Drugs in American Society

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Drugs in American Society 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.


Erich Goode writes about how American Society deals with drugs; it is very much a matter of redefining reality. When we realized that recreational drugs such as marijuana were “non-addicting” we couldn’t handle saying so. Thus, we began using a new term for “things people like to do”: dependance.

p. 15

Alcohol discovered and drunk in Stone Age; predates fashioning of metal instruments. [Ray and Ksir, Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior, 1987, p. 139]

p. 16

In U.S., nearly 1.5 billion prescriptions written a year. [Pharmacy Times, April 1987]

OTC preparations are $10 billion per year retail sales in U.S.

Six adult Americans in 10 drink alcohol (more or less) regularly; smoke cigarettes “on a steady basis.” Marijuana has been used by 60 million Americans; 18 million smoked in the last month. [NIDA, 1986, “Highlights of the 1985 National Survey on Drug Abuse”]

Estimates of illegal drug trade value “range well over $100 billion a year.”

P. 21

“We shop around for evidence in much the same way that we trundle through a supermarket, selecting here and there. Facts are manipulated, wielded as bludgeons, employed as rhetorical devices. Presenting facts in the drug arena is more like making a case than searching objectively for evidence.”

P. 46-47

“Although the label “addicting” has been pinned at some time or another on practically every drug ever ingested, it began to be recognized that certain drugs simply do not have physically addicting properties. Regardless of the dose administered or the length of time the drug is ingested, the same sort of withdrawal symptoms exhibited with heroin, alcohol, or the barbiturates cannot be induced in humans or animals taking LSD, marijuana, or cocaine. Users will not become physically sick upon the discontinuation of the use or administration of these drugs…

‘This bothered a number of officials and experts a great deal. Saying that a drug is not addicting seemed to border perilously close on stating that it is not very dangerous. Something had to be done. Some new concept or terminology had to be devised to make nonaddicting drugs sound as if they were in fact addicting. In the early 1950s, the World Health Organization… adopted the term “drug dependance.” [“Drug Dependance: Its Significance and Characteristics,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 32:721-733, Eddy, Nathan B., H. Halbach, Harris Isbell, Maurice H. Seevers, 1965]

Personally, I have a Scharffen Berger dependance.

p. 86-89: NIDA’s drug usage tables.

P. 90

Trend for most illegal drugs, based on data from NIDA and ISR (Inst for Social Research): Gradual rise between 1960 & 1967; fairly sharp rise between 1967 & 1972; moderate rise between 1972 & 1979; moderate to substantial decline from 1979 to 1986.

P. 91

Exception: Cocaine: modest to significant gains late seventies to mid eighties.

P. 94

Between 86 and 87, all illegal drugs declined; however, alcohol use was up.

P. 97

In poorer areas, drug use is up.

P. 103-104

Uselessness of DAWN’s data.

P. 122

“Supporters of Prohibition were primarily rural dwellers, native-born members of the native-born parentage, either white collar or middle-class or owners of farms, and overwhelmingly Protestant. Opponents of Prohibition were far more likely to be urban dwellers, immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants, manual laborers, and Catholic.”

P. 123

Cirrhosis of the liver: 12-17 per 100,000 each year between 1900 and 1919; 7-9 per 100,000 “in the 1920s and early 1930s;” in the mid-1930s, it began to rise again. [Grant, Bridget F., 1986, Decline in Liver Cirrhosis Mortality and Components of Change.” Alcohol Health and Research World, 10 (Spring): 66-69

p. 194

“Coca-Cola, too, contained coca leaves until 1903, when they were deleted because of pressure applied “by Southerners who feared blacks getting cocaine in any form.” [Ashley, 1975, p. 46: Cocaine: Its History, Uses and Effects]

“In 1903, The New York Tribune quoted one Colonel J.W. Watson of Georgia as saying that “many of the horrible crimes committed in the Southern States by the colored people can be traced to the cocaine habit.” A Dr. Christopher Koch asserted, in an article published in the Literary Digest in 1914, that “most of the attacks upon white women of the South are a direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain.” Even the staid New York Times published an article on February 8, 1914, entitled “Negro Cocaine Fiends Are a New Southern Menace,” detailing the “race menaces,” “cocaine orgies,” “wholesale murders,” and “hitherto inoffensive” Blacks “running amock in a cocaine frenzy.” [Summarized in Ashley, 1975; Musto, 1973, The American Disease: Origins of Narcotics Control; Grinspoon & Bakalar, 1976, Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution]

p. 205

1604: King James I of England issued a “Counterblaste” condemning tobacco; 10 years later, “the English decided to live with it.”

1623: Sultan of Turkey ordered that smokers be put to death; abandoned these efforts in 1655.

1634: Czar of Russia ordered noses of tobacco smokers slit as punishment.

1638: China: decapitation was penalty for tobacco use.

1614: 150 people apprehended for buying/selling tobacco.

Mogul Emperor of Hindustan ordered: “As the smoking of tobacco has taken a very bad effect in the health and mind of so many persons, I order that no person shall practice the habit.” Penalty: lips slit.

P. 208

“Nicotine is a powerful and toxic agent. Typically it is not used for psychoactive purposes—that is, to become high. However, if it were smoked in a more efficient manner to allow greater absorption into the body, say, in the way that marijuana is smoked—deep puffs inhaled, along with a great deal of air, the breath held, and the smoke slowly exhaled—extreme intoxication would ensue, and possibly unconsciousness as well.”

This was what happened in 17th century Russia.

Andrew Weil: “There is a marked psychic component…[a] feeling of wanting to crawl under a rock and die.”

Cigarettes: 20-30 mg (in the tobacco)

Cigar Smoke: 15-40 mg.

4 mg can cause serious symptoms in non-habituated users;

fatal dose for adult is 60 mg.