Another Shot: Will dAd5GNE “End” Cocaine Addiction?

Among Facebook friends familiar with my work, dozens of conversations have started by their linking me to relevant pieces on, for example, the racial disparities of marijuana legalization, the therapeutic application of psychedelics, and, perhaps less pressing but no less appreciated, the varieties of ways our ancestors got high.

As much as I try to stay up on my drug news, sometimes people scoop me. This most recently happened last month when I received an article with a fantastically understated title: “Groundbreaking Treatment could be the End of Cocaine Addiction.” It was certainly enough to make a skeptical drug historian smile (and chuckle at the layered humor of Yahoo Finance covering anything related to the stockbroker’s culturally purported substance-of-choice).

the-wolf-of-wall-street-dicaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort fulfilling every stereotype

Cocaine addiction is probably here to stay for the foreseeable future, but the new treatment, called a cocaine “vaccine,” offers some promise. It’s certainly groundbreaking at least. Dr. Ronald Crystal, principal investigator for currently-enrolling clinical trials at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornel Medical Center, correctly notes that, “While there are drugs like methadone designed to treat heroin, there aren’t any therapeutics available to treat cocaine addiction.” Addiction research scientists understand fairly well how our opioid receptors operate but most are perpetually vexed by cocaine’s complex neurotransmitter influence.

The vaccine, named dAd5GNE, combines parts of a common cold virus with a particle molecularly similar to cocaine, triggering an immune response against both. “Once immune cells are educated to regard cocaine as the enemy,” Crystal explains, “it produces antibodies, from that moment on, against cocaine the moment the drug enters the body.” The idea is to neutralize cocaine particles before they pass the blood-brain barrier, blunting their effects. This is a key distinction among addiction medications like methadone, which partially block opioid receptors once drugs like heroin cross over.

Crystal concedes that the process may not reliably pan out for humans. Years ago, his team observed vaccinated rats appearing less hyperactive after cocaine use than non-vaccinated rats, and the isolated antibody absorbing cocaine particles in a test tube, but scaling up is not necessarily linear. “We need to find out if the vaccine will cause enough anti-cocaine antibodies to be produced so that it works in humans, too.”

Crystal’s cautious optimism is not reflected in articles like the one my friend shared (though author Melody Hahm is considerably more measured in the main text). Once Crystal began experimenting on primates after mice, an article from The Fix invited readers to “[i]magine that cocaine addiction could be eradicated, poof, with a simple vaccine. [Crystal] now thinks his team has actually figured out a very clever trick to make that dream a reality.” A recent article in the New York Post calls the treatment a potential “saving grace” for addicts.

capitlasm-plus-dope-pamphlet
Methadone did little to alleviate the structural inequalities that contributed to drug addiction, as elaborated in this 1966 pamphlet

Poof! The drug historian continues smiling. In the early 1960s, scientists Vincent Dole and Marie Nyswander began using the synthetic opioid methadone to treat heroin addiction. Soon, journalists began proclaiming the drug as the “magic bullet” solution to the nation’s growing heroin problem. (But not without reason; the uniquely favorable conditions of early methadone trials, which featured rigorous screening processes for applicants and included staggered patient cohorts in cumulative retention data, produced impressive results: anywhere from 71 to 94 percent of users ceased criminal activity, found steady employment, and/or enrolled in college.) But heroin addiction was most prevalent in poor, high-stress urban neighborhoods characterized by racial discrimination in housing and employment. Methadone didn’t alter the scene much in places short on opportunity and long on reasons to use and sell dope. For decades, critics have credited the drug with simply perpetuating social conditions that give rise to drug use in the first place.

dAd5GNE may face similar charges. It doesn’t eliminate craving for cocaine, it just reduces the drug’s effect. Research suggests cocaine must occupy at least 47 percent of a dopamine transporter to produce a characteristic high and Crystal’s vaccinated primates never reached levels above 20 percent. But committed human addicts may accidentally overdose trying to bridge the gap, assuming they stick with the vaccination booster regiment at all, while polydrug users have an easier workaround. In any case, neither the setting or consequences of cocaine use on a social or individual level will probably change much. And, like its opioid-blocking counterparts, the cocaine vaccine gets us no closer to answering questions about addiction’s natured and (or?) nurtured etiology.

However, the vaccine has one major advantage over most opioid maintenance therapies: it has virtually no addictive potential. Twelve-step adherents and other abstemious interests liken methadone maintenance to substituting one drug – read: addiction – for another. Opioid replacement drugs can induce a mild euphoria, create physical tolerance, and even be fatal at certain dosage thresholds, which, at least theoretically, are non-issues for vaccine boosters administered weeks apart.

However, this treatment is not for everyone who does cocaine. The vast majority of users enjoy it as a fun or utilitarian stimulant without adverse outcomes. Many have no desire to stop. But even for problem users hoping to quit, the cocaine vaccine may go the way of methadone, Antabuse, and nicotine patches: magic bullets for some, stopgaps for others, nothing for most. (Assuming, of course, that trials confirm dAd5GNE is viable for human use.) But for anyone who earnestly desires to break patterns of destructive behavior, here’s hoping for more poofs in the future than the past.

Announcing the latest episode of Poinstcast!

The latest episode of Poinstcast is now available on Soundcloud for your listening pleasure! On this episode, Alex and I introduce a new segment, the Paper Chase, where we unpack the cultural meaning of even silly-sounding news from a not-so-bygone era. We end with a discussion of the “lovable drunk” television trope, particularly on The Bachelor and other reality (“reality”) shows featuring heavy alcohol use. Join us for a meandering conversation about dogs on marijuana, a purported heroin Queenpin in 1940s Chicago, and whether Barney Gumble and Karen Walker are held to a gendered double standard.

As always, feel free to reach out via email at pointscast@gmail.com, post on or message our Facebook page, or find us on Twitter. (#YouVapeBro?)

Holy Smoke: Religious Freedom and Medical Marijuana in the 1990s.

During my visit to the NORML archives, I found a few interesting items on religious uses of marijuana during the 1990s [1]. These were appealing because I remember coming of age during a time when you’d occasionally hear a story about people getting busted for drugs and “claiming religious freedom” to justify their dangerous criminal behavior. I decided to gather these sources expecting that I could work with them at some point.

Frequent readers, have read a few of my thoughts about historical perspectives on motivations for cannabis use and the following will speak to this research interest, but the real motivation for picking these sources back up is NFLer Colin Kaepernick’s recent pre-game protests against abuses of police power. In my own experience, the social media storm seems to boil down to a conflict over who can own the controversy. Meanwhile Kaepernick’s own words about his motivation fail to resonate. In a story twist familiar to drug historians, the failure to understand real motivation obscures and threatens to silence or erase a public act of defiance against social injustice.Read More »

Submit your questions to Pointscast!

pointscast

Most of the time, podcasting is a one-way street. But we at Pointscast, the first, best, and only podcast of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, want to know what you want to know about the history of drugs (illegal or otherwise). We’re actively soliciting questions for our network of experts to answer on the air. Do you want to know more about alcohol Prohibition, the Opium Wars, why particular drug epidemics come and go, or how authorities got the idea that “Reefer Madness” was onto something? Are you curious about how historians of illegal activity do their research? Would you like to start your own project but you don’t even know where to begin reading? Chances are we know somebody—or know somebody who knows somebody—who can hook you up. Submit your questions on this site, email us at pointscast@gmail.com, post on or message our Facebook page, or find us on Twitter. Also stay tuned to the ADHS Points blog for updates and new episodes. In the meantime, check out our back catalog on Soundcloud; it might inspire a question for our next installment!

 

CFP: Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science

Editor’s Note: In the email announcement for this conference, SAHMS Outreach Chair Jonathon Erlen advised colleagues that “Papers related to the history of substance abuse are most welcomed”! 

Call for Papers: Southern Association for the History of Medicine and Science (SAHMS) Nineteenth Annual Meeting,  Coastal Carolina University, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, March 16-18, 2017

Submissions for individual papers or for panels can be made online at the SAHMS website, at http://www.sahms.net/call-for-papers.html.

SAHMS is seeking paper submissions from scholars in the history of medicine and science. Anyone including students, with an academic interest in the history of medicine and or science is to welcome and encouraged to submit a paper.

History of Medicine and Science is broadly construed to encompass all fields and subfields historical, literary, philosophical, legal, and sociological related to the historical understanding of any aspect of science, medicine, health care, and the medical and health science professions.  SAHMS also welcomes paper submissions on closely related topics, including issues related to science or medicine involving race, disabilities, sustainability, technology, and gender studies. Participants may propose individual papers or panels of several papers on a particular theme.

If you are proposing a panel, please provide the title and theme of the panel, and a list of 3 or 4 authors and paper titles related to that topic; each author will need to individually submit their own paper proposal for their paper within the panel.  SAHMS reserves the right to reject individual papers or the entire panel topic, or to add thematically related papers to the panel as our scheduling needs dictate.

Each presenter is limited to 20 minutes, with additional time for questions and discussion when possible. Please do not submit papers that have already been published, presented, or scheduled for presentation at another meeting. All participants and attendees are responsible for their own travel expenses and must pay conference registration costs/meeting fees.

A limited number of student travel awards are available each year; for more information click on “Student Travel Grant Guidelines” on the SAHMS website, http://www.sahms.net/ and see the “Call for Papers” page. Students MUST follow these guidelines to be considered for these travel awards.
For further information about this meeting or SAHMS in general, please contact the SAHMS President and Program Chair, Adam Davis, at adavis@ccac.edu, or email the organizational inbox at sahmsconference@gmail.com

Deadline for paper abstracts and panel submissions is: October 31st, 2016. The Program Committee will notify you as to whether or not your paper is accepted no later than November 16th, 2016. 

Teaching Points: Teaching the “So What?” in “Marijuana in American History”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to you courtesy of Seth Blumenthal, a Lecturer at Boston University. Contact the author at sblument@bu.edu.

In 1994, the president of the Modern Language Association, Patricia Meyers Spacks, outlined the need to consider “So what?” in higher education. “We get a bad press these days … many believe that we too often devote our efforts to enterprises mattering only to ourselves,” Spacks warned.  “Our research and writing, these critics appear convinced, possess even less value than our teaching. ‘So what?’ echoes loudly around us.”[1] Spacks then suggested a solution:  “We must answer ‘So what?’ as a real rather than a rhetorical question.”  This battle cry to co-opt the critics’ “So what?” applies to disciplines across the humanities that have suffered from a shift toward more focused and vocational training in college. Specifically, while making historical narratives compelling and relevant has always motivated historians’ research and teaching, this cause has become even more urgent with on-going decreases in student enrollment in history courses.

As a lecturer in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences writing program, I have attempted to answer this call by teaching the first history course dedicated to cannabis in the United States, “Marijuana in American History.” This course attracts students from a wide array of fields in fulfillment of BU’s required two-semester writing and research sequence. For many students, especially those from disciplines outside of the humanities, taking a course that revolves around writing papers represents a trip to a foreign land. Thus, students’ dismissal of history writing as an arcane and niche enterprise reflects a wider protest that asks “So what?” in its most derisive context, analogous to its evil twin, “Who cares?” In 2007, 2.24 percent of college graduates majored in history, but only 2.02 percent in 2011.[2]  In response, historians have initiated an emphasis on a new pedagogical approach to authentic historical problems or controversies that more accurately reflect the profession’s self-directed historical inquiry to establish an argument’s significance—the “so what?”

In my own teaching, making history relevant is a two pronged strategy. First, the subject, marijuana, is a popular topic that many students (mostly male) are curious about for a variety of reasons (some better than others). This course follows three eras of marijuana politics. First we cover the major controversies surrounding the Anslingerian prohibition years in the 1930s; next, we examine the war on drugs that began in the 1960s; and finally, we research the legalization era that began in the 1990s.  The topic obviously provides a rich cultural history with a dizzying array of sources that engage students but also consider marijuana’s symbolic and political significance. For example, while reliable entertainment, comparing Reefer Madness, Easy Rider, Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke and Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High provides a fascinating window into Americans’ shifting sentiments about pot and the stoner from the 1930s to the 1980s. While the first two papers ask students to argue about the historical trends in marijuana culture, science and politics, the final assignment embraces the topic’s current controversy and asks students to develop an argument about the reason for the recent growing support for legalization. This assignment gives students free reign to choose their topics, as they write about issues such as marijuana culture and research in social media, women’s roles in the effort, the motivation for racial justice and of course the medicinal movement.

Second, this class shows history as controversy with contemporary implications rather than a list of dates and names. Students analyze political texts such as congressional testimony and Richard Nixon’s tapes to explore the complicated messages and cultural assumptions that informed our policies on drugs. Practicing these historical skills, students quickly learn that as soon as they can formulate a thesis, the “so what?” should also be included.  Why does it matter if we scapegoat the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, for passing the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937? What lessons should we learn from following the rise and fall of the gateway theory? What does millennials’ overwhelming support for legalization say about this generation? All of these questions push students to make the connections between their scholarly argument and its current implications. Beyond the academic pursuit of marijuana history’s larger significance, my students can feel the topic’s controversy outside the classroom.

Soon, the class picked up wider publicity and critics predictably asked why something like this should pass as “college material.” One response to an article USA Today ran on “Marijuana in American History” expressed the abhorrence that many parents shared. “As a parent of a prospective student: STRIKE 1” read one typical reaction.  “This is not something we are looking for in a future college.” As a new hire, I began to question my decision to offer the course. After checking with BU’s public relations office, however, I quickly realized that the positives greatly outweighed the negatives and they reassured me of the university’s support.  In addition, students in my class found the controversy over their course flattering. One even expressed that she felt she was actually a part of history, while another engineering student reflected in his course portfolio, “At this time I think I have far greater perspective on the marijuana issue, but really what I think I got out of this course was a greater appreciation for how the whole ‘liberal arts college’[humanities?] thing can teach you how to think about issues.”  In his paper, he argued that courses like “Marijuana in American History” are necessary, asking: “if marijuana has been legitimized in business, medicine and in politics-why not in academics?”—essentially developing a “so what?” that answered many critics who wondered “who cares”? (Or as one person protested: “And this course will prepare the student to do something?”). Despite the current hostility to the humanities, or perhaps because of it, the history of marijuana is a new and exciting field that can expand undergraduates’ notions of history’s role in changing perceptions of drugs and alcohol in society.

[1] Patricia Meyers Spacks, “Presidential Address 1994: Reality-Our Subject and Discipline,” PMLA, 110 (May, 1995), 350-357.

[2]Robert Townshend, “Data Shows a Decline in History Majors,” Perspectives, 51 (April, 2013); Mills Kelly, “A Looming Disaster for History,” April 12, 2013, edwired ; http://edwired.org/2013/04/12/a-looming-disaster-for-history/.

 

Introducing our new managing editor, Kyle Bridge

Since Claire Clark and I took over Points in April 2014, we’ve been committed to bringing you the most unique, thoughtful, and hopefully entertaining posts on alcohol and drug history available on the web. And, through the consistent quality of our writing, we’ve achieved some significant success: we now reach nearly 9,000 unique visitors each month, and record over 13,000 views. Our articles have been picked up by Hacker News, Reddit, and the Atlantic, and we’ve become a trustworthy destination for researchers looking for information on national and international drug and alcohol history, whether that concerns the use of alcohol and tobacco in World War I, race in the modern war on drugs, or the correlation between mugshots and the abuse of meth. We have our staff of a dozen contributing editors and numerous guest bloggers to thank for the quality and value of our posts, and I’m constantly in awe of the incredible work they regularly turn out.

But my time as managing editor is coming, if temporarily, to a close. This post will be published on September 1st, which is also the due date of the birth of my first child. Though there are no guarantees that my baby boy will actually show up on that day, I’m handing over the reins to assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Florida, so that I can focus on raising a tiny human and completing the manuscript for my first book: Grassroots, the history of marijuana activism from the 1960s to today, will be released by Basic Books in fall 2017.

Kyle has been involved with Points for years – you may recognize him from Pointscast, the podcast he produces with Alex Tepperman – and I have all the faith in the world that he’ll continue to oversee more incredible work from our writers. You can contact him at kbridge@ufl.edu if you’re interested in writing for Points, giving any comments, or just wishing him luck in his new role.

I hope to return to Points, either as an editor or a writer, as soon as I’ve gotten my feet back under me. Being a member of the Points family has been an incredible ride, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Stay tuned every Tuesday and Thursday morning for more posts that make short and insightful commentary about the long and complicated history of intoxicants in the US and abroad, and feel free to contact me at emily.dufton@gmail.com with any questions, concerns, or words of advice for new parents.

The Strange and Complicated Future of the E-Cigarette Industry

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Camille Wilson, a patent attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, with extensive experience researching e-cigarettes. Enjoy!

Last January, in 2015, I[1] wrote about the patent evolution of e-cigarettes up until that point. I also made some general predictions about the e-cigarette industry, mostly favoring Big Tobacco. Only a short twenty months later, the entire landscape is about to change…and it will most likely favor Big Tobacco, in one way or another.

But why the shift?

In May 2016, the FDA finalized a rule (a very dense 134 page rule, to be exact) extending their regulatory power established by the Tobacco Control Act in 2007 to cover all tobacco products, which now includes e-cigarettes. That rule officially went into effect on August 8, 2016, starting the clock for the entire industry to disprove that their products are “not appropriate for the protection of public health.” (“Deeming Tobacco Products To Be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; Restrictions on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products, 81 Fed. Reg. 28975, May 10, 2016) (Amending 21 C.F.R. §§ 1100, 1140, and 1143). I use the term “disprove” because the entire rule seems to presume that all e-cigarette products do not protect public health; so, the onus is placed on the manufacturers to prove otherwise.

Read More »

The German Museum of Pharmacy: A Historiographic Time Capsule

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Miriam Kingsberg, an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. This summer she visited the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum in Munich and has provided us with a review of its collections. All photos are courtesy of her as well. Enjoy!

During a two-month sojourn in Germany this summer, I eagerly anticipated a visit to Munich’s famed Beer and Octoberfest Museum—in the name of “research,” naturally. Less renowned than this hotspot and its many sister institutions, but equally relevant to historians of intoxicants, is the country’s sole attempt to reconstruct its pharmaceutical history: the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum (hereafter referred to as DAM), located since 1958 in the breathtaking Heidelberg Castle.

exterior of DAM
The exterior of the Deutsches Apotheken-Museum

Read More »

Conference Summary: “I’ve Been to Dwight,” July 14-18, 2016, Dwight, IL

Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!

On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.

Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”

Keeley

To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.

I live-tweeted the conference as @rndmhistorian under the hashtag #IBTD16. Also, Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Frances Willard Historical Association wrote a blog post about the conference.

Read More »