When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. From Chocolate to Morphine is one of my sources.
The parts I generally took notes from were either about the drugs themselves or the prohibition of drugs. You’ll find the information garnered from these books throughout the Prohibition Politics section of this site. It will also have informed some of my own postings stored in the older Prohibition Politics archive.
If you find this information useful, you will want to search out the books themselves to read the text in context. All of the books here are at least moderately interesting.
“Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs”, Andrew Weil & Winifred Rosen’s high-school level text dealing with recreational and mind-altering drugs is a fascinating and useful book to keep on hand.
Whether it is children spinning themselves into hallucinations or religions incorporating mind-altering drugs, there appears to be some human need to induce “variations in consciousness”.
“Drugs are fascinating because they can change our awareness. The basic reason people take drugs is to vary their conscious experience.”
“Human beings, it seems, are born with a need for periodic variations in consciousness. The behavior of young children supports this idea. Infants rock themselves into blissful states; many children discover that whirling, or spinning, is a powerful technique to change awareness; some also experiment with hyperventilation (rapid, deep breathing) followed by mutual chest-squeezing or choking, and tickling to produce paralyzing laughter.… Since children all over the world engage in these activities, the desire to change consciousness does not seem to be a product of a particular culture but rather to arise from something basically human.”
“In fact, having high experiences from time to time may be necessary to our physical and mental health, just as dreaming at night seems to be vital to our well-being.”
Drugs have, from the start, been connected with religion—marijuana in ancient India, Peyote by American Indians, alcohol in Catholocism…
Caffeine occurs in many plants, but it has its strongest effect in coffee.
Coffee: Caffeine isolated in 1821, but the effects of coffee and caffeine differ. Coffee seems more powerful than caffeine or other caffeine-bearing plants. Shrubby tree, native to Ethiopia.
Other caffeine-bearing plants: Tea, cola, guaraná, maté (a holly), chocolate (cacao, known to ancient Aztecs, it was a sacred plant, used in religious rituals)
Coca: native to eastern Andes; natives in Peru and Bolivia still chew coca leaves. In late 1800s, coca became popular in Europe and America in the form of tonics and wines. [Coca-Cola, which still contains a drug-free extract of the coca leaf]
- Betel: a palm tree, Asia, millions use it like chewing gum; contains arecoline, a stimulant comparable to caffeine.
- Qat: stimulant, leaves eaten fresh; used in East Africa (Somalia) and Middle East.
- Yohimbe: African tree; brewed into stimulating tea, supposed to be an aphrodisiac.
- Ephedra: desert bush; contains ephedrine, a stimulant; known also as Mormon Tea—was used by early Mormon settlers instead of caffeine, prohibited by their religion.
“Some tobacco users take the drug without burning it. Tobacco chewers place wads of it in the mouth, letting the nicotine diffuse into their systems through blood vessels in the tongue and cheeks. Others use snuff (finely powdered tobacco) by inhaling it or putting pinches of it in the mouth. Many Amazonian Indians cook tobacco and water to form a paste that they rub on their gums.
All of these preparations give strong stimulation in the form of high doses of nicotine—higher than cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, because burning destroys so much of the nicotine in tobacco. Nevertheless, chewing tobacco or taking snuff is less addicting than smoking because it puts nicotine into the blood and brain much less directly.”
Alcohol is the most popular recreational drug in the world, and probably the earliest. Oh, and here’s a safety tip: no nitrous while driving.
Alochol the most popular psychoactive drug in the world. Probably also the oldest—fruits and juices, left to stand in a warm place, ferment into alcoholic mixtures.
One of the earliest kinds of beer: Indians in tropical America chewed corn, spit it into a clay pot, mixed with water, and let sit.
Distilled alcohol is relatively new; Brandy was first. Originally, the idea was to concentrate wine into a small volume, ship overseas in barrels, then dilute with water.
Barbituric acid discovered in 1864
Minor tranquilizers (such as Valium in the sixties) in mid 1950s—
Miltown. (Miltown parties for getting high.) These often marketed as ‘for anxious women.’
Surgical anesthesia began in 1846, in Boston; a dentist demonstrated ether. Still used today to induce unconsciousness before surgery. Ether itself known about as early as 1800. Ether parties held throughout 1800s.
Nitrous Oxide discovered in late 1700s. It got its name ‘laughing gas’ from traveling carnivals, which charged for a minute’s worth of N2O.
“Physicians and dentists have long considered nitrous oxide to be a safe pharmacological agent. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that excessive or prolonged use of it can damage the bone marrow and nervous system by interfering with the action of vitamin B-12. Moreover its use in nonmedical settings presents several hazards that users should keep in mind. Breathing it directly from pressurized tanks is dangerous for two reasons. First, gas flowing from such tanks is very cold—cold enough to cause frostbite of noses, lips and (most serious) vocal cords. Being anesthetized, a user may be unaware of such injuries until too late. Second, because nitrous oxide does not support life, it should be mixed with oxygen if it is to be breathed for more than a few minutes. At private parties, oxygen tanks are rarely supplied, and people have died of asphyxiation by breathing straight nitrous oxide through face masks. One way to avoid these dangers is to fill balloons from tanks and breathe from the balloons.
‘Further, nitrous oxide rapidly leads to complete loss of motor control, and anyone who breathes it while standing will soon reel about and fall down. Therefore, it is unwise to try the gas unless one is in a comfortable sitting or lying position. Serious injuries have resulted from people inhaling laughing gas while standing in front of open windows, when driving cars, or when operating machinery. Others have been badly hurt by accidentally pulling heavy tanks of nitrous oxide over onto while intoxicated.
‘People who breathe nitrous oxide for more than a few minutes at a time may experience nausea, especially if they have just eaten. They may also feel hung over for some time after. Addiction to nitrous oxide is a real possibility. Addicts may suffer serious mood and personality changes in addition to the bone marrow and nervous system damage already mentioned.”
Morphine (named for Morpheus, Greek god of dreams) was isolated from opium in 1803—the first time an active principle was extracted from a drug plant.
Hypodermic syringe invented in 1853. The first morphine addict was this man’s wife. Heroin, a derivative of morphine, was made available in 1898.
Hallucinogens have a long history with religion, from peyote to mushrooms and iboga.
Hallucinogenic plants have been in use since before recorded history, mostly in North and South America, concentrated in Mexico/Columbia. The main old world psychedelic is the iboga plant, made into a drink and used by some West African tribes.
LSD derived from ergot, a rye fungus, in 1938, but not recognized until 1943 when the chemist accidentally consumed some. It was made available by Sandoz in the late forties.
Morning Glory (such as Heavenly Blue, Pearly Gates, Wedding Bells, Flying Saucers) used by Indians in southern Mexico before the Spanish arrived.
Westerners discovered psilocybin mushrooms in fifties, though Indians in southern Mexico used them as part of sacred ceremonies. In the sixties and seventies, scientists traveled there to study this, and some Swiss pharmaceutical companies manufactured pure psilocybin.
Peyote (small spineless cactus) is native to Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas and north-central Mexico. Some Indians have used peyote since before recorded history. The Roman Catholic church tried to stamp out peyote use. In the 1800s, it spread northward to U.S. Indians, and Indians of the midwestern plains popularized a new religion based on it, and spread it all the way to Canada.
Mescaline isolated from Peyote in late 1890s.
MDA, the ‘love drug’, made in Germany in 1910, although its psychoactive properties not discovered until much later. From this came MDM, MDMA, Adam, XTC.
Once it caught on among whites in the sixties, marijuana became the most popular of all illegal recreational drugs.
Hemp has always been important in the old world: it provides a useful fiber, an edible seed, an oil, and a medicine. It has been used since prehistoric times in the old world.
Europeans and Americans grew hemp exclusively for its fiber. Marijuana smoking began in the U.S. after WWI. It was introduced by Mexican migrant workers, and caught on first by black workers in southern cities. It was rarely associated with the white middle class until the 1960s. Today it is the most widely used of all illegal drugs.
PCP was originally used as a tranquilizer; when physicians noted that it had problematic side effects in humans, it was repositioned as an animal tranquilizer.
Beginning about 1959, U.S. newspapers start focussing on glue-sniffing as a new drug menace spreading among children in the west and midwest.
Nightshade family includes tomatoes, sweet/hot peppers, eggplants, potatoes, tobacco, henbane, mandrake, deadly nightshade. In North America, 2 species of datura (jimsonweed in the east and sacred datura in the west) are the main poisonous nightshades. Sacred datura has a long involvement with Native American magic/religion.
Fly Agaric (big mushroom—agaric is an old word for mushroom, and it was chopped up and put in a saucer of milk to attract and kill flies) was the traditional intoxicant of a number of tribes in Siberia.
PCP was invented in the late 1950s, introduced in U.S. in 1963 as Sernyl. “Enthusiasm about the medical value of PCP diminished when reports began to come in of unpleasant side effects… feelings of being out of the body, and visual disturbances that some patients found frightening.” Withdrawn in 1965 from human use, reintroduced in 1967 for veterinarians: “Animals could not tell their veterinarians that they disliked the side effects.”
Altered states of consciousness aren’t just for drugs or even for natural highs. Our bodies are continually adjusting themselves to our environment and to our actions. The physical state necessary when running, for example, is different from the physical state necessary for watching television and from the physical state necessary for talking to a group of friends.
Addicted to Running: “I watched my roommate in college and best friend turn into an addicted runner. Greg took up running in his junior year and quickly got into it big time. I think he didn’t have a lot going for him then—no girlfriend, no great interest in school—and running gave him a real sense of purpose and accomplishment. It also got him high. I ran with him a lot at first. To me running was a lot of effort. I always felt good afterward, but at the time it seemed more like work than fun. But I’d notice that Greg seemed to get into an altered state after about two miles. His whole face would look different, and he’d seem to be flying. He’d tell me he’d get a real buzz on from running, and I’m sure he did. After a while he started running farther than I cared to: five miles, then, seven miles, then ten miles. So I’d turn back early, and he’d keep on.
‘In his senior year, Greg ran in the Boston marathon. He trained for it for three months and did really well. He said he just wanted to do it once to see what it would be like. He also said it was the greatest high of his life. So I guess I wasn’t surprised when, a few months later, he was training for another marathon. After graduation he fell into a pattern of running marathons every few months, and it seemed he was always either training for them, running them, or recovering from them. His running seemed compulsive to me and began to drive a wedge between us.
‘Greg has run 50- and 100-mile races since then—impressive achievements, I guess, but he’s also injured his knees and back and won’t cut down. Sometimes, when we’ve been on the road together, he’s been unable to run because of bad weather or other circumstances, and I find it almost impossible to be with him then. He climbs the walls, just like someone trying to kick a cigarette habit. I think he’s become addicted to running as his main high in life and doesn’t have a healthy relationship with it. But he has no insight into that, and won’t listen to me or anyone else who tries to talk to him about it.”
—Twenty-six-year-old man, photographer