In the 20th century alone, mankind managed to get sick with several types of drugs - at the beginning of the century they came up with the idea of treating addiction to morphine with cocaine and heroin, in the middle of the century they tried to find harmony with society and with themselves using LSD and barbiturates, today substances that increase the effectiveness have come out on the warpath and cognitive abilities.
Few have changed their views on drugs as dramatically as Aldous Huxley. Born in 1894 into an English high society family, Huxley found himself in the early 20th century "war on drugs" when two extremely popular substances were banned within a few years: cocaine, which the German pharmaceutical company Merck sold as a treatment for morphine addiction., and heroin, which was sold for the same purpose by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.
The timing of these prohibitions was not accidental. In the run-up to World War I, politicians and newspapers fanned a hysteria around "drug addicts" whose abuse of cocaine, heroin and amphetamines allegedly demonstrated that they were "enslaved by German invention," as noted in Tom Metzer's book The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend "(1998).
In the interwar period, eugenics flourished, which sounded both from the lips of Adolf Hitler and Huxley's older brother, Julian, the first director of UNESCO, a famous champion of eugenics. Aldous Huxley imagined what would happen if the authorities began to use drugs as dishonest means of state control. In Brave New World (1932), the fictional drug catfish was given to the masses to keep them in a state of silent joy and contentment (“All the pluses of Christianity and alcohol - and not a single minus of them,” wrote Huxley); also in the book there are several references to mescaline (at the time of the creation of the novel, it was not tested by the writer and was clearly not approved by him), which makes the heroine of the book Linda stupid and prone to nausea.
“Instead of taking away freedom, the dictatorships of the future will provide people with chemically induced happiness that, on a subjective level, will be indistinguishable from the present,” Huxley later wrote in The Saturday Evening Post. - The pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional human rights. Unfortunately, achieving happiness seems to be incompatible with another human right - the right to freedom. " During Huxley's youth, the issue of hard drugs was inextricably linked with politics, and speaking out in support of cocaine or heroin from the point of view of politicians and popular newspapers meant almost support for Nazi Germany.
But then, on Christmas Eve 1955 - 23 years after Brave New World was published - Huxley took his first dose of LSD, and everything changed. He was delighted. The experience inspired him to write the essay "Heaven and Hell" (1956), and he introduced the drug to Timothy Leary, who openly defended and championed the therapeutic benefits of mind-altering substances. Over time, Huxley joined Leary's hippie politics - ideological opposition to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and the Vietnam War - thanks in large part to his positive experience with this kind of substance.
In The Island (1962), Huxley's characters live in a utopia (not the dystopia presented in Brave New World) and achieve peace and harmony by taking psychoactive substances. In Brave New World, drugs are used as a means of political control, while in The Island, on the contrary, they act as medicine.
What could explain Huxley's shift in perspective - from drugs as a tool of dictatorial control to a way to avoid political and cultural pressure? Indeed, more broadly, why were drugs universally despised at one time, but praised by the intelligentsia at another? Have you not noticed the approximately ten-year growth in the popularity of certain drugs that almost disappear and then reappear after many years (for example, cocaine)? Above all, how did drugs eradicate or, conversely, create cultural boundaries? The answers to these questions add color to almost all modern history.
Drug use has a tough window of effectiveness for the cultures we live in. Over the past century, the popularity of certain drugs has changed: in the 20s and 30s, cocaine and heroin were popular, in the 50s and 60s they were replaced by LSD and barbiturates, in the 80s by ecstasy and cocaine again, and today - Productivity and cognitive enhancing substances like Adderall and Modafinil and their more serious derivatives. According to Huxley's line of thought, the drugs we take at certain times may have a lot to do with the cultural era. We use and invent drugs that are culturally appropriate.
Drugs, which have shaped our culture over the past century, also help us understand what has been most desired and missed by each generation. Current drugs are thus addressed to a cultural question that needs an answer, whether it be a craving for transcendental spiritual experiences, productivity, fun, a sense of exclusivity, or freedom. In this sense, the drugs we take act as a reflection of our deepest desires, imperfections, our most important sensations that create the culture in which we live.
To be clear, this historical study focuses primarily on psychoactive substances, including LSD, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, barbiturates, anti-anxiety drugs, opiates, Adderall, and the like, but not anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or pain relievers like paracetamol. The latter drugs are not mind-altering substances, and therefore do not play a big role in this article (in English, both medicinal and psychoactive substances are denoted by the word "drug". - Ed.).
The substances discussed also touch the boundaries of the law (however, the prohibition of a substance in itself does not prevent it from being the main one for a certain moment of culture) and class (a substance consumed by the lower social class is no less culturally relevant than substances preferred by the upper class, although the latter are better described and viewed in retrospect as having “higher cultural significance”). Finally, the category of substances in question addresses therapeutic, medical and recreational uses.
To understand how we create and popularize drugs that fit the culture of the time, take, for example, cocaine. Widely available at the very beginning of the 20th century, cocaine was legally banned from free distribution in Britain in 1920 and in the United States two years later. “The tremendous popularity of cocaine in the late 19th century has a lot to do with its 'strong euphoric effect,'” says Stuart Walton, “intoxication theorist,” author of Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication (2001). Cocaine, Walton said, "energized a culture of resistance to Victorian norms, strict etiquette, helping people advocate" anything is permissible "in the fledgling era of modernity, the rise of the social democratic movement."
After Victorian moralism was defeated, social libertarianism gained in popularity, and the number of anti-clerical supporters increased dramatically after World War II, America and Europe forgot about cocaine.Until, of course, the 1980s, when cocaine was needed to address new cultural issues. Walton explained it this way: "His return to the 80s was based on the opposite social trend: complete submission to the demands of financial capital and stock trading, which marked the resurgence of entrepreneurial selfishness in the era of Reagan and Thatcher."
Another example of how the drug became an answer to cultural questions (or problems) relates to women from the suburbs of America who became addicted to barbiturates in the 1950s. This segment of the population lived in gloomy and oppressive conditions, which are now known through the accusatory books of Richard Yates and Betty Friedan. As Friedan wrote in The Secret of Femininity (1963), these women were expected to "have no hobbies outside the home" and that they "self-actualize through passivity in sex, male superiority, and caring for maternal love." Frustrated, depressed, and nervous, they numbed their senses with barbiturates to conform to norms they could not yet resist. In Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls (1966), the three protagonists began to rely dangerously on stimulants, depressants, and sleeping pills - their “dolls” -to deal with personal decisions and sociocultural boundaries in particular.
But the prescription drug solution was not a panacea. When substances cannot easily address the cultural issues of the period (for example, help American women escape the paralyzing emptiness, a frequent element of their lives), alternative substances often turn out to be a possible option, often seemingly unrelated to the situation.
Judy Balaban began taking LSD under the supervision of a physician in the 1950s, when she was still in her thirties. Her life seemed ideal: the daughter of Barney Balaban, the wealthy and respected president of Paramount Pictures, the mother of two daughters and the owner of a huge house in Los Angeles, the wife of a successful film agent who represented and was friends with Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe. She considered Grace Kelly a close friend and was a bridesmaid at her royal wedding in Monaco. As crazy as it sounded, life almost did not bring her pleasure. Her privileged friends felt the same way. Polly Bergen, Linda Lawson, Marion Marshall - actresses married to prominent filmmakers and agents - have all complained of similar pervasive dissatisfaction with life.
With limited opportunities for self-realization, with obvious demands from society and a bleak outlook on antidepressants, Balaban, Bergen, Lawson, and Marshall began LSD therapy. Bergen shared with Balaban in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2010: "I wanted to be a person, not an image." As Balaban wrote, LSD provided "the possibility of having a magic wand." It was a more potent answer to today's problems than antidepressants. Many culturally marginalized contemporaries of Balaban felt the same way: between 1950 and 1965, 40,000 people are known to have received LSD therapy. It was within the law, but it was not regulated by it, and almost everyone who tried this approach declared its effectiveness.
LSD met the needs of not only suburban housewives, but also gay and insecure men. Actor Cary Grant, who lived for several years with the charming Randolph Scott and ex-husband of five different women, for about five years each (mostly while he lived with Scott), also found deliverance in LSD therapy. Grant's acting career would have been destroyed if he had become openly homosexual; like many of the aforementioned housewives of the day, he found that LSD provided a much needed outlet, a kind of sublimation of the pangs of sex drive.“I wanted to free myself from my pretense,” he said in a somewhat veiled interview in 1959. After attending more than ten LSD therapy sessions with his psychiatrist, Grant admitted, "At last I almost reached happiness."
But people are not always looking for drugs that can meet their cultural needs; sometimes, in order to sell existing drugs, cultural problems are artificially created.
Today, Ritalin and Adderall are the most popular drugs for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Their widespread availability has led to a significant increase in the number of ADHD diagnoses: between 2003 and 2011, the number of schoolchildren in the United States who were diagnosed with ADHD increased by 43%. It is hardly coincidental that the number of American schoolchildren with ADHD has increased dramatically in eight years: it is much more likely that the proliferation of Ritalin and Adderall, as well as competent marketing, led to the increase in the number of diagnoses.
“The twentieth century saw a significant increase in diagnoses of depression, as well as PTSD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” writes Lauryn Slater in Open Skinner's Box (2004). “The number of specific diagnoses rises or falls, depending on the perception of society, but doctors who continue to label these, perhaps, hardly take into account the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, dictated by this area.”
In other words, modern drug manufacturers have fostered a society in which people are considered less attentive and more depressed in order to sell drugs that can be the answer to their own problems.
Likewise, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which originally served as a means of relieving discomfort during menopause and in which estrogens and sometimes progesterones were previously administered to artificially increase hormone levels in women, has now been expanded to include transgender and androgen replacement therapy. which in theory can slow down the aging process in men. This drive to continually expand the scope of drugs and the need for them is in line with how culture is created (and reinforced) by modern drugs.
Obviously, cause-and-effect relationships can be directed in both directions. Cultural issues can boost the popularity of certain drugs, but sometimes popular drugs themselves shape our culture. From the boom of rave culture at the height of ecstasy's popularity to a culture of hyper-productivity that grew out of drugs for attention deficit and cognitive deficits, the symbiosis between chemistry and culture is clear.
But while drugs can both respond to the needs of a culture and create a culture from scratch, there is no simple explanation as to why one thing happens and not the other. If rave culture was born of ecstasy, does that mean ecstasy responded to a cultural request, or did it just happen that ecstasy was there and a rave culture flourished around it? The line is easily blurred.
In the humanities, there is one inevitable conclusion: it is incredibly difficult to categorize people, because as soon as certain properties are assigned to a certain group, people change and cease to correspond to the originally assigned parameters. The philosopher of science Ian Hacking coined a term for this - the loop effect. People are “moving targets because our research influences and changes them,” Hacking writes in the London Review of Books. "And since they have changed, they can no longer be attributed to the same type of people as before."
The same is true for the relationship between drugs and culture.“Every time a drug is invented that affects the brain and mind of a user, it changes the very object of research - people who use drugs,” said Henry Coles, assistant professor of medical history at Yale. The idea of drug culture, then, is in a sense correct, as is the fact that cultures can change and create a vacuum of unfulfilled wants and needs that drugs can fill.
Take, for example, American housewives who used barbiturates and other drugs. The standard and already mentioned above explanation for this phenomenon is that they were culturally suppressed, were not free and used drugs to overcome the state of alienation. LSD and later antidepressants were a response to strict cultural codes and a means of self-medication for emotional distress. But Coles believes that "these drugs have also been created with specific populations in mind, and eventually they give rise to a new type of housewife or a new type of working woman who uses these drugs to make this kind of life possible." In short, according to Coles, "the very image of an oppressed housewife arises only as a result of the ability to treat her with pills."
This explanation places drugs at the center of the cultural history of the last century for a simple reason: if drugs can create and emphasize cultural restrictions, then drugs and their manufacturers can create entire socio-cultural groups "to order" (for example, a "depressed housewife" or "a hedonist from Wall street sniffing cocaine "). Importantly, this creation of cultural categories applies to everyone, which means that even people who do not use popular drugs of a particular era are under their cultural influence. The causality in this case is unclear, but it works both ways: drugs both respond to cultural demands and allow cultures to form around them.
In modern culture, perhaps the most important demand that drugs respond to is concentration and productivity issues as a consequence of the modern "attention economy," as defined by Nobel laureate in economics Alexander Simon.
The use of modafinil, formulated to treat narcolepsy, to sleep less and work longer, and the abuse of other common ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin for similar reasons reflect an attempt to respond to these cultural demands. Their use is widespread. In a 2008 Nature poll, one in five people surveyed responded that they have tried drugs to improve cognitive abilities at some point in their lives. According to an informal 2015 poll The Tab, the highest rates of drug use are found in top academic institutions, with Oxford University students using these drugs more often than students at any other UK university.
These cognitive-enhancing drugs help “disguise the triviality of work on both sides,” Walton explains. "They drive the consumer into a state of extreme excitement and, at the same time, convince him that this thrill comes to him thanks to his success at work."
In this sense, modern popular drugs not only help people to work and make them more productive, but also allow them to increasingly make their self-esteem and happiness dependent on work, reinforcing its importance and justifying the time and effort spent on it. These drugs respond to the cultural demand for increased performance and productivity, not only by allowing users to concentrate better and sleeping less, but by giving them a reason to be proud of themselves.
The flip side of the cultural imperative of productivity is reflected in the demand for increased convenience and ease of relaxation in everyday life (think Uber, Deliveroo, etc.)- desire satisfied by pseudo-drugs of dubious effectiveness like "binaural beats" and other creation-altering sounds and "drugs" that are easy to find on the Internet (in the case of binaural beats, you can listen to melodies that supposedly bring the listener into an "unusual state of consciousness"). But if modern drugs primarily respond to the cultural demands of the attention economy - concentration, productivity, relaxation, convenience - then they also change the understanding of what it means to be yourself.
In the first place, the way we now use drugs demonstrates a shift in our understanding of ourselves. So-called “magic pills”, taken for limited time or on a one-off basis to solve specific problems, have given way to “permanent drugs,” such as antidepressants and anxiety pills, which must be taken continuously.
“This is a significant shift from the old model,” says Coles. - It used to be like this: “I'm Henry, I got sick with something. The pill will help me become Henry again, and then I will not take it. " And now it's like, "I'm Henry only when I drink my pills." If you look at 1980, 2000 and today, the proportion of people using such drugs is growing and growing."
Is it possible that persistent drugs are the first step in drug use to achieve a posthuman state? While they don’t fundamentally change who we are, as anyone who drinks antidepressants and other neurological medications on a daily basis understands, our core sensations begin to dull and cloud. To be yourself is to be on pills. The future of substances may go this way.
It is worth looking back here. In the last century, there was a close connection between culture and drugs, an interaction that demonstrates the cultural directions in which people wanted to move - rebellion, submission or a complete exit from all systems and restrictions. Taking a close look at what we want from today's and tomorrow's drugs allows us to understand what cultural issues we want to address. "The traditional drug model of actively doing something with a passive user," says Walton, "is likely to be replaced by substances that allow the user to be something completely different."
Of course, the ability to use drugs to completely escape from oneself will come true in one form or another in a relatively short time, and we will see new cultural questions that drugs can potentially answer and which they themselves ask.
The patterns of drug use in the last century provide us with a striking glimpse of vast layers of cultural history in which everyone from Wall Street bankers and depressed housewives to students and literary men take drugs that reflect their desires and respond to their cultural needs. But drugs have always reflected a simpler and more permanent truth. Sometimes we wanted to run away from ourselves, sometimes from society, sometimes from boredom or poverty, but we always wanted to run away. In the past, this desire was temporary: to recharge the batteries, to find refuge from the worries and needs of life. Recently, however, drug use has come to mean a desire for a long existential escape, and this desire dangerously borders on self-destruction.