviously a difficult one due to the nature of the source material.

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

Jim Dale all the way.  Anyone who can narrate the entire Harry Potter book series as masterfully as he has done, would be great to listen to with any book, regardless of the subject.

Points Bookshelf: “Ten Drugs” by Thomas Hager

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 Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine (Abrams Press, 2019), and breaks his findings down into a few major takeaways.

 

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Drug policy historians, academics and the press more generally often present drug use as though it were a marginal activity. We can fault a lot of this confusion on the arbitrary distinctions that are commonly made, starting with categories like legal and illegal use, which are then further subdivided and sliced into even more granular classifications.

Thomas Hager’s Ten Drugs whose focus is on prescription “medications,” opens the book by highlighting drugs’ ubiquity in American life: “More than half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug on a regular basis, and most of those who fall into that group take more than one (somewhere between four and twelve prescriptions per person per year, depending on which study you look at). One expert estimates that Americans takes an average of ten pills per person per day. Add in nonprescription drugs—over-the-counter vitamins, cold and flu remedies, aspirin, and other supplements—and run the numbers: Let’s say a low-ball estimate of two pills per day per American over an average of seventy-eight plus years of life. The total outcome comes to somewhere more than 50,000 pills, on average, in the average American’s lifetime. And there’s a good chance it’s a lot more. Americans constitute less than 5 percent of the world’s population but spend more than 50 percent of the money that flows into the world’s drug companies. And that’s not even counting illegal drugs.”

Once you throw in recreational and illegal drugs, this leaves no segment of society untouched. These figures could be interpreted as troubling, as our society grows ever reliant on psychological crutches to get through the day. Of course, while that’s partially true, there are also serious issues that have been left unresolved, to say nothing of the precarious state millions wake up to. Setting that aside, the larger point is our discourse is divorced from this underlying reality.  

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