But Then I Got High Essay Research

But Then I Got High Essay, Research Paper

But then I got high The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics 1500-2000 Richard Davenport-Hines 466pp, Weidenfeld George IV, while Prince Regent, wrenched his ankle dancing a highland fling in 1811 and made himself feel better with 100 drops of laudanum every three hours. By 1820, when he ascended the throne, he was routinely binging on laudanum and cherry brandy and behaving, according to the clerk of his Privy Council “like a spoiled, selfish, odious beast”. By the time he died he had laudanum for breakfast, along with beef and pigeon pie, white wine, champagne and brandy, in vast quantities. Other famous folk in the history of narcotics exhibited self-control but showed signs, nonetheless, of dependence. William Wilberforce, the slave-trade abolitionist, took opium before making a long address. “To that,” he said, “I owe my success as a public speaker.” Clive of India, having established the security of the East India Company, took the drug for chronic malaria and gallstones, and whenever he was depressed. When the 31st Earl of Mar died of jaundice and dropsy in 1828, the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company made history by refusing to pay on its policy, after learning that the Earl had been “addicted to the vice of opium-eating in a degree calculated to shorten life”. High society, high moral ground or high finance, all were just as likely to get high on the stuff that oozed from the incised seed-head of the poppy. Richard Davenport-Hines’s headlong and hugely enjoyable account offers perspective: drug abuse is not a new phenomenon. There are more people to get stoned, and more things to get stoned on. But from the beginning, when the stuff was on offer, people took it. Demand came not just from the about-to-be-addicted. There were pushers in powerful places. Medical men swore by it. “It banishes melancholy, begets confidence, converts fear into boldness, makes the silent elequent and dastards brave,” said the influential 18th-century Scottish physician John Brown. Opium was used to treat endemic dystentery during the American civil war, and as a prophylactic against malaria. Poppies were grown in both Union and Confederate states. Ten million pills were issued to Union forces, and 284m ounces of tinctures and powders. The Indian imperial government raised income by selling opium to China. Chinese addicts took their habit to Stepney in London and to the goldfields of California. Opium-smoking shops opened in Carson City and Reno in Nevada, and then in Chicago, St Louis, New Orleans and New York. These were patronised by respectable white Americans. Some of them told a police officer in 1881 that: “When the longing comes on them, they cannot satisfy it except in a low Chinese den; that the idea of smoking good opium in a clean pipe and in their own rooms doesn’t seem to fit the bill.” People looked for less destructive narcotics. Coca leaves when chewed seemed to give stamina to Peruvian labourers; by 1860 coca extract was tested as an anaesthetic and proposed as a treatment for melancholia. A solution of coca in claret was marketed as a pacifier for babies and a pick-me-up for the elderly in 1863. An American sportsman was accused of chewing coca leaves to win a 24-hour walking race, the first case of a drugs-sport controversy. A Devon doctor filled his flask with coca tincture instead of brandy in 1876. “Down went the birds right and left,” he reported. “Eureka, I said to myself, the coca has made me a steady shot.” Demand was always there. Chloral hydrate, when it appeared in 1869 as an anaesthetic, seemed to produce a healthier sleep in insomniacs than any of the opiates. By 1871 around 36 million doses of narcotic chloral had been hit an enthusiastic market and drunkards were reaching for the stuff in preference to booze. Amyl nitrite intended for cholera and tetanus treatment seemed simultaneously to lower blood pressure and relieve angina pectoris. Its effect on women’s pains during childbirth was “simply magical”. Other properties were quickly discovered. The heavy masturbation of the young Marcel Proust, says Davenport-Hines, was surely increased by his bedtime custom of inhaling two amyl capsules to ward off asthma attacks. Meanwhile, in old Styria, now southern Austria and northern Slovenia, the locals were hooked on another chemical: they ate increasing quantities of arsenic as an aphrodisiac. Prosper Merimée and Alphonse Daudet incorporated a British arsenic prescriber in their novels; in the southern US, people dropped the stuff into their coffee. A Lancashire cotton-broker used arsenic and strychnine as priapic stimulants, dying somewhat early. Rather unfairly perhaps, his young wife was prosecuted for his murder, “choosing, ingeniously, a drug which he was in the habit of taking medicinally”. Chloroform made its appearance in 1847 as a reliable anaesthetic. Ether however remained in demand, especially in Ireland, Norway and rural Galicia, as a popular intoxicant. In 1856, chloroform and morphine were bottled to make Dr Collis-Brown’s Chlorodyne, to ease cholera, diarrhoea, coughs, influenza, neuralgia, rheumatism, bronchitis and other ills. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? It also helped add to the growing pool of morphine addicts. (The most unexpected people took morphine. Enid Bagnold, author of the novel National Velvet , was a morphine addict for 60 years. She also took amphetamines. She died at 91.) In 1884, a US Civil War veteran developed a stimulant that would wean people from morphine: it was cocaine in wine. Fearing that temperance campaigners would make him a target, he also developed a non-alcoholic drink involving both coca and kola. In 1898 the German firm of Bayer devised a wonderful new cough suppressor called diacetylmorphine as a treat ment for asthma, catarrh, bronchitis, emphysema and tuberculosis. They gave it the trademark name of Heroin and described it as “non-habit forming”. It was another 20 years before national and international law began to turn the painkillers, cough-suppressors and sleep-inducers of big business into illegal substances. And did that work? Illicit drugs now account for 8% of all international trade. Davenport-Hines’s book pounds through the snorting, sniffing, smoking, injecting, pill-popping centuries, and his approach is very like his topic: addictive, and dizzying. There is a dimension missing: opium, coca and marijuana are cash crops that offer near-desperate peasants and subsistence farmers in the developing world a very high return on yield per hectare. But they, too, are hooked. Growing economies might be better off growing food. This chronicle, however, has a metropolitan perspective that informs argument rather than analysis. He sees a choice between regulation and prohibition: “a minor chronic pest or an unbeatable and destructive adversary”. He sees prohibition as little more than a business incentive for unscrupulous entrepreneurs. And he does not see absolute sobriety “as a natural or primary human state”. The way he tells it, how could he?



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