Licit & Illicit Drugs

When I was writing The Cartoon Guide to Recreational Drugs I scoured the local libraries and bookstores looking for useful and interesting historical works. Licit & Illicit Drugs 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.


Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumers Reports. The full title is “The Consumers Union Report on Narcotics, Stimulants, Depressants, Inhalants, Hallucinogens & Marijuana—including Caffeine, Nicotine, and Alcohol”.

I’ve only done limited sections: p. 23-27, 209-213, 431-433. If you are at all interested in the history of prohibition in the United States, Licit & Illicit Drugs is a must-have. It is a comprehensive guide to the follies of the drug war, at a time when people thought politics would eventually have to give in to the facts.

The Narcotics: Opium, Morphine, Heroin, Methadone, and Others

When drugs are inexpensive, we find better ways of dealing with them; when they are prohibited, we find the worst possible ways of dealing with them. Nowhere is this more obvious then with the opiates.

Effects of opium, morphine, and heroin on addicts (partial)

Neither physical nor mental deterioration are a necessary consequence of opiate use.

As noted earlier in The Opium Problem, different kinds of addicts go to different treatment facilities, and those who are able to avoid the legal problems don’t seem to have much in the way of physical problems.

p. 22

“When opiates are cheap, addicts generally eat them, sniff them, or smoke them (as an estimated 90 to 95 percent of American heroin users in Vietnam did in 1971; see Chapter 20). When the drug cost is high, the same effects are achieved by injecting smaller amounts subcutaneously (“skin-popping”) or intravenously (“mainlining”). Such injections, often carried out with crude and unsterile implements, contribute to the risk of infectious disease among addicts. The likelihood of infection is further increased by United States laws making it a crime to possess or sell needles, syringes, or other paraphernalia without a prescription; addicts minimize the risk of arrest by sharing their injection equipment—thus inviting cross-infection.”

P. 23

Study by Committee on Drug Addictions of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, and the Philadelphia Committee for the Clinical Study of Opium Addiction. Most were criminals and most were poor: then as now, affluent addicts did not go to a city hospital for treatment. Published in A.M.A. Archives of Internal Medicine (1929).

The study shows that morphine addiction is not characterized by physical deterioration or impairment of physical fitness aside from the addiction per se. There is no evidence of change in the circulatory, hepatic, renal or endocrine functions. When it is considered that these subjects had been addicted for at least five years, some of them for as long as twenty years, these negative observations are highly significant.

P. 24

A similar study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City had similar results. Dr. George B. Wallace summed up both studies: “It was shown that continued taking of opium or any of its derivatives resulted in no measurable organic damage. The addict when not deprived of his opium showed no abnormal behavior which distinguished him from a non-addict.”

Dr. Harris Isbell, 1958, “Since these studies appeared, it has not been possible to maintain that addiction to morphine causes marked physical deterioration per se.”

Dr. Walter G. Karr, 1932 “The addict under his normal toelrance of morphine is medically a well man.”

P. 25

Dr. Nathan B. Eddy, 1940, after reviewing the world literature on morphine to that date, “Given an addict who is receiving [adequate] morphine… the deviations from normal physiological behavior are minor [and] for the most part within the range of normal variations.”

Drs. Richard Brotman, Alan S. Meyer, Alfred M. Freedman, 1965: “Medical knowledge has long since laid to rest the myth that opiates inevitably and observably harm the body.”

Drs. A.Z. Pfeffer, and D.C. Ruble, comparing male addict prisoners with male non-addict prisoners: “The data of this study indicate that the habitual use of morphine does not cause a chronic psychosis or an organic type of deterioration.”

Dr. Marie Nyswander, 1956, “The incidence of insanity among addicts is the same as in the general population.”

Dr. George H. Stevenson, 1956, giving complete neurological and psychiatric examinations to imprisoned addicts and their relatives, “As to possible damage to the brain, the result of lengthy use of heroin, we can only say that neurologic and psychiatric examinations have not revealed evidence of brain damage…. This is in marked contrast to the prolonged and heavy use of alcohol, which in combination with other factors can cause pathologic changes in brains, and reflects such damage in intellectual and emotional deterioration, as well as convulsions, neuritis, and even psychosis.”

P. 26

The British Columbia report

Our psychological studies do not support the common assertion that long continued heroin use produces appreciable psychological deterioration. So far as we can determine, the personality characteristics commonly seen in addicts are assumed to have been largely present before their addiction, and the same characteristics are commonly seen in most recidivist delinquents who do not use narcotic drugs. Moreover, it is not evident that these personality weaknesses are aggravated or made worse by addiction as such. Years of crime, years of prison, years of unemployment, years of anti-social hostility (and society’s anti-addict hostility), years of immorality—these can hardly be expected to strengthen a personality and eradicate its weaknesses. If “years of addiction” is added to these other unfavorable behavioral and environmental factors, why should the personality deterioration (if measurable) be attributed to drug addiction as if it were the only responsible factor?

Drs. Harris Isbell and H.F. Fraser, 1950: “Morphine does not cause any permanent reduction in intelligence.”

P. 27

Dr. Kolb, 1962: “Chronic psychoses as a result of excessive use of opiates are virtually non-existent.”

Deputy Commissioner Henry Brill, after a survey of 35,000 mental hospital patients: “Clinical experience and statistical studies clearly prove that psychosis is not one of ‘the pains of addiction.’ Organic deterioration is regularly produced with alcohol in sufficient amount but is unknown with opiates, and the functional psychoses which are occasionally encountered after withdrawal are clearly coincidental, being manifestations of a latent demonstrable pre-existing condition.”

Dr. Kolb, 1925:

That individuals may take morphine or some other opiate for twenty years or more without showing intellectual or moral deterioration is a common experience of every physician who has studied the subject.

Recent Findings (Coffee)

It isn’t just drug users that are stereotyped. How we view lab results depends on how we view the drug.

When we examine the behavioral effects of large doses of caffeine in animal experimentation, even more shocking findings must be noted. Several research teams have reported, for example, that rats fed massive doses of caffeine become aggressive and launch physical attacks against other rats. More remarkable still, a caffeine-crazed rat may bite and mutilate himself. “Automutilation was so acute and intense in some rats that the animals died from hemorrhagic shock.” Some readers may here be moved to protest that the bizarre behavior of rats fed massive doses of caffeine is irrelevant to the problems of human coffee drinkers, who are not very likely to bite themselves to death. Let us promptly and wholeheartedly agree. There is a lesson to be learned, nevertheless, from these rat reports. If the drug producing this effect in rats were marijuana, or LSD, or amphetamine, the report would no doubt have made headlines throughout the country. One of the distorting effects of categorizing drugs as “good,” “bad,” and “nondrugs” is to protect the “nondrugs” such as caffeine from warranted criticism while subjecting the illicit drugs to widely publicized attacks—regardless of the relevance of the data to the hujman condition. Thus we come to the coffee paradox—the question of how a drug so fraught with potential hazard can be consumed in the United States at the rate of more than a hundred billion doses a year without doing intolerable damage—and without arousing the kind of hostility, legal repression, and social condemnation aroused by the illicit drugs. The answer is quite simple. Coffee, tea, cocoa, and the cola drinks have been domesticated. Caffeine has been incorporated into our way of life in a manner that minimizes the hazards inherent in caffeine use. Instead of its being classified as an illicit drug, thereby grossly amplifying caffeine’s potential for harm, ways to make caffeine safer have been searched for and found.


No country that has tried tobacco has given up the practice, despite many bloody attempts.


Rulers punished smokers with beheadings, mutliation, and the most painful of deaths. Yet, in the end, tobacco use continued.

p. 209

Sailors from the Americas carried leaves and seeds to all their ports, and soon tobacco was growing at all the ports of call.

P. 210

In England, demand exceeded supply, and prices soared. In 1610, an English observer noted “Many a young nobleman’s estate is altogether spent and scattered to nothing in smoke. This befalls in a shameful and beastly fashion, in that a man’s estate runs out through his nose, and he wastes whole days, even years, in drinking of tobacco; men smoke even in bed.” [Out through his nose: 16th century Englishmen exhaled the smoke through their nose.]

p. 211-212

Pope Urban VIII issued a formal bull against tobacco in 1642. Pope Innocent X issued another in 1650. In 1725 Pope Benedict XIII annulled all such edicts “in order to avoid the scandalous spectacle of dignitaries of the church hastening out in order to take a few clandestine whiffs in some corner away from spying eyes.” He himself liked to take snuff.

“Bavaria prohibited tobacco in 1652, Saxony in 1653, Zurich in 1667, and so on across Europe—but the states, like the Church, proved powerless to stem the drug. The Sultan Murad IV decreed the death penalty for smoking tobacco in Constantinople in 1633.

Whenever the Sultan went on his travels or on a military expedition his halting-places were always distinguished by a terrible increase in the number of executions. Even on the battlefield he was fond of surprising men in the act of smoking, when he would punish them by beheading, hanging, quartering, or crushing their hands and feet and leaving them helpless between the lines…. Nevertheless, in spite of all the horrors of this persecution and the insane cruelties inflicted by the Sultan, whose blood-lust seemed to increase with age, the passion for smoking still persisted…. Even the fear of death was of no avail with the passionate devotees of the habit. [Corti, History, p. 146-147]

‘The first of the Romanoff czars, Michael Feodorovitch, similarly prohibited smoking, under dire penalties, in 1634. “Offenders are usually sentenced to slitting of the nostrils, the bastinado, or the knout,” a visitor to Moscow noted. Yet, in 1698, smokers in Moscow would pay far more for tobacco than English smokers—”and if they want money they will struck their cloaths for it, to the very shirt.”

Japan learned of smoking when a Chinese pirate vessel with Portuguese seamen on board was driven off course by a storm and took shelter in a Japanese harbor. “Japanese accounts still exist,” Count Corti writes, “describing how the Portuguese merchants and seamen… taught the inhabitants of Kiushiu to smoke. By 1595 the habit was well established.” An edict prohibiting smoking followed in 1603.

As no notice was taken of this edict, still severer measures were taken in 1607 and 1609, by which the cultivation of tobacco was made a penal offence. Finally, in 1612, Jeyasu decreed that the property of any man detected in selling tobacco should be handed over to his accuser, and anyone arresting a man conveying tobacco on a pack-horse might take both horse and tobacco for his own. [The first forfeiture laws for drugs!] Yet in spite of all attempts at repression smoking became so general that in 1615 even the officers in attendance on the Shôgun—at that time residing at Yeddo, the modern Tokio—had acquired the habit. The result was a sterner warning, to the effect that anyone in the army caught smoking was liable to have his property confiscated. In 1616 the penalties were made still more severe: to a sentence of imprisonment a fine was added, in many cases equivalent to an increase of from thirty to fifty days on the original term. But it was all of no avail; the custom spread rapidly in every direction; until, as we read in an Imperial poem of the time, many smokers were to be found even in the Mikado’s palace. Finally even the princes who were responsible for the prohibition took to smoking, and the great land-owners and rulers of the Daimios, the military and feudal aristorcracy, who were all devotees of the habit, were glad to let the laws fall into abeyance. In 1625 permission was given to cultivate and plant tobacco, except in ricefields and vegetable gardens. By 1639 tobacco had taken its place in polite Japanese society as an accompaniment to the ceremonial cup of tea offered to a guest. ‘From those days until today, … no country that has ever learned to use tobacco has given up the practice.”

Nicotine as an addicting drug (partial)

Smokers tend, after a lot of injections, to prefer injections to smoking?

Dr. Lennox Johnston, reporting in the Lancet in 1942, after giving “small injections of nicotine solution to 35 volunteers”:

Smokers almost invariably thought the sensation pleasant, and, given an adequate dose, were disinclined to smoke for a time thereafter…. After a course of 80 injections of nicotine, an injection was preferred to a cigarette.

Marijuana and Hashish

Working overtime against alcohol and opium, the Treasury Department didn’t initially see marijuana as a threat.

Marijuana and alcohol prohibition

Marijuana was originally seen as a “Mexican” drug.

p. 412

Colorado, the Denver News, in a series of “sensational marijuana exposés” claimed that Mexican laborers, imported to till the Colorado beet-sugar fields, had found Prohibition alcohol expensive and resorted to marijuana, which they brought from Mexico. (Colorado passed a law against marijuana in 1929)

1931: United States Treasury Department (Responsible for both fed anti-narcotic laws & fed anti-alcohol laws) said

A great deal of public interest has been aroused by newspaper articles appearing from time to time on the evils of the abuse of marihuana, or Indian hemp, and more attention has been focused on specific cases reported of the abuse of the drug than would otherwise have been the case. This publicity tends to magnify the extent of the evil and lends color to an inference that there is an alarming spread of the improper use of the drug, whereas the actual increase in such use may not have been inordinately large.

Can marijuana replace alcohol?

Some evidence shows that for people who have used marijuana, alcohol becomes a lesser drug. Getting drunk is more degrading than getting high. Some of this is circumstantial, however, for example the beer distributors deciding that when beer sales drop it must mean that a marijuana “shipment” arrived somewhere.

P. 431-433

In 1968, Professor Alfred R. Lindesmith, Indiana University sociologist, said:

It is of incidental interest that some pot smokers, both old and young, have developed an aversion to alcohol, regarding it as a debasing and degrading drug, a view which is standard among the Hindus of India where alcohol is strongly taboo for religious reasons. Some of these people were heavy users of alcohol before they tried marijuana and feel that the latter saved them from becoming alcoholics.

Professor Kaplan, in Marijuana: The New Prohibition:

There is already data showing that a sizeable percentage of marijuana users…cut down their alcohol consumption on taking up their new drug. Thus, Richard Blum’s data shows that 54 percent of the regular (weekly) marijuana-users decreased their alcohol consumption after taking up marijuana, while only two percent increased their alcohol use. With respect to the daily marijuana-users, the difference was even more striking. Here eighty-nine percent of the users had decreased their alcohol consumption. This type of data is confirmed from several other sources. Another study at a California college showed that while in the sample marijuana use had climbed from nineteen to forty-three percent between 1967 and 1968, use of alcohol in the “more than once a month” category had fallen from twenty-nine to fourteen percent, while use in the “more than several times a month” category had fallen from seventeen to twelve percent. And one of the most recent surveys, at Stanford University, showed that, at a time in their lives when students typically increase their alcohol consumption significantly, only three percent of the marijuana-users had increased the frequency or quantity of their hard-liquor consumption while thirty-two percent reported a decrease.

A Denver beer distributor said “Our [college-area] retailers say they can tell when a big shipment of marijuana hits town. The [beer] sales go down.”

Dr. Halleck, 1968, after observing “the rapid increase in marijuana smoking on the Wisconsin and other campuses,” said

Perhaps the one major positive effect of the drug [marijuana] is to cut down on the use of alcohol. In the last few years it is rare for our student infirmary to encounter a student who has become aggressive, disoriented, or physically ill because of excessive use of alcohol. Alcoholism has almost ceased to [be] a problem on our campuses.