The Surprising History of Drugs

Hey Thoughty2 here. Your brain is a vast science lab that is able to produce a never ending stream of chemical concoctions that help fight disease, escape danger, make you feel happy or gently send you to sleep. That’s right, whether you like it or not, your neurological system is a massive junkie. And this is how external drugs like aspirin, cocaine, meth and cake, are able to affect you; your body already has a receptor for a similar chemical so you are just stimulating a reaction that already existed within you. This is why drugs, both legal and illegal, have been such a huge part of human history. Whether it’s communal experiences like the ayahuasca used by Amazonian tribes or even the communion wine drunk by Christians, drugs have created rituals, helped religions and fueled our creativity. Of course, they have also destroyed communities, sent people crazy and caused your friend Dave to keep sharing all those conspiracy theory memes; there are no lizard overlords mate, lay off the weed and eat some vegetables. But how far does the influence of drugs stretch throughout the development of mankind? Today we look at the surprising history of drugs. The biggest war of all time was largely down to an Austrian man who believed in purity, not just racially but he was renowned among his followers for his self-discipline, his unusual love of animals and his general lack of vices. So, it’s pretty surprising to find out that this was all a sham and it’s possible that Hitler’s suicide in 1945 was in part down to severe withdrawal symptoms since allied bombing had cut his access to the speed, cocaine and opioids that he was strung out on. And yes, I know this sounds ridiculous. Hitler is one of the most written about people of the modern era, the subject of endless movies and some very weird erotic fiction, so how come this is not common knowledge? Well, there’s not really a good answer for that. Historians have been aware of most of the information but never really focused on it. It took an outsider, a non-historian called Norman Ohler to really pull the cover on the story and show that Hitler’s real white power was actually a massive bag of speed. Ohler, a German writer, had heard a story from a friend about drugs in the Third Reich and decided to investigate, thinking it would be a good premise for a novel. But he soon found a wealth of information and his non-fiction book Blitzed became an international best seller. When the Nazis took power, they banned the seductive poisons, as they called them, that were readily available everywhere, also claiming that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent. But they soon discovered that amphetamines were an invaluable tool to keep the German people productive but also to enable their troops to stay awake. The German invasion of France relied greatly on the doses of Pervitin, basically German speed, that enabled their army to march without stopping for three days. Even by the end of the war, they planned suicidal one man U-boat missions up the river Thames, giving the submarine pilots a cocktail of cocaine and speed to travel solo for days on end. None were successful though as the dangerously high crewmen got all spun out, navigation went to hell and they probably drowned trying to rave with an octopus. Hitler himself had a private doctor called Dr Morell who initially just gave him vitamin injections but after he became ill in 1941 he took things up a notch with animal hormones, a cousin of heroin and cocaine for a hearing problem. See, you have to be careful kids, you start out just popping vitamins and soon you’re the junky lord of genocide – drugs are bad. The biggest drug in Britain, as you all know, is tea. I myself am a heavily-dependent addict. In the early parts of the 19th century, the tax on imported tea accounted for an astonishing 10% of government revenue. America had already made their tea intentions very clear so we were really putting our energy into Asia at this point, largely through the world’s biggest business; the East India Company, who were basically running India on the British government’s behalf. The best tea came from China but they had a lot of laws about how much we could trade. On top of this, the East India Company had huge debts and we knew we could make up this deficit if we could exploit the Chinese market somehow. In a flash of inspiration, we went Walter White power and decided to sell huge quantities of Opium to the Chinese black market. Thanks to our Breaking Brit moment, some 12 million Chinese ended up addicted to the powerful opiate. China, was obviously not delighted about this Red Coat Tony Montana operation and in 1839 they tried to kick us out the country, confiscating and burning tons of the drug, worth millions of pounds. The Brits and Chinese eventually settled on a deal where the British got an island off-shore to set up trading posts and this would eventually become known as Hong Kong, remaining under British Control in some form until 1997. There was a second opium war, as they are known, from 1856 to 1860, with the French and Americans teaming up with the British for a delicious slice of their drug empire. Who knew … the Brits were global drug dealers? Maybe our stiff upper lip is just because it’s covered in cocaine. According to Roxy Music, Love is the drug, and we’ve all been caught up in its high at some point. The trouble is love and sex have some complicated side effects such as heart problems, an embarrassing rash and a closet full of Super Mario outfits. But since we left behind the amoebas, life in all forms has been very focused on sticking things in other things to create the next generation. If this is news to you, you’re probably too young to be on the internet and please don’t google anything in the comment section. Mankind had different ideas though. We liked the thing in things part but were less keen on the next generation bit, because we were a bit busy and we could barely feed OURSELVES, let alone a small pink version. For thousands of years, we had been trying to find an effective way to keep the “making” out of love making, from 5000 year old fish bladder condoms to awkward diaphragms. Finally, Enovid came on to the market in the US in 1957 as a treatment for menstrual disorders but by 1960 it was licensed as a contraceptive, thanks largely to the amazing work of Margaret Sanger who created the organizations that became Planned Parenthood. The pill is a far from perfect solution but its impact on female empowerment cannot be overstated. It put women in control of child birth, meaning they could play a far greater part in business and politics. It was this, more than its effect on population size, that really changed society and led to the first female pres… oh yeah… I forgot. The pill also helped the free love movement of the sixties because nothing is more likely to make you give up weed and hemp sweaters than the cold hard reality of a hungry child. But one of the golden paths of the hippy generation was the mind altering magic of LSD. In a report that came out this year, led by British neuroscientist David Nutt, it was suggested that the drug breaks down the barriers between separate parts of the brain, creating a system that is much more integrated. And this altering of perspective has led to some of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. British molecular biologist Francis Crick was a regular LSD user when he and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA and changed biology forever. That’s right, LSD has saved millions of lives. But LSD’s multi-coloured-dream-net is thrown much further than this, having helped many other great minds such as theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, mathematician Ralph Abraham, Nobel prize winning chemist Kary Mullis and turtleneck model Steve Jobs. So that concludes our magical acid trip through history. Kids if there’s one you should take away from this video; it’s don’t do drugs… unless you’re a teacher or a politician. Trust me, you’ll need it. 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