Of Ragamuffins and Dens: State Legislation, Municipal Enforcement, and Opium Smoking

Social class has as much to do with effective drug demonization as race. This great article doesn’t rewrite the history of anti-Chinese racism in the prohibition of opium, but the class divide caused by criminalization and the speed of the cultural shift from upper class but bohemian acceptability to disgust, classism, and racial segregation of drug use is breathtaking. You see the same pattern throughout the general history of drug prohibition in the 19th and 20th century, with different drugs and in various societies.

Points: The Blog of the Alcohol & Drugs History Society

On May 26, 1888, the Boston Daily Globe reported the death of a young Harvard student named Frank Mills. The front page headline read: “Fatal Opium.” According to the story, having decided that life at Harvard would not be complete without the experience, Mills and three fellow students had ventured into Boston with the hopes of securing some opium. Following suggestions from their classmates the foursome sought out a man known as Nicholas Gentleman who sold opium in the South End. The boys had “refused to go to an opium joint,” as they feared a police raid, but told Gentleman if he would come to Harvard they would “make things all right for him.” He readily agreed after several assurances that Mills was “an old hand at smoking.” That evening Mills continued to claim he was a frequent smoker leading Gentleman to oblige his numerous requests for another pipe. Mills…

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Drugs, Science and Society – Royal Institution Lecture

“Narcotics have been used by humans since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and even today around 300 million people across the world take drugs each year. But what is a drug? And who is it that should decide what a drug is?

In this Ri event chaired by Kate Kelland, EMEA Health and Science Correspondent for Reuters, Sharon Ruston and David Nutt explore the past, present and future of our societal and political attitudes towards drugs. From supposedly “medical” experimentations in the 18th and 19th centuries, to modern-day government drugs policy and the rise of new ‘legal highs’.

In the 1800s, eminent Ri scientist Humphry Davy carried out numerous experiments on the effects of breathing nitrous oxide, testing it on both himself and others. These experiences lead to his claim that this drug could “destroy our pains and increase our pleasures”. Comparing Davy’s trials with those of Thomas De Quincey with opium, Sharon Ruston, Professor of Romanticism at Lancaster University, explores what were clearly some rather blurred boundaries between medical and recreational drug use at this time. Both nitrous oxide and opium have become invaluable medicines, the first as an anaesthetic, the second as morphine — one of our most powerful forms of pain relief. But it seems during these early experimentations that these drugs’ were heralded as much for their pleasurable uses as for the control of pain, enabling humans to access a new world of “sublime perception”.

Such research was aided by the fact that, in Davy’s day, science had little, if any, interference from politics. Times have certainly changed, and the use and classification of drugs has become heavily entrenched in politics. In the second half of the talk psychiatrist and neuropsychopharmacologist Prof David Nutt, explores this complex relationship, considering the challenges posed by politics, media and the alcohol industry in the future of drugs policy. Nutt raises some controversial questions, including whether alcohol is more dangerous than other drugs, and gives his thoughts on what drugs, and society’s view of them, will look like in the future.”

Watch more science videos on the Ri Channel http://richannel.org

A grateful world to the dealer in happiness: the Count of Monte Cristo on drugs

Monte Cristo isletAlexandre Dumas’ 1844-46 serial The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most popular novels in the world. Despite what you might expect from a 19th century adventure story, its dark protagonist is complex and philosophical. The Count’s intellectual mind, his fractured idealism turned jaded pessimism, and his ruthless individuality makes him an existential philosopher-of-action par excellence.

Hotel de Lauzun

Dumas was a member of the Club des Hashischins (Hashish-Eaters Club) in Paris, which existed from 1844-49, around the time of the publication of Monte Cristo. So it isn’t surprising that the Count of Monte Cristo is a hashish eater. In fact, in the tradition of de Quincey, Coleridge and Keats, he’s also an opium-eater and quite a proponent of the two drugs. Monte Cristo pops pills he concocts himself from a 50/50 mixture of opium and hashish. Dumas borrows heavily from the Orientalism that we see associated with drug culture in earlier 19th century literature and poetry, but he does so with a flourish that is so perfected it still holds its magic after 170 years:

“There is a struggle in nature against this divine substance—in nature which is not made for joy and clings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, the dream must succeed to reality, and then the dream reign supreme, then the dream becomes life, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only by comparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter—to quit paradise for earth—heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine—taste the hashish.”

Dumas expounds upon the joys of hashish at some length:

Charas HashishThat kind of green preserve is nothing less than the ambrosia which Hebe served at the table of Jupiter! …We frequently pass so near to happiness without seeing, without regarding it, or if we do see and regard it, yet without recognizing it. Are you a man for the substantials and is gold your god? Taste this and the mines of Peru, Guzerat and Golconda are open to you. Are you a man of imagination—a poet? Taste this and the boundaries of possibility disappear… Are you ambitious, and do you seek after the greatness of the earth? Taste this, and in an hour you will be a king… Is it not tempting what I offer you, and is it not an easy thing, since it is only to do thus? Look!”

At these words he uncovered the small cup which contained the substance so lauded, took a teaspoonful of the magic sweetmeat, raised it to his lips and swallowed it slowly, with his eyes half shut and his head bent backward…


“Did you ever hear…of the Old Man of the Mountain, who attempted to assassinate Philippe Augustus?”

“Of course, I have.”

“Well, you know he reigned over a rich valley, which was overhung by the mountain whence he derived his picturesque name. In this valley were magnificent gardens planted by Hassen-ben-Sabah, and in these gardens isolated pavilions. Into these pavilions he admitted the elect; and there, says Marco Polo, gave them to eat a certain herb, which transported them to paradise, in the midst of ever-blooming shrubs, ever-ripe fruit and ever-lovely virgins. But what these happy persons took for reality was but a dream; but it was a dream so soft, so voluptuous, so enthralling, that they sold themselves body and soul to him who gave it to them; and obedient to his orders as those of a deity, struck down the marked victim, died in torture without a murmur; believing that the death they underwent was but a quick transition to that life of delights of which the holy herb, now before you, had given them a slight foretaste.”

“Then,” cried Franz, “it is hashish! I know that—by name at least.”

Masyaf“That is it precisely, Signor Aladdin; it is hashish—the purest and most unadulterated hashish of Alexandria—the hashish of Abou-Gor, the celebrated maker, the only man, the man to whom there should be built a palace inscribed with these words: ‘A grateful world to the dealer in happiness.’”

“Do you know,” said Franz, “I have a very great inclination to judge for myself…”

Later, the Count, impresses his wealth upon an audience of Parisians with a flourish of a large, hollowed emerald, and casually remarks that he carries it at all times. Why? Because it contains his opium.

Colombian Emerald“May we inquire what is this recipe?” asked Debray.

“Oh, yes, I make no secret of it. It is a mixture of excellent opium, which I fetched myself from Canton in order to have it pure, and the best hashish which grows in the East—that is, between the Tigris and the Euphrates. These two ingredients are mixed in equal proportions, and formed into pills. Ten minutes after one is taken, the effect is produced…

“But,” said Beauchamp, who, as a journalist, was very incredulous, “you always carry this drug about you?”