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History Of Drug Use U.S. (Page 2 of 5)

Early Cocaine Use

Medical practice also helped contribute to a new class of cocaine users. In 1844, the alkaloid cocaine was first isolated in pure form from coca leaves.

However, this discovery received little attention until 1883, when Dr. Theodor Aschenbrandt, a German army physician, issued a supply of pure cocaine to Bavarian soldiers during maneuvers. Dr. Aschenbrandt later reported positive results, including beneficial effects on the soldiers' ability to endure fatigue during battle-like conditions (Brecher, 1972).

An Addicted Physician

At about the same time in the United States, Dr. William Halsted (1852-1922), prominent surgeon and later one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, discovered that cocaine injected near a nerve produces a local anesthesia in the area served by that nerve.

The discoverer of the first local anesthetic continued to experiment with cocaine, and soon found himself dependent on cocaine use. His subsequent efforts to rid himself of the dependence led Dr. Halsted to cure his cocaine habit by switching to morphine injections.

At one time, his habit was reported to be a quantity of 180 milligrams (about 1/5 gram) daily. Eventually, he reduced this to a maintenance dose of 90 milligrams (about 1/10 gram), which continued for most of his life (Brecher, 1972).

Freud and Cocaine

In 1884, Sigmund Freud is reported to have experimented on himself with 50 milligrams of cocaine. He prescribed cocaine to relieve the pain of a chronically ill friend who was at that time addicted to morphine, and wrote glowing reports of the drug's success, even to the point of sending cocaine to his fiance to make her more lively'.

In the July,1884, issue of the medical journal Centralblatt fur die gesammte Therapie, Freud published an essay praising cocaine as a magical drug, and continued to use it periodically to relieve depression in himself (Brecher, 1972).

In 1885, a German named Erlenmeyer published the first attacks on cocaine as a possibly addicting drug, and two years later Freud himself discontinued use and prescription of the drug, partially due to cocaine's harmful effects on the friend for whom he had originally prescribed it for pain (Brecher, 1972).


In 1885, John Styth Pemberton of Atlanta, Georgia, who had manufactured previously such patent medicines as Triplex Liver Pills and Globe of Flower Cough Syrup, introduced French Wine Coca, Ideal Nerve and Tonic Stimulant. The product relied heavily on extract of coca leaves. The next year, Pemberton introduced a syrup called Coca-Cola.

The Cola in the name indicated the presence of an extract of the kola nut--an African product that contains about two percent caffeine. That year, Pemberton is said to have sold 25 gallons of the syrup. At various times it was advertised as a remarkable therapeutic agent and as a sovereign remedy for a long list of ailments, including melancholy and (curiously) insomnia (Brecher, 1972).

(In 1906 a federal pure food and drug law was enacted, and Pemberton's successors, who were still making Coca-Cola, switched from using unadulterated coca leaves to decocainized leaves. The product still included caffeine, as it does today.)

Marihuana And Hashish

During the mid-1800s, cannabis sativa, whose use dates back to the second millennium B.C. in China, was considered a legitimate (and wholly licit) medication.

From 1850 until 1942, the United States Pharmacopoeia, which lists most widely-accepted drugs, recognized marihuana as a legitimate medicine, under the name Extractum Cannabis. Too, the United States Dispensory in 1851 reported the use of hemp extract:

The complaints in which it has been specially recommended are neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia, epidemic cholera, convulsions, chorea, hemorrhage (Brecher, 1972).

Limited non-medical use of cannabis, however, was reported in an 1869 issue of the Scientific American:

The drug hashish, the cannabis indica of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, the resinous product of hemp, grown in the East Indies and other parts of Asia, is used in those countries to a large extent for its intoxicating properties and is doubtless used in this country for the same purpose to a limited extent (Brecher, 1972).

Non-Medical Cannabis Use

Use of cannabis products for recreation grew gradually. The December 2, 1876, issue of the Illustrated Police News featured a drawing of five exotically-attired young ladies supposedly indulging their hasheesh habit in a room where hookahs were conspicuous.

The News captioned the drawing: 'Secret Dissipation of New York Belles: Interior of a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue' (Brecher, 1972).

Popular magazines and newspapers began to feature stories about the newly-discovered hashish users and their lurid habitats.

The November, 1883, issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine featured an article by an anonymous explorer of the hasheesh dens:

There is a large community of hashish smokers in this city [New York], who are daily forced to indulge their morbid appetites, and I can take you to a house up-town where hemp is used in every conceivable form, and where the lights, sounds, odors, and surroundings are all arranged so as to intensify and enhance the effects ...

[The hashish smokers] are about evenly divided between Americans and foreigners; indeed, the place is kept by a Greek, who has invested a great deal of money in it. All the visitors, both male and female, are of the better classes, and absolute secrecy is the rule.

The house has been opened about two years, I believe, and the number of regular habitues is daily on the increase... Smokers from different cities, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and especially New Orleans, tell me that each city has its hemp retreat, but none so elegant as this (Brecher, 1972).

A number of physicians reported ingesting hashish during this era--some for experimental purposes, others admitting frank curiosity, and occasionally supplying fluid extract of cannabis to their friends. Hashish candy, too, was available in post-Civil War sweet shops.

Dr. George Wheelock Grover, in his book Shadows Lifted or Sunshine Restored in the Horizon of Human Lives: A Treatise on the Morphine, opium, Cocaine, Chloral and Hashish Habits, admitted purchasing a box of the candy in Baltimore. Determined to test the product on himself, Dr. Grover took 'a full dose ... (then the drug) manifested its peculiar witchery with scarcely prelude or warning' (Brecher, 1972).

At the time, he was dining with several friends, and felt compelled to tell them of the peculiar sense of well being which had come over him:

'It is undoubtedly here a day of jubilation or of something in the way of celebration. You perceive that the tables are set with golden plate, that the waiters all seem to be dressed in velvet costumes, and that hundreds of canary birds are singing in gilded cages. It must be a celebration of a good deal of magnitude, as the many bands of martial and orchestral music seem all to be playing at once (Brecher, 1972).

Cannabis, it seems, possessed considerably more useful properties than those first attributed to it in the early Pharmacopoeia listing.

However, the contemporary prohibitionist movement was focusing its attention on the opium problem, and left cannabis products and their users to themselves for the next several decades.

Early Anti-Substance Legislation

In 1872, California passed the first anti-opium law. This held that 'the administration of laudunum, an opium preparation, or any other narcotic to any person with the intent thereby to facilitate the commission of a felony' now constituted a felony (Levine, 1974). However, this first awkward attempt failed to control unlawful use of opium in the state.

In 1881, the California legislature passed a law making it a misdemeanor to maintain a place where opium was sold, given away, or smoked. The bill applied only to commercial places, presumably the opium dens frequented by immigrant Chinese laborers and their fellow habitues. Smoking opium alone, or with friends in a private residence, was not covered by the legislation. The practice continued.

In the same year, California became the first state to establish a separate bureau to enforce narcotic laws, and one of the first states to treat addicts. Connecticut, in 1874, became the first state to have a law whereby the narcotic addict was declared incompetent to attend to his personal affairs. The law required that he be committed to a state insane asylum for medical care and treatment until he was cured of his addiction (Levine, 1974).

The Opium Prohibitions

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the western states continued to pass legislation restricting use of opium. Nevada's 1877 law was the first actually to prohibit opium smoking; this made it illegal to sell or dispense opium without a physician's prescription, and prohibited the maintenance of any place used for smoking or otherwise illegally using opium.

Other western states soon had similar laws, with most legislation directed at outlawing opium smoking, rather than curtailing use of other substances.

Controlling Opiate And Cocaine Distribution

In 1887, the Territory of Oregon passed the first comprehensive anti-substance law, providing: That licenses would be issued to physicians and pharmacists for sale of narcotics; that no person could sell, give away, or possess opium, smoking opium, morphine, cocaine, or chloral hydrate, except by prescription of a licensed physician (Levine, 1974).

Similar laws were adopted by other states, but with no uniformity as to which drugs were controlled, which controls were actually enforced, and the type of penalties to which offenders would be subject. In 1905, Connecticut passed a law whereby cocaine could be sold and possessed only with a physician's prescription; this remained in force until 1913, when the law was amended to include opium, morphine, and heroin.

In general, early laws restricted or prohibited possession of opium derivatives and cocaine without considering whether the substances could have significant medical use. Laws were concerned with the manner in which drugs were to be sold, not with setting standards for determining their legitimate use by physicians.

In their limited knowledge, doctors continued to prescribe opium derivatives for a variety of ailments. Many over-the-counter preparations containing quantities of morphine, heroin, and opium were still available to anyone complaining of an illness those opiates were believed able to cure.


During the 1870s, American Indians had begun ritual use of peyote, as had the Aztecs before them. For the Comanches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and other tribes, the peyote cult was entirely religious, requiring total abstinence from alcohol-which, after being introduced to Indians by white settlers and soldiers, had become a substance of considerable abuse.

White land speculators, desiring Indian tribal lands, united with Christian missionaries in seeking to have peyote outlawed (Brecher, 1972). In 1899, Oklahoma became the first state to outlaw peyote.

The legislation was repealed in 1908, following the pattern of it's legal/it's illicit again peyote laws enacted by legislatures in several western states. In 1929, New Mexico outlawed peyote, but the law was rarely enforce As recently as 1959, that law was amended to permit ritual peyote use.

A major factor in maintaining the legal status of peyote has been the Native American Church of North America, an organization that claims some 250,000 Indian members from tribes throughout the United States and Canada.

In addition to successfully opposing Congressional action against peyote and securing the repeal of state laws, the Native American Church has succeeded in several states in having such laws declared unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of religion (Brecher, 1972).

As ritual peyote use continued, mail-order companies were established to meet the demand, as with patent medicines.* In spite of erratic legislative attempts at control, an indigenous American herbal hallucinogen was gradually moving from tribal rituals into the culture at large.

*Dried mescal buttons could be purchased, legally, for as little as $8.00 for 100 buttons, until as recently as the 1950s; and mail-order companies advertised freely in college newspapers and other publications during the late 1950s and early 1960s (Brecher, 1972).

Heroin: The Last Legal Opiate

Heroin, the newest opium derivative, was first produced commercially by Germany's Bayer Company in 1898. It was widely advertised as being at least ten times as potent a painkiller as morphine with none of the addicting properties .... one claim was made that the use of heroin could and would cure opium and morphine addiction (Levine, 1974).

General opinion held that heroin was the ultimate cure for morphine and opium addiction, and physicians made use of heroin in treating varied ailments.

It was not until 1925 that import of opium for the manufacture of heroin finally was banned in this country.

The 1900s: Summary

Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States continued as a multi-substance society. Frequent users of opium-derivative medications continued their habits. Cannabis smokers enjoyed their diversion with little harassment. And while other subcultures were finding other substances to use, opposition groups tried to keep pace.

The First Federal Legislation

While the medical community was prescribing heroin to cure fever and morphine/opium addiction alike, prohibitionists were finally succeeding in their battle against opium.

The federal Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906. Irrespective-of opposition by manufacturers of patent medicines, the Act required that medicines containing opiates, among other substances, must be so labeled. After the Act was passed, the manufacturers of Coca-Cola switched from using unprocessed coca leaves to decocainized leaves, but caffeine remained in the beverage.*

*Currently, Maywood Chemical Company is the only United States firm licensed to import coca leaves; the majority of those are subjected to a decocainizing process before shipment to the CocaCola Bottling Company. Cocaine extracted by Maywood is sold to licensed chemical and pharmaceutical companies for manufacture of medical products.

Subsequent amendments to the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act required that the quantity of each drug contained be stated on medicine labels, and that drugs meet official standards of purity.

Subsequent public service campaigns urging people not to use patent medicines containing opiates doubt helped curb the making of new addicts. Indeed, there is evidence of a modest decline in opiate addiction from the peak in the 1890s until 1914 (Brecher, 1972).

The Harrison Narcotic Act

The federal Harrison Narcotic Act was passed in 1914.

Official title of the Harrison bill had been An Act to provide for the registration of, with collectors of internal revenuer and to impose a special tax upon all persons who produce, import, manufacture, compound, deal in, dispense, sell, distribute, or give away opium or coca Leaves,* their salts, derivatives or preparations, and for other purposes.

The law specifically provided that manufacturers, importers, pharmacists, and physicians prescribing narcotics should be licensed to do so, at a moderate fee.

The patent-medicine manufacturers were exempted even from the licensing and tax provisions, provided that they limited themselves to preparations and remedies which do not contain more than two grains of opium, or more than one-fourth of a grain of morphine, or more than one-eighth of a grain of heroin... in one avoirdupois ounce.

Far from appearing to be a prohibition law, the Harrison Narcotic Act on its face was merely a law for the orderly marketing of opium, morphine, heroin, and other drugs--in small quantities on a physician's prescription.

Indeed, the right of a physician to prescribe was spelled out in apparently unambiguous terms: Nothing contained in this section shall apply ... to the dispensing or distribution of any of the aforesaid drugs to a patient by a physician, dentist, or veterinary surgeon registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only.

Registered physicians were required only to keep records of drugs dispensed or prescribed. It is unlikely that a single legislator realized in 1914 that the law Congress was passing would later be deemed a prohibition law.

...After passage of the law, this clause [in the course of his professional practice only] was interpreted by law-enforcement officers to mean that a doctor could not prescribe opiates to an addict to maintain his addiction.

Since addiction was not a disease, the argument went, an addict was not a patient, and opiates dispensed to or prescribed for him by a physician were therefore not being supplied in the course of his professional practice.

Thus a law apparently intended to ensure the orderly marketing of narcotics was converted into a law prohibiting the supplying of narcotics to addicts, even on a physician's prescription.

Many physicians were arrested under this interpretation, and some were convicted and imprisoned. Even those who escaped conviction had their careers ruined by the publicity. The medical profession quickly learned that to supply opiates to addicts was to court disaster (Brecher, 1972).

For all purposes, opium and cocaine could no longer be gotten legally, in quantity, by the user on the street. As licit sources became more controlled, new illicit channels opened to supply users. Use of narcotics (the true opium derivatives, and also cocaine, mistakenly labeled a narcotic by Congress in the 1914 act) continued at relatively the same level as prior to the Act's passage.

By fixing severe limits on the amount of opiate a patent medicine could contain, and by otherwise prohibiting the traffic in opiates except for medicinal purposes, the [Harrison Act] abolished the legitimate traffic.

When the Supreme count ruled in the early 1920s that prescriptions for addictions were not legitimately medical practice, the interpretation meant simply that addiction thereby became a federal crime ... The court thus lowered narcotics use into the underworld, forcing addicts to migrate to the urban centers of illicit supply.

It also forced formerly decent and responsible citizens who had acquired an unfortunate habit to become aggressive and violent criminals. It made addicts conform to the image of nonscience; as they robbed or cheated or prostituted themselves to support the illicit price, they did indeed become debauched, corrupt, and depraved. In 1923, as many as 75 percent of the women in federal penitentiaries were Harrison Act prisoners (Clark, 1976).

In 1918, just three years after the Harrison Act went into effect, a study by a Congressional committee (which members included Dr. A. G. Du Mez, Secretary of the United States Public Health Service) released these findings:

Opium and other narcotic drugs [including cocaine] ... were being used by about a million people.

The underground traffic in narcotic drugs was about equal to the legitimate medical traffic.

The dope peddlers appeared to have established a national organization, smuggling the drugs in through seaports or across the Canadian or Mexican borders ...

The wrongful use of narcotic drugs had increased since passage of the Harrison Act. Twenty cities, including New York and San Francisco, had reported such increases (Brecher, 1972).

As a result of those findings, Congress responded with measures to strengthen the Harrison Act. In 1924, a law was enacted prohibiting importation of heroin for any purpose, including medical use. Still, the nation was finding that ridding itself of heroin would require considerably more than legislation.

The 1924 ban on heroin did not deter the conversion of morphine addicts to heroin. On the contrary, heroin ousted morphine almost completely from the black market after the law was passed (Brecher, 1972).

Prohibition(s) In The Early Twentieth Century

The opiates and cocaine were not the only targets of the early twentieth century prohibitionists. Alcohol and tobacco, traditionally respectable American habits, were beginning to feel the abolitionist attacks.

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