The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 3

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

Beginning in 1976, the original design of Straight’s milieu was a slightly modified version of The Seed Inc., a program whose methods were also compared to “brainwashing” in the Congressional report, Individual Rights and the Federal Role in Behavior Modification (1974). Specific details about the origins of the actual design of The Seed program are elusive; it was one of many programs initiated in the late 1960s that implemented an array of group methods attributed to those developed by adult members of the therapeutic community, Synanon, founded in 1957 for the treatment of heroin addiction.

But the controversy over “brainwashing” in adolescent reform programs is older than any of the programs that grew out of Synanon; it seems to have started in 1962, over concerns about the Provo Experiment in Delinquency Rehabilitation at the Pinehills Center in Utah County, Utah. According to authors LaMar Empey and Maynard Erickson in their book, The Provo Experiment (1972), in November, 1962, at least one county commissioner had voiced concerns about public funding for the program because it seemed similar to “communist brainwashing.”

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The 30th Anniversary of Len Bias’s Death

LenBiasThis may be hard to believe, but June 19th will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. The University of Maryland all-star and first-round pick for the Boston Celtics died two days after the NBA draft after overdosing on powder cocaine. His death was partially responsible for the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which in many ways set the tone for the excessively punitive drug war to come.

I was recently contacted by Tom Bonanno, editor of the website Celtics Life, who wanted to run segments of a blog post I wrote last September about visiting Bias’s grave in Suitland, Maryland. Bonanno’s post did a nice job of comparing my description of Bias’s small, quiet and frankly neglected grave with some of the flashier and more extravagant graves of other Celtics players who have passed. The differences between the graves – their size, their upkeep, their obvious visitors – is striking, and I think it speaks to what happens when we lose someone before their peak, when we’ve only seen glimmers of what they were truly capable of. Bias was an incredibly talented college player, but he died before playing a single NBA game, and his death was clearly tainted by its association with an illegal drug.

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Teaching Points: Surveying United States’ History of Drugs and Alcohol

This past semester, I taught a course called Altered States: Drugs and Alcohol in America at the University at Albany, SUNY. It was my third version of the course. I had the unique opportunity to design two courses from scratch during my first adjunct gig at Utica College in 2010 and 2011. In addition to the drug course, I also designed a survey-level course on sports in US history. Professionally, this trial-by-fire was enormously beneficial and intensely productive, but for better or for (far) worse, my initial test subjects had to suffer through some serious inexperience as I fumbled through course design, reading lists (painfully long ones…), and lectures. I had wanted to hit every major vein in the field (so to speak) and did it without adequate attention to the broader historical context.

So this spring, I decided to stick with the basics. Rather than point out how drug histories stick out of the general narrative of American history, I wanted to make an argument that the histories of a myriad of psychoactive substances can help us better understand some important trends in the history of the United States. Through my doctoral coursework and achievement of candidacy, I came to this section with a much firmer grasp of the historiographical arguments in the field. Continue reading →

The Role of Drug History in Interdisciplinary Study

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Leanne Horinko, the interim director of the office of graduate admissions at Drew University’s Casperson School of Graduate Studies. Enjoy!

As academic history continues to expand, incorporating interdisciplinarity and meeting the needs of public history, areas of history previously overlooked by scholars are becoming new spaces for exploration. Counter-cultural history is no exception. Scholarly inquiry of these new interdisciplinary subjects can lead to interesting challenges in understanding the subject matter without sacrificing academic rigor. Those interested in contributing original research to interdisciplinary fields like counter-cultural history or alcohol and drug history can find themselves neck deep in historiography from multiple fields and trying to piece together a framework for their work. These challenges are perhaps best illustrated in my own research.

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Heroin: The Great Lie

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest blogger Liz Greene. Greene is a dog-loving, beard-envying history nerd from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.

Like so many of our modern “wonder drugs”, heroin was born of necessity. Unfortunately, the promise of a non-habit forming solution to morphine addiction turned out to be false, and a new national dependence was formed. This is the story of heroin.

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In the 1800’s, opium use had taken a toll on the country. With doctors prescribing opium and its derivatives for everything from coughing to “women’s troubles,” many patients had become addicted to the much used cure-all, leaving doctors and pharmacists scrambling for an alternative.

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Teaching Points: Using “Drugs and Trade” to Teach and Research American History

This winter I have the pleasure of teaching an upper-level history seminar on “Drugs and Trade in American History.” Working with fourteen undergraduates, I am using the opportunity to apply some principles of learner-centered teaching. In doing so, I hope to take a popular buzzword in teaching philosophies and faculty meetings from the realm of jargon and put it into actual practice. I believe the process of completing an original research project – the course’s primary objective – will prompt students to follow their own path into this history and engage with the themes and topics about which they are most passionate, encouraging the kind of deep learning not always possible in classes driven by content alone. I am also convinced a focus on the history of psychoactive substances – from heroin and cocaine to tobacco and alcohol – can be used to highlight general trends in U.S. history, helping students contextualize information and construct broader frameworks for understanding.

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President George H.W. Bush holding a bag of crack cocaine (1989)

While elements of my course may be unfamiliar, the obstacles it faces should not be surprising. First and foremost, if we expect students to succeed with an original research project, they need the proper instruction and sufficient time to complete the task. Students also need a starting point for their own explorations. We cannot forgo content completely, as it is needed to spark interests, provide context, and form research questions. (Not to mention, we are still in the business of communicating important information about the past.) Attempting to give both objectives sufficient in-class attention, however, can require some tricky balancing acts – a problem compounded by the particulars of my university’s ten-week quarter system.

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Videos: The History of Cannabis

Editor’s Note: We’ve featured guest posts and interviews with the cannabis historian Chris Bennett several times before on Points, and today we’re thrilled to present a selection of his newest documentaries. Chris has been making videos for years and his work is thoughtful and wide-ranging, and his videos are entertaining, enlightening and beautiful to look at. Thanks for sharing your work with us, Chris! 

Cannabis Historian Dr. Mike Aldrich

Chris Bennett talks to Dr. Mike Aldrich, who has been studying the history of Cannabis and Folklore for close to 50 years. Like a whimsical wizard of weedlore, Aldrich takes us on a fascinating and entertaining tour of cannabis culture and history in India, the Mid East, ancient Greece, Africa, China, ancient Scythia and more.

Michael Horowitz, Cannabis History Mid 19th-Mid 20th Century

Noted drug historian Michael Horowitz discusses Paris’ mid 19th century Hashish Club, Aleister Crowley on hashish and meditation, Timothy Leary’s 5th circuit and marijuana, Cannabis medicine with William O’Shaughnessy and for impotency with Dr. Frederick Hollick, as well as the marijuana fuelled jazz of Mezz Mezzrow.

Kaneh Bosm: The Hidden History of Marijuana in the Old Testament

Chris Bennett takes a look at the fascinating references to cannabis, under the Hebrew name ‘kaneh bosm’ (spelling – qoph nun he’ – bet shim mem) in the Old Testament text that have been suggested by anthropologist Sula Benet and other researchers, with interviews from Prof Carl Ruck, Dr. Ethan Russo, David Hillman PhD., as well as drug historians and authors Chris Conrad, Michael Horowitz, Martin Lee, and Michael Aldrich. Included is a discussion of the linguistics behind the theory as well as a look at the references in context of the Biblical story line and the use of cannabis by the surrounding cultures who influenced the Jewish cosmology, such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Canaanites and Scythian.

Mithra, Marijuana and the Myths of the Messiah

Cannabis Historian Chris Bennett takes a look at the potential references to cannabis use among the ancient worshipers of the Persian God Mithra, who became popular in ancient Rome and throughout a large portion of ancient Europe. Mithra was involved with the Haoma cult of ancient Persia, and as Dr.Michael Aldrich discusses, recent archeological evidence this ancient world sacrament was a beverage made from cannabis and ephedra. Prof Carl Ruck and Dr. David Hillman suggest by the time the God reached Rome, cannabis was being used as a entheogenic incense to fumigate the cave like temples in which the worship of Mithra took place. Mithra worship is believed to have deeply influenced emerging Christianity in a variety of ways, particularly in regards to the adoption of the God’s birthday December 25th in the 4th century by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Hashish Explorer: Laurence Cherniak

Laurence Cherniak is interviewed by Chris Bennett, about his over 50 years of cannabis activism, opening the world’s first ‘head shop’ in 1965, and the a dventures he had in distant lands chronicling the world’s Hashish culture in his photo filled volumes known as The Great Books of Hashish.

Cannabis in Ancient Greece: Smoke of the Oracles?

POT TV – Host and cannabis historian Chris Bennett talks to Professor of Classics at Boston University, Carl Ruck, along with Dr. David Hillman, who holds the combined degrees of a Ph.D. in Classics and a M.S. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied the medicine and pharmacology of antiquity, as well as other scholars, about the role of Cannabis in the ancient Greece.

Topics discussed include the influence on Greek ritual practices from the Scythian and Thracian shaman, known as ‘Kapnobatai’, meaning ‘smoke-walkers’, who were known to fumigate themselves with cannabis smoke to achieve ‘ecstasy’. The potential role of cannabis in the cults of Aphrodite, Orpheus, Apollo, Hera, Dionysus and other ancient Greek deities, along with the potential ritual use of cannabis at the Oracle of Delphi and other sites. The alleged archeological find of ancient hashish at the Nekyomanteion (a place for consulting the dead) on the River Acheron (one of the most famous entrances to the netherworld) as discussed in the book ‘Mysteries of the Oracles’ . The use of cannabis infused incenses and wines in ancient Greece, with a discussion on Homer’s ‘nepenthe’, as well as a look at lotions and ointments that were applied vaginally. The various names cannabis may have been known by during the classic period, and much, much more.

Martin Lee on Cannabis and Creativity in Literature, Song and Culture

POT TV – Cannabis Historian Chris Bennett interviews Martin A. Lee, author of ‘Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Scientific’ and ‘Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD: The CIA, the Sixties, and Beyond’.

Lee discusses the role of cannabis in creativity and the herb’s influence in literature, music, and culture, as well as its history in the United States.