I associate widespread recreational drug use with The Sixties, but two interesting articles of late illustrate how they have a much longer history than that.
1. From All That’s Interesting:
How Drugs Like Pervitin And Cocaine Fueled The Nazis’ Rise And Fall
Although he would later usher the Third Reich into a period of heavy drug usage, Hitler first used a radical anti-drug platform to seize control of the state.
This platform was part and parcel of a broader campaign built upon anti-establishment rhetoric. At that time, the establishment was the Weimar Republic, the unofficial name that Hitler had coined for the German regime that ruled between 1919 and 1933 and that had grown economically dependent on pharmaceuticals — specifically cocaine and heroin…
Hitler wasn’t a fan of it. A teetotaler who wouldn’t even drink coffee because of the caffeine, Hitler avoided all drugs. Famously, he reportedly never smoked again after throwing a pack of cigarettes into a river at the end of World War I.
When Hitler and the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933, they began extending Hitler’s no-poison-philosophy to the country as a whole. The Nazis had their work cut out for them, however. Describing the state of the country at the time of Hitler’s rise, German author Klaus Mann wrote: “Berlin night life, oh boy, oh boy, the world has never seen the like! We used to have a great army, now we’ve got great perversities!”
So the Nazis did what they did best, and combined their anti-drug efforts with their signature practice of accusing those they didn’t like — particularly those of Jewish descent — of being the ones stabbing Germany in the back…
[Upon hearing about Hitler’s intestinal pain, Physician Theodor Morell] prescribed Hitler a capsule full of healthy intestinal bacteria called Mutaflor, an experimental treatment at the time and one that is still used today. This helped Hitler’s stomach pain and increased flatulence issues enough that he appointed Morell as his personal physician.
From then on out, Morell would seldom leave Hitler’s vicinity, eventually injecting Hitler with everything from glucose solutions to vitamins multiple times a day, all to relieve Hitler’s chronic pain….
But that wasn’t the only drug Morell treated Hitler with: the physician would offer the Führer an ever-increasing laundry list of drugs, including caffeine, cocaine (for sore throat), and morphine — all the drugs that Hitler had railed against for years before the war. The most significant of these drugs was Pervitin, a methamphetamine.
Temmler, a German pharmaceutical company, first patented Pervitin in 1937 and a German population caught up in the whirlwind of Nazism seized upon its positive effects.
Temmler commissioned one of the most successful PR agencies in Berlin to draw up a marketing plan modeled after the Coca-Cola Company, which had achieved tremendous global success…
The German people… focused on the energy it provided, energy very much needed in a country first rebuilding itself after World War I and then mobilizing for World War II. It was almost unpatriotic not to be as hardworking, and Pervitin helped when nothing else could. Besides, it was much cheaper than coffee.
The Wehrmacht, the combined German armed forces during World War II, first had a taste of methamphetamine’s power when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Troops were ecstatic about Pervitin — and so were their commanders, who wrote glowing reports advocating for the use of the drug.
Read the whole thing. (I am glad to note that the article does not blame the Holocaust, or the Germans’ eventual defeat, on the drugs that Hitler took. That would be simplistic and false.)
2. From Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine:
The Poison We Pick
We do know, from Neolithic ruins in Europe, that the cultivation of this plant goes back as far as 6,000 years, probably farther. Homer called it a “wondrous substance.” Those who consumed it, he marveled, “did not shed a tear all day long, even if their mother or father had died, even if a brother or beloved son was killed before their own eyes.” For millennia, it has salved pain, suspended grief, and seduced humans with its intimations of the divine. It was a medicine before there was such a thing as medicine. Every attempt to banish it, destroy it, or prohibit it has failed.
The poppy’s power, in fact, is greater than ever. The molecules derived from it have effectively conquered contemporary America. Opium, heroin, morphine, and a universe of synthetic opioids, including the superpowerful painkiller fentanyl, are its proliferating offspring. More than 2 million Americans are now hooked on some kind of opioid, and drug overdoses — from heroin and fentanyl in particular — claimed more American lives last year than were lost in the entire Vietnam War. Overdose deaths are higher than in the peak year of AIDS and far higher than fatalities from car crashes. The poppy, through its many offshoots, has now been responsible for a decline in life spans in America for two years in a row, a decline that isn’t happening in any other developed nation. According to the best estimates, opioids will kill another 52,000 Americans this year alone — and up to half a million in the next decade….
No other developed country is as devoted to the poppy as America. We consume 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone and 81 percent of its oxycodone. We use an estimated 30 times more opioids than is medically necessary for a population our size. And this love affair has been with us from the start. The drug was ubiquitous among both the British and American forces in the War of Independence as an indispensable medicine for the pain of battlefield injuries. Thomas Jefferson planted poppies at Monticello, and they became part of the place’s legend (until the DEA raided his garden in 1987 and tore them out of the ground). Benjamin Franklin was reputed to be an addict in later life, as many were at the time. William Wilberforce, the evangelical who abolished the British slave trade, was a daily enthusiast. As Martin Booth explains in his classic history of the drug, poppies proliferated in America, and the use of opioids in over-the-counter drugs was commonplace. A wide range of household remedies were based on the poppy’s fruit; among the most popular was an elixir called laudanum — the word literally means “praiseworthy” — which took off in England as early as the 17th century.
Mixed with wine or licorice, or anything else to disguise the bitter taste, opiates were for much of the 19th century the primary treatment for diarrhea or any physical pain. Mothers gave them to squalling infants as a “soothing syrup.” A huge boom was kick-started by the Civil War, when many states cultivated poppies in order to treat not only the excruciating pain of horrific injuries but endemic dysentery. Booth notes that 10 million opium pills and 2 million ounces of opiates in powder or tinctures were distributed by Union forces. Subsequently, vast numbers of veterans became addicted — the condition became known as “Soldier’s Disease” — and their high became more intense with the developments of morphine and the hypodermic needle. They were joined by millions of wives, sisters, and mothers who, consumed by postwar grief, sought refuge in the obliviating joy that opiates offered.
Based on contemporary accounts, it appears that the epidemic of the late 1860s and 1870s was probably more widespread, if far less intense, than today’s — a response to the way in which the war tore up settled ways of life, as industrialization transformed the landscape, and as huge social change generated acute emotional distress. This aspect of the epidemic — as a response to mass social and cultural dislocation — was also clear among the working classes in the earlier part of the 19th century in Britain. As small armies of human beings were lured from their accustomed rural environments, with traditions and seasons and community, and thrown into vast new industrialized cities, the psychic stress gave opium an allure not even alcohol could match. Some historians estimate that as much as 10 percent of a working family’s income in industrializing Britain was spent on opium. By 1870, opium was more available in the United States than tobacco was in 1970. It was as if the shift toward modernity and a wholly different kind of life for humanity necessitated for most working people some kind of relief — some way of getting out of the train while it was still moving.
Read the whole thing.