When things changed

Once upon a time, I was arguing with some libertarians, who assuring me that it was impossible to stop people from toking (for example), even if we made sure that they could only obtain the ingredients by crawling over the Himalayas after they had been covered with broken glass. At the same time they were quite sure that you could move mountains via medium-sized changes in the marginal tax rate.

But… I’m pretty sure that in my home town, the fraction taking anything interesting other than alcohol was zero in 1955, 1944, 1925, 1900, 1850… With the possible exceptions of some guys taking opiates after the Civil War because their stump hurt. Many people back-project: they’re sure that any vice common today had to be just as common back in the days of yore. Yet they’re wrong.

In the same way, I have seen people saying that probably there was lots more false paternity back when people were poorer and less educated, say in 1890. Yet we know from Y-chromosome studies that did not happen.

Sometimes things change. As far as drugs other than alcohol, people didn’t use them much [recreationally] for most of the history of the Western world. Of course some hadn’t been invented, but from every bit of evidence I have, the Greeks and the Romans, the Elizabethans and the Founders and Victorians – just didn’t spend much time getting baked. Drunk, sure.

In 1964, there was an inflection point for this and many other things.

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157 Responses to When things changed

  1. With respect to this thoughtful and intelligent reply, I would also like to offer, without any physiological data to back me up, that an analogous change came to pass after the commencement of atmospheric tests of nuclear devices, in July 1945 (I was four, still busy defeating Hitler).

    While we know little about the long-term effects of background radioactivity on thought processes the impact of radioactive fallout on living organisms continues to be thoroughly documented.

    I personally prefer LSD-25 to Strontium 90, Cesium 137 or loose bits of Plutonium and other nasties; I would not be surprised to discover they all have profound effects on the human psyche.

  2. Glossy says:

    In Russia this inflection point came around 1990. There were no drugs in the USSR except for alcohol.

    • DK says:

      @Glossy: The second inflection. The baseline during Soviet times was much higher than you imagine. The first inflection happened soon after The Thaw, spurred by the imitations of hippies culture – so only a few years later than in the US. Parts of Soviet Asia have Cannabis indiana as a native wild weed, almost impossible to eradicate (e.g., look up Чуйская Долина). And then there was native hashish tradition in Turkmenistan, not completely eradicated and brought to a new life by soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Lastly, Gulag culture was influential for several decades, and while its choice of stimulants was rather benign (чифирь – look it up), codein-containing headache pills were a popular currency inside and outside the camps.

      @Greg: Victorians were rather fond of their opium dens, weren’t they?

      • Jim says:

        Sherlock Holmes was quite a druggie, at least in the earlier stories. He seems to have reformed by the later stories. The poet Coleridge was a heavy user of opium although not strictly a Victorian since he died three years before Victoria’s reign began.

        • feralplum says:

          Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe. Forward to ‘Cliff and the Calories.’
          “When was a freshman in college, the nearest connection for marijuana was in a drugstore a hundred yards off campus; for H or C it was necessary to walk another block. But bootleg liquor(tax free) would be delivered on or off campus at any hour,”

          Heinlein Attended Annapolis.

          Why Holmes was addicted to cocaine is interesting. Conan Doyle received his advanced degree on ophthalmology. In Vienna. While Dr. Freud was extolling the virtues of injected cocaine for mental processes. Cocaine was – and I think still is – the drug used as anesthesia during eyeball surgery. He KNEW how dangerous it was. He had reason to warn of it.

          • gcochran9 says:

            I’ve read it. But Heinlein is a poor guide to the average American. Most Americans, for example, aren’t nudists. His picture of his fellow citizens had serious holes in it. He said, for example, that casual bastardy is far more common than admitted – but it is not, not then and not today.

            • William O. B'Livion says:

              There is at least one study that shows 2 to 3 percent of the population are the result of infidelity
              Anderson, K. G. (2006). How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence from worldwide nonpaternity rates. Current Anthropology 48, in press.

              I saw another study that I can’t find that looked at genetics and put the number at 10 to 15% of children born in the early 1960s. I also have no way of knowing how good their study was.

              The real question though is “what is the admitted rate”?

              • gcochran9 says:

                we can measure the real rate, and there is no country where it has been reliably measured is it as high as 3%. Number are usually between 1 and 2%: today, and averaged over the past few hundred years.

                I’ve discussed this already.

              • syonredux says:

                “This survey of published estimates of nonpaternity suggests that for men with high paternity confidence, nonpaternity rates are typically 1.7% (if we exclude studies of unknown methodology) to 3.3% (if we include such studies). These figures are substantially lower than the “typical” nonpaternity rate of 10% or higher cited by many researchers, often without substantiation…or the median worldwide nonpaternity rate of 9% reported by Baker and Bellis…

                Men who have low paternity confidence and have chosen to challenge their paternity through laboratory testing are much less likely than men with high paternity confidence to be the fathers of their putative children. Although these men presumably have lower paternity confidence than men who do not seek paternity tests, this group is heterogeneous; some men may be virtually certain that the putative child is not theirs, while others may simply have sufficient doubts to warrant testing. Most of these men are in fact the fathers of their putative genetic children; only 29.8% could be excluded as biological fathers of the children in question.”


              • Halvorson says:

                In 1963 the false paternity in Michigan Blacks was 10%, just 1.5 in whites according to Schacht and Gershowitz.

              • gcochran9 says:

                And that might be correct: the white rate in that study is about right. But the new tools (Schacht and Gershowitz had only blood groups, to work with, I think) are enormously better – so we really want a fresh study. Using DNA. But then, if the rates in blacks are really that much higher, it would probably be unpublishable.

            • Josh says:

              I can’t remember the details, but I think heinldin was somehow linked to jack parsons continuation of crowley’s oto cult in Southern California. Crowley’s promotion of drugs was one reason he remained an icon of the hippies.

            • Steve Sailer says:

              Heinlein systematically searched out novel lifestyles. For example, around 1930 the Navy sent him to New York City for a few months training in a mechanical proto-computer. He immediately took up the Greenwich Village avante-garde artist lifestyle, with lots of painting of nude models in his spare time.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Heinlein wants you to know that he was cooler than the average Naval cadet.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Holmes, the true Everyman.

          • Jim says:

            He certainly was pretty weird and given Dr. Watson’s lack of observational acuity he may have been even weirder than he appears. I suspect that there was a lot going on in Holmes life that Watson was totally ignorant of.

          • syonredux says:

            “Holmes, the true Everyman.”

            Yeah. Holmes’ cocaine was was another signifier for his status as a bohemian-artist type, albeit one who chased crooks instead of dabbling in water-colors.

      • Glossy says:

        By that logic Greg’s 1964 inflection point was also America’s second, at the very least. Beatnicks were more numerous and prominent in the US than hippies were in the USSR, and whatever was happening in Soviet Turkmenistan would have had a parallel with US Indian reservations.

        From the perspective of the average American drugs appeared in the 1960s and from the perspective of the average post-Soviet person, drugs appeared in the 1990s. That’s what Greg obviously meant by “inflection point”, so I used that term in the same sense.

        • DK says:

          No, you wrote that “there were no drugs in the USSR except for alcohol”. Clearly, you have no idea what you are talking about.

      • Jim says:

        Thomas Da Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was published in 1821 well before Queen Victoria’a ascension th the throne. Coleridge also lived before her reign. So maybe the opium rage in England is more pre-Victorian than Victorian. In the late eighteenth century London was famous for it’s brothels. The English don’t seem to have been very Victorian in those days.

      • EMB says:

        I’d lived in various places in west-central/west-south Ukraine between 1960 and 1990. I’ve never met or heard of anyone in my or my parents circle of friends and acquaintances who would have used any drugs except alcohol. First time I saw anyone smoking what I believe was a variety of hashish, if memory serves, was during my one-year stay in the Soviet Army (courtesy of mandatory draft). The fellow was from Central Asia, and his parents smuggled some tiny quantity of the stuff while visiting their son.

        My wife’s recollection (who grew up in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and had an extensive network of family, friends and fellow students both from the secondary school and the university there) mirrors mine.

        And, yes, in the part of Ukraine I am familiar with, the inflection point was 1988-1990. It was the day when an itinerant drug peddler, a woman, rang my doorbell and offered her wares with her male partner watching outside across the street.

        It does not mean, of course, that based on the anecdotal evidence of this sort there was no drug use in the European part of the Soviet Union until 1990s, but one might tentatively conclude that it was so small as to be unnoticeable.

    • Peter Akuleyev says:

      Cocaine was very popular in fashionable circles in Tsarist-era Russia. The USSR was too impoverished to afford such luxuries.

      • Glossy says:

        Hilarious. The 1990s, the decade when drugs really appeared in Russia, was a period of grotesque impoversishment. In other words, drugs appeared some time after the average person got much poorer than he was in late Soviet times.

        • Trut Tella says:

          So…. what you’re saying is that the Soviet system was moral enough to restrict this sort of nonsense to effete nomenklatura filth? Not disagreeing.

        • Peter Akuleyev says:

          Russian urban young people between 16 and 30, the prime demographic for drug use, had more disposable income in the 1990s than at any time in Soviet history. The country may have been impoverished by the collapse of Communism, but that collapse was not evenly spread, and had its greatest negative impact on the Soviet peripheral regions and older people.

          • Dmitriy says:

            Could you give me the link for the source (I’m not trolling, AFAIR youth was also rather hard hit – or you take into account better adaptation of young people for a new reality?)

    • sprfls says:

      I personally know someone that transported bricks of hash from Uzbekistan to Moscow as a med school student. This would’ve been the early 70s. How common usage was, I can’t say.

    • Dmitriy says:

      You know nothing about history of Russia.

      Cannabis was a common recreational drug in the countryside during summer work. Cities used lots of cocaine and opiates up to 20-30’s (when the population was changed, for a large degree). Central Asia and Caucasus was on opiates and other stuff constantly.

      But the problem of vodka (thanks Comrade Stalin, czars and other shit-people) was (and is) much more serious. Opiate epidemics of late 80s-early 90s did happen, but after society adapted (users died out), the problem fall to a “normal” level (worser than in the West, but no drug addicts stealing wild Papaver in the countryside). Now we have chemical shit, but in a decade this problem will also solve itself. Wait for immigrant drug-usage patterns to become “known on TV” later.

  3. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    In The Autobiography of Jack Woodford, the author, who was born in 1894 and grew up in Chicago, fondly recalls snorting pulverized Bayer heroin tablets in his youth.

    “How am I going to make you younger people believe, for instance, that in my teens you got heroin like this-a-way. I went to a drugstore on North Clark Street. I asked for some heroin. The man gave me a little brown bottle with uncut heroin tablets in it, direct from the pharmaceutical company. He had no idea who I was, nor did he care.”

    [Woodford, Jack. The Autobiography of Jack Woodford (Kindle Locations 2783-2786). askmar publishing. Kindle Edition.]

    He had learned how to snort it from a newspaperman. Heroin isn’t cannabis, but Woodford certainly was using it as a recreational drug.

    According to Licit & Illicit Drugs by Edward M. Brecher and the editors of Consumer Reports, there were over 500 “tea pads” (marijuana dens) in New York City by the 1930s (see chapter 55), so it was around. I’ve read that it was especially popular in the jazz scene, back when jazz was popular.

    • ziel says:

      “I’ve read that it was especially popular in the jazz scene…”

      Yes, that was a classic go-to line for night club comedians – crack a joke about the guys in the house band using drugs. Wouldn’t have been funny if it was common outside those circles.

      • dearieme says:

        Of the early jazzmen, Bix drank himself to death, Louis smoked reefers.

        Heroin was the thing for the bop players after the war; perhaps the first famous one was Charlie Parker. Cool players used it later on: too many to list, but including Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, ….

        • G Pinfold says:

          The loser’s Loser from that era was alto saxophonist, Art Pepper. He did two or three stretches, including a year at San Quentin. His bio Straight Life suggests that the justice system in 1950s California was not sympathetic to ‘dope fiends’, who could be arrested for track marks on their arms. By 1967 Pepper was in the synanon cult, one of the emerging players in the booming rehab industry.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          And Cole Porter is associated with cocaine:

          Some, they may go for cocaine.
          I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
          It would bore me terrifically, too.
          Yet I get a kick out of you.

          But on the other hand, he was … Cole Porter. He inhabited an extremely rarefied place in American culture as a high society personage who was also a pop culture artistic genius. Cole Porter is the exception the proves the rule that cocaine didn’t have much of a mass market foothold before the mid-1970s.

          In contrast, my late father in law was a professional big band musician in Chicago as a 16-year-old in 1945, and then became a classical musician who also performed jazz. So he was probably at about the 97th percentile of hepness in the 1945-1963 era. Yet, the stories I’ve heard about him and substance abuse all involve alcohol, which he had a brief problem with after his mother died in the 1980s, but then he rather quickly willed himself into moderation.

          I presume that as a full time professional musician, which must be the single most drug-oriented profession, he was exposed to more exotic drugs than liquor, but they weren’t a big deal in his life.

          Granted, he didn’t approve of the changes in American life that came around the time of The Beatles, but that had more to do with economics. As the union leader of the Chicago Lyric Opera’s musicians, he disapproved of electric amplification, which made being a professional musician less of a trade requiring lots of musicians and a more of a winner-take-all bid for superstardom.

          So that one data point supports Greg’s contention that drugs weren’t a big part of American culture before 1964.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            The only relative I had who abused drugs was the husband of one of my aunts. He had many strikes against him. He was a jazz musician and he smoked marijuana. His daughter recently told me that the last time he was taken into custody they gave him a pre-frontal lobotomy.

            I personally don’t care for jazz but that treatment seems a tiny bit drastic.

    • The Z Blog says:

      In 1894 Bayer re-synthesized heroin trying to produce codeine. They sold as a cough and cold medicine. Today, a dealer selling that would be murdered by one of his users for passing off fake drugs.

      As far as marijuana, they were called “jazz cigarettes” for the reason your suggest. But, the quality and availability was light years away from anything since the explosion of drug taking in the 60’s.

      I think what Greg is getting at is these exceptions were exactly that, exceptions. Drug taking was not common prior to the 60’s. In the 1950’s 90% of teens had never known someone, who had used recreational drugs. By the 70’s, 90% of teens knew someone taking recreational drugs. That’s a big shift.

      • gcochran9 says:

        In a given place, the shift happened faster than that: four years, maybe.

        • DdR says:

          Was it the advent of rock&roll? I’m not understanding why 1964 was such a pivotal year. Vietnam? Television?

        • The Z Blog says:

          The timing corresponds with the break down of racial barriers. In Boston, for example, Italian gangsters controlled the nightclubs in the black neighborhoods in the post-war years. They took some pride in keeping the drugs out of the white areas. By the 70’s the same gangsters were running the drug trade in the old Irish and Italian neighborhoods.

          I wonder what drug taking rates in the black population were like before and after the 60’s. Recreational drug use may have followed music out of the black community and into the white community. That suggests the same forces that broke down racial segregation could have broke down taboos/resistance to recreational drug use.

          • DdR says:

            Holy cow, that is a big statement: the proliferation of drug-use in American society began after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

            Making the statement that intermingling with blacks caused the significant spike of non-alcohol drug use would send my liberal friends into a conniption.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I think it’s untrue.

            • The Z Blog says:

              Ha. No. There’s no doubt that drug use was associated with black culture prior to the 60’s. In a highly segregated society, behavior associated with one side would be a taboo on the other. After Prohibition ended, FDR turned the Prohibition Bureau into the Federal Narcotics Bureau. They immediately began to campaign against things like marijuana. The campaign was deliberately racist, associating drug use with Mexicans and blacks.

              Once racism became bad, racist arguments against drug taking no longer made any sense.

            • Greying Wanderer says:

              if different groups can have a different “normal” drug then if two groups like that mix you might get crossover

              monkey see, monkey do
              monkey no see, monkey no do

              if true then you might see an increase in alcohol related problems among black people at the same time?

              from the sound of it a similar thing may have happened in Russia with alcohol as the “normal” in European Russia and hash/heroin as the “normal” in Central Asia.

  4. Sandgroper says:

    Opium dens in Victorian London. Conan-Doyle’s references to Holmes’ habitual use of cocaine must have been based on something he observed in real life. Cocaine in the original formulation of Coca Cola.

    Then there was this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_School_Confidential_(film) which came out in 1958 and was all about drugs being peddled in secondary schools, with depictions of people smoking ‘reefers’ and injecting heroin intravenously. My parents took me to see it as a way of warning me to stay away from drug peddlers hanging around schools.

    Heroin was originally developed as pain medication in the early 20th Century, I think, but they had to discontinue its use due to addiction in patients and criminalise its use to try to stop it spreading. (And we’ve all seen how successful that was.)

    Surely some WWII vets must have become addicted to morphine. I’ve had loads of the stuff, both orally and intravenously, and detest it, but it is definitely highly addictive to some people. I got sent home from a public hospital last year with a large bottle of it to keep at home for self-administration when I needed it, dose to be adjusted as I saw fit, which frankly astonished me a bit. I hated it so much I ended up pouring it down the toilet. Also, once before in a public hospital, I ripped out myself an intravenous drip that was delivering it to my arm, after I had demanded that the nurse remove it and the doctor said I needed to stay on it for another 24 hours. I preferred the pain to that vile stuff.

    • jb says:

      Just curious — exactly what bad effect does morphine have on you? I’ve never used recreational drugs, or even taken a pain killer stronger than Tylenol 3 (for a painful ear infection — it was moderately helpful), so I have no frame of reference for this. But I was under the impression that taking strong opiates resulted in a pleasant drowsy euphoric high, and I’m interested in hearing from someone whose reaction is different.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I don’t get any pleasant feeling or euphoric high from morphine, either intravenously or orally. It does take the edge off pain. But I definitely feel (and can see) myself physically wasting away while I’m on it. And it gives me the most dreadful constipation; I mean, seriously bad. I just feel much better when I get off it, even if it means I have to tolerate more pain – at least that way I’m not turning into a muscle-wasted skeleton. I don’t understand how anyone could get hooked on it, but obviously some people do.

        I have a whole different reaction to pethidine – absolute euphoria, followed immediately by sleep. But the more you take pethidine, the less euphoric effect it has, and it has a short half-life, which means the pain comes back a lot sooner than you can have another dose. As a one-off, administered intravenously, it will take away the pain of anything, but for a chronic problem it soon becomes ineffective. Pethidine is also obviously highly addictive (something like 640 medical practitioners in Australia were caught for self-administering it and getting themselves hooked on it), and I’ve had a ton of pethidine too, and enjoyed it, but I never had any problem with addiction to it. When it was time to come off it, no problem.

        • Sandgroper says:

          I should probably add that I have no history of drug use either, other that when I was receiving medical treatment, and have never felt tempted to use drugs recreationally.

      • SMack says:

        The downside of opioids comes down to tolerance and withdrawal. That, and as noted, torture-grade constipation.

        Some people arent sensitive to the flower of joy. They take it for pain and hate it, and quit it quick as they can. But those who like it, like it immediately and a lot. They all tell the same story: great high, better than booze, better than sex, but tolerance comes calling in a matter of DAYS. If 10mg gets you to Valhalla on Monday, then by Sunday it’ll moderately enhance your enjoyment of ice cream. A week or two after that, you need those 10mg just to avoid feeling bad. If you solve that problem by doubling to 20mg, the same happens again, except that the amount of bad feeling due on cessation more than doubles.

        How bad is the bad part? Well, if they’d used “Oxy giveth, Oxy taketh away” at Abu Ghraib, they wouldn’t have needed anything else and the pictures from inside would’ve all looked perfectly innocent…to the opioid naieve.

        • spottedtoad says:

          A relative who knew a lot of heavy drug-users opined that cocaine addicts turn into assholes if you take it away, heroin addicts die.

          • SMack says:

            Weird thing is, the coke users are also assholes before they run out. Most accurate film depiction of cocaine: the folie a deux sequence in Boogie Nights where two talentless and tasteless porn morons imagine they are promising musicians. Whoever wrote that knows the secret of stimulant-induced mania.

            About withdrawal: it’s the alcoholics who die, and to a lesser extent the benzo-ites.

            Heroin addicts don’t die from withdrawal, but do when they quit and suddenly go back, thanks to dosage errors.

            Coke heads die of CHF and the like…or they get killed by sober people who can’t stand their endless self-absorbed chatter. Think Sheen circa 2010.

        • Trut Tella says:

          My understanding is that in prisons where actions directed at prisoners are driven by the need to gather intelligence, rather than the perversity of bisexual malcontents with short women syndrome in the military police, use of opoids in interrogation is quite frequent.

    • Jim says:

      When I was a child I had several orthopedic operations to correct the effects of polio. The pain after one of the operations was pretty bad and they gave me morphine. I recall looking forward eagerly to the injections. However after leaving the hospital I never afterwards had any desire to use it.

    • Jim says:

      One of the earlier Holmes stories involves a London opium den.

  5. Sandgroper says:

    I don’t think there was much of anything before the Victorian period, though. The Elizabethans seemed to be pretty impressed by tobacco and chocolate, which suggests they were not accustomed to anything except alcohol that had any more profound effects.

  6. wkwillis says:

    Is this supposed to be some kind of joke? How could you not know about this?
    But Woodford might have been exaggerating. I don’t think a pharmacist from back when drugs were legal would dispense to anybody below 18 without a note from their mother saying it was because baby was teething or grandma had arthritis.

    • Stary Wylk says:

      I disagree. In 1960 it was common for me to be sent to the store for a pack of Winstons and a loaf of bread. I was nine. People were far more trusting then.

  7. MawBTS says:

    At the same time they were quite sure that you could move mountains via medium-sized changes in the marginal tax rate.

    Have you seen Heritage’s 2001 analysis of the Bush tax cuts?

    “Under President Bush’s plan, an average family of four’s inflation-adjusted disposable income would increase by $4,544 in fiscal year (FY) 2011, and the national debt would effectively be paid off by FY 2010.”

    fucking lol

    • Dale says:

      You do have to be careful reading that, though. They say “average family” — does that mean median or mean? Given the disproportionate benefits at the top of the income distribution, I’d expect that the mean has increased while the median has at best stagnated.

      Also, it seems that basically nobody realized just how intense the effects of China entering the world market would be.

  8. MawBTS says:

    What about street harassment?

    Much has been written about how women are frequently sexually propositioned on the street by strange men (as seen here, for example). Minorities do it more, but white men do it a lot, too.

    Did this exist back in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s New York? Probably. “Fuck everything that moves” is a pretty universal male reproductive strategy. Was it as common? I don’t think so. Women liked to get out in the 20s and 30s – movies, dancing, the whole nine. I haven’t read anything that would indicate this was a huge social ill back in the day.

    • Wency says:

      Is a catcall the same as a sexual proposition? Because that’s mostly what she’s receiving.

      I think a very small percentage of catcalls are sincere attempts at bedding a woman. The kind of guys who do them are just having fun, and they’re exhibiting a bit of swagger that probably pays off in other situations.

      The “Wolf Whistle” trope is quite old, at least the 1930s. The “Construction Catcall” is probably newer, but it still seems old to me.

      I fully expect an attractive woman in a flattering dress walking through the Little Italy of, say, Godfather Part II flashbacks (1917) would receive her fair share of catcalls. They might be a bit less crude than today (None of, “Dat ass!”).

      What is definitely newer is dressing in a way that draws male attention, taking umbrage at that attention, and then being taken seriously.

  9. Dale says:

    (I’m drawing from my memory of “Licit and Illicit Drugs”, published by Consumer Reports of all people. It’s a history of drug-taking in Western culture.) The general pattern in Western culture is that whenever a new drug, or a more intense form of an existing drug, is introduced, there’s a bubble in addition for 100 years or so, despite inevitable efforts of the authorities to suppress it.

    Examples are numerous: The invention of gin distilling in the 1700s, leading to “Gin Lanes”. The introduction of tobacco in the 1600s. The proliferation of opium and morphine preparations in the late 1800s. An upsurge in marijuana smoking in the 1920s. (Used by J. Edgar Hoover to get the FBI funded.) The invention of commercially-rolled cigarettes (a heavy-dosage form of tobacco) in the early 1900s. The invention of crack cocaine (an inexpensive form of cocaine) in the 1980s.

    What the book doesn’t address is why the bubbles end. My suspicion is natural selection: getting addicted to the drug du jour to the point of messing up your life must be strongly selected against, and there must be a strong biochemical basis to any addition. Evidence for this would be whether groups isolated from Western vices suddenly develop waves of addiction when they gain access to Western drugs.

    • Mitchell Powell says:

      “My suspicion is natural selection: getting addicted to the drug du jour to the point of messing up your life must be strongly selected against, and there must be a strong biochemical basis to any addition.”

      Maybe for alcohol over thousands of years. But if you think decreases in tobacco and cocaine use in this century are driven by natural selection, it’s time to go plug a bunch of different numbers into the breeder’s equation to disabuse yourself of that silly idea.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I question it even for alcohol in Australia. Australians just don’t realise how alcohol-driven their culture is, because they never get the chance that I got, to view their culture from an external stand point living in a culture that really doesn’t care much about alcohol at all. OK, getting snooty about wine has replaced drinking methylated spirits mixed with orange juice on Sundays when the alcohol outlets were shut, but it doesn’t change the basic fact that modern Australian culture basically revolves around ethyl alcohol. Other drugs are a problem, sure, but the police will tell you that the main problem chemical that causes a whole spectrum of societal fuck ups is alcohol, meth addicts sleeping in the city streets of the largest cities notwithstanding.

      • Dale says:

        OTOH, what I’ve seen in the popular press is “They ain’t no old crckheads.”, which suggests that the mortality of crack addiction may be over 50%. But as I said, “getting addicted to the drug du jour to the point of messing up your life”, and it seems that tobacco doesn’t reach that level of addiction, though a number of others do.

        • Mitchell Powell says:

          Well, you could try to extrapolate a death rate from the saying “They ain’t no old crckheads.”

          Another alternative would be try and find how many people die of cocaine overdoses each year, and then divide that by the number of people who use cocaine in a given year, to give you an annual death rate for cocaine use. Or you could search for raw mortality rates for crack cocaine users. You could also google to find out what percent of users of various hard drugs quit using eventually.

          If you had done any one of those things, you wouldn’t be suggesting an above-50% mortality rate for crack cocaine addicts.

        • ckp says:

          crack epidemic began in 1984, hasn’t been enough time for crackheads to get old yet ..

  10. Greying Wanderer says:

    monkey see, monkey do

    if they don’t see it, the idea never crosses their mind

    caveat: different populations can have a different “normal” recreational drug e.g. growing up marijuana was still a black thing

    • ckp says:

      compare also: khat chewing in yemen

    • TWS says:

      I never saw multigenerational drug use together until the ’90’s. Plenty of families that had everyone using drugs but usually they kept use of it to their own age group (siblings/cousins, husband/wife etc.).

      I didn’t know anyone who used drugs in the sixties. I knew damn few kids who didn’t in the seventies. Everyone used alcohol and was more casual about it. Cops would let you off with a warning or even just drive you home. Now it’s jail and a tow for your car.

  11. SMack says:

    Amphetamine abuse was well known before 1964. It got a good start among some populations during the war and kept tweaking along after.

    Likewise barbiturates, which peaked in the 50s, before giving way to benzos.

    Opioids have been abused wherever available, since forever.

    The only drug that really fits this story is weed.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “Classical Antiquity

      “In classical Greece and Rome, only alcohol, the oldest documented compound of abuse, poses a
      significant problem. Opium is widely employed only as a medicine; great caution is advised in its
      use, it is seldom used alone, and the phenomena of dependence and abuse are not recorded. While
      cannabis use is widespread in Asia Minor and Assyria, there appears to be little use of cannabis in
      Greek and Roman cultures. ”

      since forever? Definitely looks as if alcohol was the only significant thing in the Western world from Classical times until after 1800.

      From this source, interesting. Looks as if there was more use of opiates in the general population of Victorian England than I had thought, but it’s hard to get a quantitative feel – for example how did it compare with the pub?

      I hadn’t heard of Catholics using ether in Ulster.

      • SMack says:

        One thing to remember is that most people (then, as now) would have been introduced to opioids by a doctor…and as we know, having anything to do with physicians was until recently one of the riskiest habits around. Surely more dangerous than injecting black tar today.

        If the West had fewer opium eaters in the days before Coleridge, it’s probably just because that initial visit to the surgeon was killing half the addicts before they could become addicted, and get themselves properly noticed as such.

      • syonredux says:

        “From this source, interesting. Looks as if there was more use of opiates in the general population of Victorian England than I had thought, but it’s hard to get a quantitative feel – for example how did it compare with the pub?”

        Doctors were pretty free with laudanum in the 19th century. And you do hear about well-off ladies who were hooked on the stuff.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Amphetamines were big in Britain in the postwar era, especially as an aide to dancing late into the night. Here’s the Kinks’ last great song, “Come Dancing,” which skip over the speed but otherwise gives a pretty good portrait of the how big social dancing remained in working class England:

        But amphetamines are a difficult drug to trace in cultural history because they don’t seem to change tastes and art the way marijuana, cocaine, and, especially, LSD did. For example, we can track the impact of LSD on Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys’ songwriting pretty much down to the day (e.g., He wrote “California Girls” immediately after taking LSD for the first time). Likewise, I could probably guess pretty accurately which famous 1970s Italian-American directors’ movies were made on cocaine. Feelings of grandiosity are part of the package.

        Amphetamines, in contrast, were more of a performance enhancing drug rather than a recreational drug. My vague impression is that they didn’t really change the culture too much other than speed it up.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          I’m not even that sure that opiates change the culture all that much. Or maybe I just skipped over the parts of the album in which the band is nodding off.

          The single most publicized drug in history relative to the number of times somebody took it was LSD, which was soon of great interest to top writers: Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson etc.. Wolfe says that his book about Kesey was easy to write because so many of Kesey’s friends were outstanding writers themselves, such Larry McMurtry (who recently married Kesey’s widow).

          In contrast, the rise of steroids in the 1980s has inspired quite a few movies, but few serious works of literature (“Muscle” by Sam Fussell is likely the best known).

          I wrote last year in Taki’s Magazine:


          The explosion of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s was part of the delayed hedonistic reaction to the stringent conditions of the Depression and WWII era. But their use tended to be volubly rationalized at the time on revolutionary or utopian principles.

          In contrast, the rise of steroids was more furtive, since people who use performance enhancers can’t persuasively claim that they want to overthrow the social order when they clearly just want to be able to work harder at getting ahead within it.

    • syonredux says:

      “Amphetamine abuse was well known before 1964. It got a good start among some populations during the war and kept tweaking along after.

      Likewise barbiturates, which peaked in the 50s, before giving way to benzos.”

      Anthony Eden was on benzedrine during the Suez Crisis….

  12. dearieme says:

    Keeping baby quiet with a preparation containing opium was standard Victorian fare.

    • R. says:

      I recall there was a folk remedy involving some sort of broth made or infusion out of poppy seeds. But I heard this in eastern Europe, and apparently it was what people used.

  13. Frank says:

    I am not back projecting here, but huge amounts of people were taking opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, etc. in the time peroids you mention, and in small town Illinois.

    But they didn’t get them from a dealer, they just bought them at a drug store, or from a snake-oil salesman, or the grocery store, or just got it from their family doctor.

    If you look at advertisements in old newspapers in the midwest, they have plenty of printed ads for heroin and cocaine.

    My grandfather was a physician, and my grandma still has his old medical bag he took on house calls; it’s full of opium tablets, which were also prescribed for emotional pain in those days.

    Even Coca-Cola had unaltered Coca leaves in it from 1885 to 1906.

    This kind of talk reminds me of a lot of Indian people I know, who swear that they would NEVER use drugs. Yet 100% of them drink Bhang during Holi when they are back home in India. They absolutely won’t even believe that it is the same thing as Marijuana in the west, which they would never touch. If you asked them, they would say they don’t do drugs.

    Just like my grandma would say she doesn’t, as she pulls out her box of pills each morning.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Of course, after the Harrison Narcotics act of 1914, the patent medicines with cocaine and opiates disappeared. The customers went cold turkey without much trouble – no big black market developed.

      So, what recreational chemicals were young people taking in 1850 or 1900 or 1950? Alcohol: nothing else, almost everywhere in the Western world.

      • albatross says:

        Would we know if there had been big problems of this kind? (It’s not obvious to me that we would know if there had been a noticeable black market in these drugs afterwards, if the authorities didn’t spend much time pursuing it and there wasn’t much media splash from them.). If there was a large population taking heroin regularly, it’s hard to see how a sudden cutoff of the supply wouldn’t have led to withdrawal symptoms.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Withdrawal from opiates isn’t that big a deal, physically.

          • syonredux says:

            “Withdrawal from opiates isn’t that big a deal, physically.”

            Talked to a doctor friend about heroine withdrawal once. He told me that the Hollywood version was, as you might expect. OTT. Said that actual withdrawal felt about as bad as a case of the flu.

            • R. says:

              But that’s just the physical symptoms, right?

              In my experience, withdrawal from a purely behavioral addiction can be fairly unpleasant. Irritability, inability to sleep, constantly audible heartbeat and feeling like I’m suffocating even though I can breathe normally.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Writers liked to write about the effects of drugs on them, so it shouldn’t be that hard to track down evidence. For example:

          “”Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821) is an autobiographical account written by Thomas De Quincey, about his laudanum (opium and alcohol) addiction and its effect on his life. The Confessions was “the first major work De Quincey published and the one which won him fame almost overnight…”[1]

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Absinthe may or maybe didn’t have psychoactive properties beyond plain alcohol. In any case, the rumors attracted a lot of famous artists:

          “Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the late 18th century. It rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, the consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron and Alfred Jarry were all known absinthe drinkers.[7]”

          On the other hand, it’s very much associated with Paris, New Orleans, and a few other big cities, suggesting it wasn’t common in the American hinterland.

          • TWS says:

            When you’re taking meth because it’s cheaper than anything but the cheapest alcohol you’re not likely to try something that costs fifty dollars a bottle no matter whether there’s a green fairy involved or not.

      • albatross says:

        Nicotine in tobacco was quite common over a lot of that span of time, with cigarettes as a really effective drug delivery device.

        I wonder how much addiction and related social problems come down to the method of dosing (pipe vs cigarettes, injected heroin vs pills) and the social context (doctor-prescribed amphetamines vs meth cooked in someone’s basement; cocaine vs crack).

        • SMack says:

          You’re wondering in the right direction. Route of administration is key, where shooting is worst (or best, from an addict’s point of view), followed by smoking, then sniffing, with swallowing last.

          Junkies reliably move one way on that continuum. It makes a proper basehead cry to watch someone waste cocaine by merely sniffing it. And one of the few things that motivates a heroin addict to seek treatment is when they’ve run out of veins, and can’t hack the step down to IM or dragon chasing.

          • TWS says:

            Spent an evening getting a prisoner processed into a big county jail once. The line through the sally port went at least fifty yards stacked with officers and dirt bags. The officer in front of me had a guy who was high on something and had done ‘cut downs’ on the veins in his arms one side was infected and literally squirted pus soaking his bandage everytime he moved. The officer couldn’t set him down because the floor was filthy but he leaned him against the wall. It was the grossest thing I had seen someone do to himself upto that point. I’ve seen much worse since then.

  14. John Galt says:

    Residential college attendance (variation on “Monkey See”):
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93442.pdf, Figure 14, Page 65, Enrollment in institutions of higher education, by sex: 1869-70 to 1990-91

  15. dearieme says:

    It was so sudden you have to wonder whether it was a KGB initiative.

  16. JayMan says:

    “but from every bit of evidence I have, the Greeks and the Romans, the Elizabethans and the Founders and Victorians – just didn’t spend much time getting baked. Drunk, sure.”

    Maybe that’s the kicker?

    I should look to see if (estimated) rates of alcohol and street drug consumption are such that drug use replaced some of the alcohol use.

    • jasonbayz says:

      In the 1960s alcohol consumption per capita increased:

      I wonder if you’ll see any effect on alcohol consumption from legal marijuana in Colorado and Washington. I couldn’t find any data that’s that recent.

  17. David Epstein says:

    I went to junior high in New York City in the Mid Fifties. Our class mother (white) was arrested for heroin dealing.

  18. Alchohol has the advantage of being a pretty sterile and dense way to store calories, in addition to its psychoactive effects. Before canning and refrigeration came along as alternatives that must have made it intrinsically valuable. There are other ways to store calories (livestock as Reserves of calories, as Plagues and Peoples describes) but alchohol seems like a pretty convenient one.

    So we can explain its widespread use partially through that.

    Then why did tobacco become so widespread?

    Harder to explain. Easy answer is its addictive. But I don’t know enough (aka anything) about the history of tobacco to guess at other reasons it became so popular.

    It’s pretty interesting that drug use in Western Civilization (and China) is much lower than in more primitive societies. I’m never quite sure how much credence to give to arguments that psychoactive drug use was widespread but it does seem like some groups did use drugs at least occasionally.

    Ibogaine, Datura, Ayahuasca, Coca leaf chewing in Peru, Strychnine from Nux Vomica (there’s an interesting trip report of this on r/nootropics, incidentally), shrooms.

    Is it a coincidence that Western Civilization didn’t grow up, metaphorically, with those drugs in hand?

    • Frank says:

      We really have no clue about earlier cultures in Europe, but if modern Europe emerged from a large number of migrations of people from different climates, then alcohol is the logical choice. You can obtain it from any fruit or grain, and it remains sterile for years if you have pottery technology.

      100 year old wine costs a fortune, 1 year old pot will ruin your reputation.

      Plants or mushrooms or chemicals that must be consumed somewhat fresh couldn’t become worldwide issues at all until quick transportation or electricity allowed them to be become economically feasible.

      Also, kids had more spare change after 1964, and they had more books and magazines and friends from other places.

      This is kind of like wondering why people are able to win at trivia when they have internet access. People want it, and now they know it exists, and they can buy it.

      Plus, drug dealers have finally found out that there is a market.

      If you can buy a dozen fresh roses grown in Colombia on Feb. 14th, then you can buy fresh drugs produced in Colombia the same week.

      • Frank says:

        It seems like this was also about the time people started asking if you were old enough to be drinking, while you were clearly old enough to be drafted.

    • dearieme says:

      Alcohol was also a way to make water safe to drink.

      • spottedtoad says:

        You probably don’t need much more justification for alcohol-tolerance among Europeans other than that it was a good source of calories and probably reduced water-borne infections. I do wonder though if alcohol has particular benefits for reconciling relatively independently-minded folks to group living. And alcohol is used quite deliberately in our current society, by otherwise rather goal-oriented and self-actualizing people, to get themselves drunk enough to be sociable. College co-eds, for example, will deliberately drink a fair amount in someone’s dorm room before going out to a party, even one where alcohol will be served. Steve Sailer has at various times noted that Hillary Clinton is by all reports a quite heavy drinker, which is interesting in of itself, and is probably not all that ideal for a probably future president who has had some health issues; but it also strikes me that she is someone who is unusually inclined towards adopting the intellectual flavors of her milieu. Trump’s teetotaling may be connected to his being relatively impervious to what other people think; also connected perhaps to his rather inconstant personal life.

        Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants by Wolfgang Schivelbusch is an enjoyable read about the transition between Europe as an alcohol-centric society to one that also loved coffee,tea, and cigarettes, even if the book is a bit over-argued and over-psychologized in parts.

        • Peter Lund says:

          The Donald’s big brother drank himself to death.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          The nature-nurture question is whether alcohol allows people to evolve a serious personality for work, and then put on a sociable personality after work by having a drink.

          • spottedtoad says:

            Right, it’s interesting that some East Asian groups appeared to have particular evolved traits discouraging them from drink– it could be that those alleles never showed up among Europeans so they could be selected for, it could be that Europeans didn’t have as good alternative sources of calories available (so the disadvantages of drinking didn’t make up for the obvious advantages), or it could be something special about Europeans that makes drinking a good fit for the personality/culture.

            • Steve Sailer says:

              I remember an Amy “Joy Luck Club” Tan work of fiction in which she mentions an awkward moment when she introduces her white boyfriend to her Chinese parents. He gives them a bottle of wine, which they aren’t very good at acting enthusiastic about. Why? It will take them a year or more to finish it and it will just take up shelf space until they can finally toss the empty out.

  19. Tom Y says:

    Regarding drugs in China from the 3rd to 10th century.

  20. Jan says:

    During the Great War wealthier British officers would receive Fortnum & Mason hampers from their families. Packed with goodies, to make life on the Western Front more bearable, they often included a supply of cocaine.

  21. spottedtoad says:

    In Himachal Pradesh, in India, it’s pretty funny to watch guys walk along the road, grab a handful of wild-growing cannabis, roll it up and smoke it. In Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, all the kids would have stained teeth from chewing khat, and would be talking a mile a minute, which I guess is what you’d expect.

    • Dale says:

      And chewing coca leaves is famously ubiquitous in the Andes.

      Which points out that there’s a question about what the question is. Certainly the indigenes chew coca for its psychoactive effects, but seemingly not as a recreational activity per se. Purified cocaine was exported to the US and Europe as a patent medicine before being banned. Purified powder cocaine was exported to the US, where affluent people use it for strong high but the number of heavily-messed-up addicts is relatively low. Crack was a packaging innovation which allowed poor people to become addicted to it, and many of them did, and spiraled into self-destruction.

      Which of these do we count as crossing the line to “getting baked”? The pattern seems to be the improvements of technology (and the increase in disposable income) allowing more and more people to take the drug in more and more intense forms.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        My father and I toured South America in 1978. Peru was undergoing an economic crisis and political uprising in Lima, with a curfew, the Army in the streets, guys sprinting to get home before curfew, political graffiti everywhere.

        When we got to Cuzco at 11,000 feet, there wasn’t much political tension, but there was no heat in the hotel due to the national economic disaster. It was about 45 degrees F indoors. The hotel staff gave everybody in the tour group the traditional coca tea, which definitely re-energized us tourists, who had been numbed by the altitude and cold. I can recall my father energetically turning on all the lights in our hotel room to warm it up, and me giggling as I tried, ineffectually, to explain to him that he was high.

  22. sprfls says:

    A Scythian “golden artifact” (read: bong) tested positive for opium and cannabis. May or may not be considered Western. There’s also that Siberian mummy that was buried with a bunch of weed on her person.

    IIRC there are some references that may refer to recreational Cannabis use in the Classical world too. Pliny spoke of the “laughing leaf” which he associated with Central Asia. Galen described special hemp-laden desserts that used to be consumed at weddings and such — their effects sure sound like weed brownies. But yeah, that’s very thin evidence, and certainly not of widespread use.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Herodotus wrote about Scythian use of weed.

      • Bla says:

        Massagetaean if I remember correctly. And he added they were as intoxicated by it as Greeks with wine. Which shows he probably expected most of his readers not to know anything about weed, adding to your point.

      • sprfls says:

        Yup. In saunas.

        To get a little out there I’d go further and bet that Cannabis was spread/domesticated out of central Asia quite early on by something like proto-ANE people, and it’s historical use would map quite well to ANE ancestry.

  23. sprfls says:

    What do you make on the finding in that recent Neanderthal paper that found associations between Neanderthal alleles and tobacco use?

  24. Steve Sailer says:

    My vague impression of the service branches in WWII is that:

    The air corps handed out the most amphetamines (pilots need to be alert at all times they are flying).
    The navy was obsessed with coffee (mariners need to stay awake, but not quite as on edge like pilots).
    The army gave out the most billions of cigarettes (soldiers have a lot of hurry up and wait, and tobacco is good for calming the nerves while maintaining focus and giving you something to do with your hands).

  25. Dale says:

    Many thanks for your first paragraph, which is one of the best commentaries on this subject. I’ve copied it into my commonplace book.

    In regard to motivations, there was the example of American GIs in Vietnam, many of whom used heroin recreationaly. Apparently it was cheap and at least de facto legal there. There was a huge worry about getting discharged GIs unhooked from heroin, but the problem didn’t materialize, the vast majority weren’t addicted and so weren’t motivated to pay for heroin in the US.

    OTOH I’ve read in motivational books “an alcoholic is someone who can find a drink in Tehran on Friday night.”

    As for the inflection point in 1964, I suspect the major factor is that was when you started observing drug-taking behaviors in real-time rather than reading histories, which tend to down-play the doings of the disreputable and insignificant.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You suspect wrongly. I saw it go from non-existent to common. In 1970 you had to hold your breath in the dorms to avoid getting high: in 1960 nobody had that experience.

  26. Pingback: The Great Western Rage Virus | The Z Blog

  27. As a homage to ‘Confessions..’ American author published https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hasheesh_Eater in the middle of the 1850ies. The article even notes that it had some cultural impact, such as “Hasheesh Candy” being advertised.

  28. AllenM says:

    What happened was the end of “in loco parentis” in colleges- that combined with the freedoms that arrived in the 1960s spelled pot and booze galore in college dorms.

    After all, if the prevention of pregnancy has now devolved to the individual woman with the advent of the pill, the need for control of curfew and access to women’s dorms is now gone.

    Viola, anything goes, because the institution willingly ran from trying to control students to trying to survive students sitting in and protesting, plus questioning everything that the institution stood for in the first place.

    In my opinion, the student rebellion of the 1960s was a tremendous sea change in society, and the libertarian freedoms that came at 18 were not foreseen in the raising of that generation. So, given the absolute freedom, they abused it.

    Now children are raised to deal with that freedom, and now understand that the world is far more dangerous and uncontrolled, or they are totally sheltered and then go wild away from home.

    I think people are wishing for a return to the controlled society that resulted from WW2 and the Great Depression- and finding those societal controls no longer exist.

    Very interesting.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      A lot of the insanity of our times (e.g., Rolling Stone’s “Haven Monahan” hoax) may be due to parents wanting colleges to reinstate in loco parentis, but not having the vocabulary to state it in “appropriate” terms.

  29. I grew up during this time of great change. You can’t see the forest through the trees is a fine cliche that means we didn’t see what was and is happening right around us. I headed off to a college full of bright happy young partiers who stupidly had very positive attitudes about taking drugs. So we took them. Guess what happened. Pot made you sit on the couch and giggle. The other drugs all had very serious side effects, so we stopped taking them. We even got tired of getting drunk. All of it was novelty stuff that made for exciting weekends but after a while we all faced the obvious facts that continued hard partying was going to make us extremely unhappy. We didn’t know drugs were bad for us, but I would guess 98 percent of us bright college kids quickly figured it out. Now with all the obvious warnings there are large sections of our population that can’t it figure this out. You have to be crazy, stupid or a combination of both to choose meth, heroin, cocaine or whatever the next fashionable drug is.

    But we can’t blame stupidity anymore for people being obviously stupid. It is another one of those circa 1964 inflection points Cochran is talking about.

  30. Russ Tovich says:

    Just a thought but it might be due in part to what Sir John Glubb called “The Fate of Empires”.

    Click to access glubb.pdf

    Most of the Western World now seems to be in the Age of Decadence.

    As it was; so it shall be. 🙂

  31. Steve Sailer says:

    My impression is that America changed a lot between the JFK assassination on 11/22/63 and the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan 2/7/64.

  32. dearieme says:

    My first contact – other than the olfactory – with drugs was in the autumn of ’66. Some people at a student party were giggly with marijuana. They were all people I’d earlier classified as being “not right in the head”. I decided that it would be saner to stick to beer; its effects were well known, and I knew how to ration myself.

    In the early 70s when I had to supervise students, it seemed undeniable that booze did more harm than “drugs”: certainly more visible harm. Though I must say that a group of students who were entirely relaxed about marijuana handed over to me one of their number who had taken LSD. They were worried that the silly bugger would kill himself by launching himself off a landing into a stair-well. It turned out that the university had an understanding with the local police: the boy was handed over to the university psychiatric service.

  33. The stats are rising, but the awareness of the problem is also much higher than in the past, helped in part by the availability of photography:

  34. Chip Smith says:

    Some contrarian history and interesting linkage here:


    Suburban mid-century pill-popping (tranqs and amphetamines) seems pretty consistent with pharma advertising from the era. Licit or not, those were some serious drugs.

  35. tommy says:

    Why do you suppose the Greeks and Romans never took to cannabis even during their more decadent phases? They were certainly not unfamiliar with it medicinally–formulations containing it abound in the classical world-but it never seems to have become a popular recreational drug. The same could be said of opium. Both cannabis and opium can be cultivated in Greece and Italy though perhaps not optimally and whether the ancients even understood this fact isn’t really clear to me. Was the lack of interest in these substances a simple matter of the economics of imported luxuries versus everyday ethanol or was it some kind of social functioning problem?

    • tommy says:

      One thing to keep in mind is that while alcohol use abounds in the Med, alcoholism is apparently very uncommon in countries like Greece and Italy. Whether this was true thousands of years ago, I cannot say. There seem to be plenty of references to drunkenness in the old Eastern Med and the pre-Islamic Levant but whether this has any relationship to possible alcoholism rates back in the day, I don’t know. Alcohol is typically consumed in sub-intoxicating amounts. Marijuana and opium, used recreationally, are always consumed in intoxicating amounts. Perhaps disapproval of intoxication was more widespread than currently appreciated: the Spartans and Hebrews at least seem to have taken a dim view on drunkenness.

  36. R. says:

    Very doubtful that people were not getting high before 1960’s, even in the unusually strait-laced and un-fun US of A. I agree though that there was a big change in the 1960’s, in that drug use became something youth culture approved of, whereas before it was (I believe) more of a private thing.

    Codeine containing cough syrup and other medicines in the early up to late 20th century. I recall reading somewhere about cough syrup abuse being a real problem in certain places. (this book https://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Oblivion-Global-History-Narcotics/dp/0393325458 )

    This page lists a number of ‘medicinal’ products that contained what are now prohibited drugs..


    Huge market for these things, so people no doubt used them. Why’d they manufacture them otherwise.

    Earlier, patent medicines in the 19th century were usually fairly interesting concoctions, some of them essentially liquor, others contained opium or cocaine.

  37. albatross says:

    Off-topic: Greg is apparently writing for the Washington Post now, under an assumed name. And has decided to be evil.

  38. Greying Wanderer says:

    There is a percentage of artsy types motivated by doing the exact opposite of what is considered “normal” among their group so I think the poet opium eaters of the past aren’t exceptions to the general rule.

    These people were mostly harmless to everyone but themselves until the invention of TV when they were handed the means of mass persuasion.


  39. IA says:

    Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters traveled from CA to New York in 1964 in a brightly-painted ’39 International Harvester bus (photo here: http://www.frothyruminations.com/617-magic-trip/). The driver was none other than Neal Cassidy, the hero of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Tie-dyed tee-shirts, dropping acid and free love were their cri de guerre. See the 2011 film Magic Trip.

    So, you’ve got a new style of dressing, a new look in design which would come to be known as psychadelic, an interest in exploiting mass media and modern technology, a sophisticated self-awareness, the sexual revolution, the road trip, youth, and in general, an irreverence to middle-class propriety – all meant to subvert, baffle and shock the establishment squares. They were deplorable.

    Kesey and the rest could more or less take care of themselves, as do Hollywood movie stars. They have the talent, intelligence, and more importantly, money, to survive serial polygamy, drug addiction and lack of common sense. Unfortunately, the less lucky in life’s crap shoot (most of us) will never be able to lead a successful bohemian lifestyle because we are not born with the same qualities (or as the Greeks would say, telos, or ultimate potential and essence) given to life’s winners. And even they have their spectacular flame-outs.

  40. st says:

    In 1850-es Marx wrote that “Religion is opium for the masses”. It was a pamphlet for wide audience. We can extract from his analogy that his audience knew about the effects of the opiates too well for a bystander. We can also infer from this brief metaphor that the use of opiates was widespread in certain social stratas – in the same manner religion was widespread among commoners at this time. We can also infer that opiate use was not popular among “masses” at this point (Marx was seeing the clergy as a dealer of “false consciousness” -another curious metaphor, implying that Marx himself was not at all unfamilial with alternate states of mind. Will stop here…)
    Paraphrasing the same metaphor, if anything happened in 1964, the opiates became religion for the masses. After being endorsed for the role.
    Lenin’s interpretation was even funnier – ” Religion is opium for the masses, but we will make them switch the dealer and join us.”

  41. jorge says:

    is there going to be a follow-up post to this where you tell us what changed in 1964? My guess is the beatles 1964 world tour but i’m sure you have a more interesting theory in store.

  42. Philip Owen says:

    Laughing gas parties were responsible for much sexual impropriety, especially in the US. Its back in a big way in the UK.

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