by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the
government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be
enforced. - Albert Einstein
here’s a video of a cat, on acid
On this day in 1943, the psychedelic effects of LSD were accidentally discovered by chemist Albert Hoffman, who absorbed some through his fingertips while trying to synthesize pharmaceuticals. He described a “not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination” followed by “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” And thus, the “trip” was born. A few days later on April 19, Hoffman took acid on purpose and famously rode his bike home while “fried”—a day that would become known in drug circles as Bicycle Day. “I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD,” Hoffman said on his 100th birthday, “It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be.”
Since the drug’s inception, scientists, the military and even the CIA have attempted to harness the its hallucinogenic powers. It’s also been tested on animals (like the confused cat below, filmed as part of a US government program of the ’50s and ’60s). And many notables have used it recreationally, from Ray Charles, to Jack Nicholson to Eminem. Brave New World author Aldous Huxley was such a fan that he requested to be injected with LSD while he died; scientist Francis Crick credited the psychedelic for his discovery of the DNA double helix; and baseball great Dock Ellis famously pitched a no-hitter while “under the influence of LSD,” which he later called “the high-point of my baseball career.” Even modern technology hasn’t eclipsed acid’s appeal. In fact, the late Steve Jobs once cited LSD as a major factor in his success. “Doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life,” he told the New York Times, saying that he believed Bill Gates would “be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once.”
Washington Post editor David Maraniss‘ forthcoming book Barack Obama: The Story at points describes the president’s marijuana hijinks during his high-school and Occidental College days. Book excerpts posted online reveal that young Barack Obama frequently smoked marijuana, and he and his “choom gang” developed clever strategies for how to better maximize the impact of the “sticky-green.”
On its own, stories like these about a young adult are actually kind of funny, even humanizing — like something straight out of a stoner comedy. But when you realize it’s about President Obama, it becomes a little less humorous.
Less humorous because President Obama has repeatedly laughed off and dismissed serious discussion about drug policy, like in that 2009 virtual town hall where the president mocked online voters for picking a question about marijuana legalization.
Less humorous because the president shuts down medical marijuana dispensaries with a frequency that would have made Richard Nixon stand up and cheer. He presides over a DOJ, IRS, and DEA that have threatened, audited, and shut down legal pot sellers in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington. All this despite once promising to respect state laws regarding medical marijuana.
This is a still from an LSD experiment in the Fifties. Watch the video
It wasn’t really until the early 1960s that psychedelics, specifically psilocybin and LSD, began to be demonized en masse. Timothy Leary’s initially admirable attempt to spread information about psychedelics devolved into cult-of-personality-based recreational drug use. The Leary contingent’s rabble-rousing from their Millbrook, NY estate, coupled with Leary’s egotistical quest to become a countercultural icon (remember “turn on, tune in, drop out”?), ultimately helped to contribute to the poor perception psychedelics have faced historically by providing reference material for the Drug War propaganda machine.
Prior to the Leary Hour in psychedelic history, scientists enjoyed years of unfettered study and experimentation with drugs like LSD, mescaline and psilocybin. With the discovery of LSD in 1938 by chemist Albert Hoffman and its subsequent mass production by Sandoz Laboratories in 1947 as a psychiatric drug, the psychedelic study floodgates opened. Scientists examined psychedelics as treatments for everything from alcoholism and addiction to anxiety and depression. So popular was the study of hallucinogens that throughout the ’50s and ’60s, scientists administered psychedelics to some 40,000 patients across 1,000 clinical studies.
The slow death of prohibition | BBC News (March 2012)
When prohibition came into force, in 1920, saloons across the country were boarded up and the streets foamed with beer as joyful campaigners smashed kegs and poured bottles down the drain.
But far from ending corruption and vice, as opponents of the “demon rum” had hoped, prohibition led to an unprecedented explosion in criminality and drunkenness.
Thousands of speakeasies selling illegal liquor, often far stronger than legal varieties, sprang up across the country - and gangsters such as Al Capone fought bloody turf wars over the control of newly created bootlegging empires.
National prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, but it never quite died out.
When alcohol regulation was handed back to individual states, many local communities voted to keep the restrictions in place, particularly in the southern Bible Belt.
Today there are still more than 200 “dry” counties in the United States, and many more where cities and towns within dry areas have voted to allow alcohol sales, making them “moist” or partially dry.
[…] Methamphetamine and prescription pills like Oxycontin, dubbed “hillbilly heroin”, have taken over from bootlegging and the distillation of moonshine as the main source of profit for local criminals.
Bootleggers once “ran wild” in the area, according to Paul Croley, but with the growing availability of legal alcohol in wet towns, any profit made from smuggling booze across county lines has largely evaporated.
Local law enforcement largely turns a blind eye to bootleggers now, and few cases make it to court.
“It is simply somebody driving up the interstate, bringing beer down here and selling it to people. That’s it. It’s not the Dukes of Hazzard,” says Croley.
But the churches argue that alcohol is a “gateway” drug, and is still offered for sale by bootleggers alongside more dangerous substances.
An NYPD commissioner, John Leach, supervises the destruction of liquor during the height of prohibition.
“It will be no bad idea to lay away a ten years’ supply of corn whiskey strictly for medicinal purposes, and you will never regret it.”
This is an excerpt from pages 35-36 of The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization
Despite this traditional squeamishness about the topic of recreational drugs, a wealth of ancient literature shows that the Greco-Roman world actively indulged in numerous mind-altering substances of homegrown and foreign origins. Plants were the source of the pleasure-inducing drugs used to elevate the mood and enhance the senses. Opiates, anticholinergics, and psychotropic fungi were the drugs of choice in antiquity, but a number of unrelated toxins were also used to create the out-of-body experiences that the Greeks and Romans so craved. It may not be pleasant for some of us to admit it, but the texts clearly show that our most original and respected thinkers flourished within a culture that wholeheartedly embraced recreational drug use.
The Classical world understood that some drugs, whether mixed in wine, snorted, or smoked, could readily alter consciousness and considered the dramatic changes inbehavior that characterized these psychotropic substances to be a form of madness or insanity. Potent drugs and hallucinogenic poisons enabled their users to violate the limits of propriety by temporarily placing them in states that were clearly out of sync with the rest of society. This pharmacologically induced psychosis made drug users rave in a manner that was typically considered to be a sign of mania. Such insanity was not always the desired result of psychotropics; citizens of the ancient world typically used different types or smaller amounts of recreational drugs to induce mild euphoria, with no additional psychological side effects. Doctors, philosophers, and natural scientists traditionally recognized the potential for botanical drugs to have different effects on their users, including variations in potency due to the level of dosages and the natural strength of different species.
about the author: David Hillman pursued his Ph.D. in classics at UW-Madison. His topic was “pharmacy in Roman literature,” and he had the tedious task of poring over volumes of medical texts in Latin and Greek. He discovered that not only did the Greeks and Romans know a lot about herbal concoctions including opium, there was evidence that the use of some of these substances went beyond medical necessity. (via The Daily Page)
As it turns out, nutmeg contains a psychoactive element called myristicin, whose chemical structure shares similarities with mescaline, amphetamine, and ecstasy. A Dictionary of Hallucinations—let us pause for a moment to give thanks that we live in a world where such a reference exists—notes that nutmeg has been “reported to mediate visual, auditory, tactile, and kinaesthetic hallucinations (notably the sensation of floating).” This is not breaking news: the Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen noted the mind-altering effects of nutmeg all the way back in the 12th century.
Yet recreational use never seems to have taken off. I was naturally intrigued when I came across a punch recipe from 1694 that called for five pounds of grated nutmeg—at least until I saw that it also required the juice of 25,000 lemons. Still, I can’t help but suspect that nutmeg abuse could explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the colonial era. Imagine, for instance, a group of teenage nutmeg fiends staring into a fire late one night when one says, “You know what would be cool? A hat with three corners.”
The intoxicating properties of nutmeg have more recently been documented among musicians (the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker introduced it to his bandmates) and in prisons, where Malcolm X discovered that “a penny matchbox full of nutmeg had the kick of three or four reefers,” as he noted in his autobiography. Online research added confirmation, with one chronicler of the experience comparing it to smoking “three strong spliffs of good skunk,” and another writing that, when walking, he felt as though he was “floating to his destination.” The accounts said that the effects took a while to kick in—typically five or six hours—and that they could last for up to three days.
Users also warned of possible side effects, including loose bowels, vomiting, accelerated heart rate, and nutmeg burps “at 20 minute intervals.” +
The Exile Nation Project: An Oral History of the War on Drugs
Interview with Stephani Conyers
Children are the unacknowledged victims of the drug war. In this interview, Stephani Conyers recounts her experience as the child of drug offenders. Both her father and mother received prison sentences in the state of North Carolina for the cultivation of cannabis. Stefani describes in harrowing detail SWAT raids on her family home while only a young child, life in abusive foster homes, drugs and sexual abuse, and her struggle to maintain a relationship with her parents as they went through the criminal justice system.
The Conservative MP Priti Patel told the Daily Mail: “These people are not just dealing drugs – they are destroying people’s lives.” Patel should have a word with some of her colleagues. Louise Mensch admits that it is “highly probable” she took drugs in the 1990s, and she’s done all right. Or perhaps it is the tragic case of Barack Obama that Patel has in mind? As a teenager, he made the fatal error of experimenting with marijuana, which led on to cocaine and then – with sad inevitability – to a legal career, and the presidency of his nation.
To be fair to Patel, if you don’t take this “destroying lives” line, you’ll be forever labelled “soft on drugs” (as even the sentencing council are in the Mail). “Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery,” said a Home Office statement in response to demands for decriminalisation from a group including three chief constables and a former drugs minister last year.
Poor Ed Miliband could only agree, using another favourite formulation. “I worry about the effects on young people,” he said, “the message that we would be sending out.” When a politician says their policy is based on “sending out a message” you can be sure that what they really mean is that it’s wrong, but politically necessary.
Which, of course, has always been the problem with drugs. There are risks associated with their use; but there are very serious risks associated with alcohol, serving in the army or eating badly that we accept. And when the former government adviser Professor David Nutt, pointed out – accurately, in a scientific paper – that alcohol and tobacco were in many ways more harmful than LSD or ecstasy, he was sacked by Alan Johnson because his comments might “damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs”.
As a country, we look back in horror now at the delusions of other eras – when it was illegal to be gay, for instance, or when women could not vote. Yet we do not stop and see that we are living through another one. Decriminalisation would end the violent illegal drug trade; drug treatment and prescription for addicts would prevent them from committing crime. Both measures would make gigantic savings on the cost of policing and imprisoning offenders, and on clearing up the consequences of their actions. They would also end the outrage of people being locked up for the crime of seeking mostly harmless fun. It’s our laws that are destroying lives. +