Strategic Suicide: The Birth of the Modern American Drug War - Buy on Amazon

Shamanism and the Drug Propaganda: Patriarchy and the Drug War - Buy on Amazon

Buy on Amazon
Buy on Amazon

Strategic Suicide: The Birth of the Modern American Drug War: White Hope


Charles B. Towns' cure, officially endorsed by the AMA, was famous throughout the country in the teens and twenties. It almost certainly would make anyone stop taking anything. It consisted of huge simultanous doses of foxglove, belladonna, prickly ash bark and strong purgatives, coupled with constant prayer. Foxglove and belladonna are two of the most famous witchcraft herbs of Europe. Foxglove contains the cardiac stimulent digitalis, and belladonna contains the powerfully psychoactive scopolamine and hyoscyamine.

Towns claimed his cure was effective for opium, cocaine or alcohol addiction. His New York sanitarium charged between $200-$350 for a private room for the five-day course, and $75 for a double occupancy, big money in those days. Towns' theoretical and commercial partner was Dr. Alexander Lambert, chief of the AMA's Medicolegal Bureau during the fight to pass Harrison, later head of the AMA. Together they profitably administered the Towns-Lambert method.

Lambert's entry on cocaine addiction in Osler's prestigious 1925 medical textbook, Modern Medicine, solemnly pronounced that "The most effective treatment is the Towns treatment and the method is the same as in dealing with an alcoholic, except that the cocaine should be cut off immediately. Strychnine, with or without some form of digitalis should be given from the beginning. The belladonna mixture and from 3 to 5 cathartic pills and 5 gr. of blue mass should be given simultanously as the first dose. The belladonna mixture is continued every hour of the day and night, and twelve hours after the initial dose the patients are again given from 3 to 5 cathartic pills followed six hours later by a saline, and at the twenty-fourth hour after the intial dose they are again given cathartics and again at the thirty-sixth hour. After these last cathartics the bilious stool appears, and by the forty-fifth to forty-eighth hour castor oil is given."

That is, they pharmacologically kicked the shit out of their patients; they "puked and purged" 'em. They divined their success ratio by counting as cured all those who didn't return for further punishment.

Between 1893 and 1895 the Opium Royal Commission produced three twelve hundred page volumes of expert notarized testimony concerning the use of opium in India. It made no attempt to exclude negative witnesses. Its only requirement was verifiable expertise on some aspect of the subject. One English missionary, who knew of no "hardier, thriftier or more careful people than the Punjabis," insisted regular opium use "seems to interfere neither with their longevity nor with their health." That was the overwhelming majority opinion of the hundreds of physicians, civil servants, merchants, missionaries and working people recorded by the Commission.

Small amounts of opium produce a pleasant and energetic bodily lightness conducive to work and mental activity. Opium was used as a pre-battle stimulant by the Punjabis, and no British soldier wanted to face them. Larger amounts of opium produce a dreamy reverie, "an aid to music composers" as one 1912 New York Times article had it.

Smoking opium sap is not analogous to injecting morphine or heroin. Dr. Brecher in Licit & Illicit Drugs: “Only about 10% of the morphine [5-15% of commercial opium by weight]...enters the vapor, and only a portion of the morphine in the vapor enters the human bloodstream when inhaled; there are no ‘tars’ or other carcinogens to cause cancer. The so-called ‘opium-smoker’ is actually a vapor inhaler. At a very rough estimate, a smoker would have to smoke 300 or 400 grains of opium to get a dose equivalent to the intravenous injection of one grain of heroin [diacetylmorphine].”

Smoked, all 39 of opium’s alkaloids are delivered in concert, slowly and in minuscule doses, CNS exciters right along with the depressants. The most harm an opium smoker can do to himself is put himself to sleep.


An opium smoker’s tools; Scientific American, 11/1921

Morphine, on the other hand, opium's major alkaloid, is a powerful CNS depressant, especially in conjunction with alcohol, and hypodermic injection makes absorption immediate and irreversible. That has stopped more than one heart - and sullied the reputation of opium sap, for those that don't know the difference between herbs and alkaloids.

Morphine, about 5% of opium sap by weight, isolated in 1803, is medically superior to the sap as a pain killer. And physicians are perfectly justified in their contention that isolated alkaloids are too concentrated for uncontrolled distribution. The human body did not evolve in relation to isolated alkaloids.

But the 1909-1914 criminalization of the safe sap automatically popularized the refined alkaloid, since it's far more profitable to smuggle. This was the conclusion of the official USPHS study conducted by Kolb and Du Mez in 1924. Prior to 1914 gum opium was favored by regular users, after 1914 the gum had been almost totally replaced by heroin and morphine. As Professor Trebach pointed out, this substitution process repeated itself after WW II when American drug law was foisted on a supine world. Hong Kong, North Europe, Japan, Germany, Singapore, Thailand, Borneo and Turkey all found their opium smokers using the only available substitute - heroin. Professor McCoy repeatedly makes the same point.

As Professor Alfred Lindesmith put it in the introduction to his 1947 classic Addiction and Opiates: "alcohol is addicting in approximately the same sense that heroin is...the fact that marijuana, cocaine, and heroin and other opiate-type drugs are covered in the same anti-narcotics legislation is a fertile source of confused thinking because it obscures the facts that the use of marijuana is totally unlike heroin or morphine addiction and that alcoholism...actually has very much in common with opiate addiction."

Alcohol, heroin and cocaine all show approximately the same ratio of addicts or abusers to users, 5% or less, hardly a proportion requiring mass hysteria. Cigarettes produce a rate of addiction higher than 50% in occassional users.

Coca leaf and opium sap would be preferred by many to cocaine and heroin, were they available, but their legend is so terrifying, like Dracula's fangs, the mere mention of their phantasm brings shudders of fear, as if Dracula were real. In fact, neither opium sap nor coca leaf are a problem in their native cultures, where they're both religious and social sacraments.

In 970 CE Su Che, in his poem "The Cultivation of the Medicinal Plant Poppy," sang that opium's "seeds are like autumn millet; when ground they yield a sap like cow's milk; when boiled they become a drink fit for Buddha." In 1057, Su Sung noted that the opium "poppy is found everywhere." Throughout China, for more than a millenium, honored guests were greeted with drinks or pipes full of opium.


Asia, 1/1931

Of course, coolies under the lash in the turn-of-the-century colonial slave states, in intense pain, could be expected to become addicted to opium, the most effective herbal pain killer known, especially when it was substituted for their wages. It was literally the only escape they had. "Insufficient food, harsh work schedules, and beatings made most of the plantations slave labor camps with annual death rates higher than 20 percent."

The European colonialists, and the Chinese Imperial slave states, then pointed to this large-scale addiction they themselves had fostered as justification for their politically selective enforcement - and for their need to monopolize the trade.


A British opium inspector in India, 1905. Scoring the seed capsules in Yunnan, Asia, 1/1931

The Chinese Opium Wars were about control of the trade, that is, control of China. Opium smoking was demonized as treason by the Chinese monarchy, and its American ally, only after the British cornered the global trade by conquering opium-producing India and taking control of major Chinese ports. Until that time, Chinese poets sang opium's praises. Under conditions of foreign monopoly, however, to smoke imported opium was to finance the British rape of China. It is finance and the attendant geopolitical power that Chinese Emperors worried about, not the health of their subjects.

Before the European attack on China's sovereignty, opium was a commonly accepted social sacrament and aid to meditation with a very long history as the most important painkiller, soporific, anti-spasmodic and febrifuge known. This medical respect for opium was accepted worldwide. As the 1918 U.S. Dispensatory put it: "It is at present more frequently prescribed than perhaps any other article of the materia medica."


Above, the raw sap drying in the Persian sun, 1925. Below, opium and sweet tea, Shiraz, Persia, 1925; Asia

Nearly all the empirical research supports the conclusions of Dr. Marie Nyswander, the inventor of methadone maintenance: "There is a pattern of self-limitation or restraint in opium smoking in countries where it is socially acceptable. It is common for natives in these countries to indulge in opium smoking one night a week much as Americans may indulge in alcoholic beverages at a Saturday night party....families who accept opium smoking as part of their culture are mindful of its dangers much as we are mindful of the dangers of overindulgence in alcohol."

Describing the high rate of opium or heroin addiction in Hong Kong in 1970, Professor McCoy stresses that "Most of the addicts were poor wage laborers who lived in cramped tenements and sprawling slums, which many social workers considered ideal breeding grounds for addiction."

That is, it is the pain that causes the addiction, not the pain killer. People who are not in intense pain are no more likely to become addicted to opiates than to any other pain killer. But of course, to acknowledge that politically would mean that public funds would start to flow out of police programs and into social programs.


Police Commissioner Roosevelt’s friend, the influential journalist Jacob Riis, took this shot on New York’s Lower East Side, 1887

Buy on Amazon
Buy on Amazon
Editor     Webmaster     Copyright/Disclaimer     Privacy Policy