5 milestones in the history of mind-altering drugs | #drugtrap | Life Links | DW | 07.11.2014
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5 milestones in the history of mind-altering drugs

Humans always seem to have had a taste for mind-altering substances - and they’ve been crafty in creating them. Here are five milestones in human drug invention and consumption, hand-picked by a leading expert.

Picture: named Don Juan

One of the milestones: the spread in usage of the psychedelic drug LSD

Pharmacology professor Michael C. Gerald Ph.d. is an authority on mind-altering substances. In this article, he tells us his top five milestones in their history, but he has plenty more to say about them - at least 245 things in fact. In 2013, he published "The Drug Book: From Arsenic to Xanax, 250 Milestones in the History of Drugs."

1806 - Morphine is extracted from opium

Photo: UNODC/AP/dapd

Opium poppies after being harvested in Myanmar

Reports of opium use for relief of pain, to induce sleep, and to treat diarrhea go back some 2500 years and, even into the 19th century, it was one of the very few highly reliable drugs in the practice of medicine.

In 1806, morphine was extracted from opium, and in 1898 heroin was prepared as a derivative of morphine. Heroin was intended to be a pain-killer and produce sleep in infants but was soon widely abused.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, heroin was shipped into China by British traders and was being taken by millions of the Chinese for its dreamy mind-altering effects. Attempts to curb this trade lead to the Opium War (1839-1842).

1960s - LSD becomes popular

The first report of LSD’s extremely powerful hallucinogenic effects appeared in 1947, a report that attracted the attention of scientists, psychiatrists, the CIA, the U.S. Army and recreational users.

Its recreational use was most widely popularized in the 1960s by the Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, who encouraged students to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

1967 - PCP finds its way to the streets

During the 1950s, phencyclidine was first tested as an injectable anesthetic that would permit the patient to remain conscious, yet pain free, during operations. It proved to be effective but patients experienced hallucinations after recovery.

In 1967 it was recycled as a veterinary anesthetic (“animal tranquilizer”), and that same year it found its way to the streets taken alone or in combination with cannabis (“angel dust” and “peace pill”) for its recreational use; its popularity rapidly spread throughout the United States.

1976 - Californian chemist promotes Ecstasy

Photo: AP Photo/Greg Manning

A 2008 photo of Alexander Shulgin, who died this year

MDMA was first synthesized in 1912 and promptly forgotten until 1976 when the California pharmacologist-chemist Alexander Shulgin tested the amphetamine-like stimulant on himself and widely publicized its ability to produce euphoria, physical energy, and feelings of empathy and intimacy with partners.

MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, has remained one of the most commonly used recreational drugs.

1980 - “Crack” catches on

Coca leaves have been ingested for medical, energy-promoting, appetite-dulling and intoxicating effects in Peru for thousands of years. Cocaine, the active ingredient of the leaf, was first used as a local anesthetic in 1884, and within several years, it was being injected for its powerful mind-stimulating effects by Freud and Sherlock Holmes, among other notables.

During the 1970s, drug dealers converted cocaine powder to “crack,” a solid form that could be smoked. By 1980, early reports of its abuse appeared in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Houston, with the peak of the “crack epidemic” occurring in the United States between 1984 to 1990.