Bits of Books - Books by Title

Women In Power

Mary Beard

More books on Drugs

Han dynasty in China 206 BC to 220 AD. A period of peace and prosperity . The Emperors pushed back the aggressive nomad tribes of the north, and established the 3 main routes of the Northern Silk Road. Used the Bactrian camel, whichcd carry 250kgs 3040 kms a day, or up to 100 kms if they were pulling a loaded cart.

In Middle Ages Europe, hospitals usually part of a religious establishment. But Byzantium split them off as early as C6. Secular doctors worked alternate months in state hospitals and private practice. Constantinople Hospital had female doctors and nurses and their own chemists, cooks and cleaners, and pallbearers, and even an ambulance service.

MA British doctors dosed their patients with dwali, a mix of opium, hemlock and henbane boiled up in wine. hemlock and alcohol put you to sleep quickly, while the opium lasted bit long enough to operate. John of Arderne (1307-1377) was a surgeon specialising in anal fistulas (painful results of long hours in saddle). He lost about half of his patients either through anasthetic, shock, or post-op infection, but he was so successful he was in great demand. Charged the rich £40 (equiv to £30,000 in 2017) but the middle classes 100 shillings (about £3,500)

Paracelsus intro laudanum, made by gently heating opium with alcohol, drying it, then pessing into pills. Made it consistent and reliable.

Before the tea/opium traders arrived, HK was an almost empty island known mainly for its Aquilaria trees which were harvested for incense. Hence one of the bays of the island was known as 'Hong Kong' or 'fragrant harbor', andthe local village was also called HK.

In C19 opium legal medical treatment in US. Addiction becoming a problem, with commentators saying bored housewives were main victims. But when actually surveyed the probem found that it was doctors - 40% of them, and 10% of their wives - were addicts.

St Mary's Hospital in London famous for where Alexander Fleming in 1928 discovered penicillin, when he came back from holiday and found a colony growing in a petri dish he'd forgotten to clean. But it was there, in 1874, that diacetylmorphine was first synthesised. (Acetyation involves replacing the hydrogen ato with an acetyl group, making the resulting alkaloids a lot more potent.)

The process is still used to today to 'cook' heroin. First step: Morphine (commercially available in London at the time) is heated slowly to drive off all moisture. Then mixed with acetic anhydride, causing a reaction which gives off a reeking gas. Then water added to convert any remaining acetic anhydride to harmless acetic acid. The second step is the dangerous part - sodium carbonate is added to remove acetic acid. The mixture can boil and explode. The remaining precipitate is then dried.

In a single fortnight in 1897, 3 chemists working for Bayer in Germany, synthesised the world's most successful legal drug (aspirin) and the world's most successful illegal drug (heroin). Of the two, aspirin was regarded as the most dangerous, mainly bc of the risk of bleeding in the stomach. Heroin almost miraculously gave comfort to Tb sufferers - stopped them coughing, calmed them, and gave them a good night's sleep.

heroin was easy to manufacture and was sold OTC in packets of 100, some choc coated to incr appeal to children. A popular cough medicine was called Syrup Toluheras, each dose containing 20mg heroin, 150mg cannabis, chloroform and alcohol. Heroin was bitter tasting, so all the 'medicines' included plenty of sugar.

In 1941 America was entering WW@ and needed to secure supplies of opium to make morphine to treat wounded soldiers. So despite a decade of trying to get Mexico to eradicate poppies, UScame to an arrangement that Sinaloan mountains would be allowed to grow them. US even sent advisers to teach locals how to grow.

Lucky Luciano was a Sicilian-American who dominated NY prostitution rackets. From here he got into heroin traficking until 1936 when he was sentenced to 30 to 50 years for running brothels. But WW2 Americans having trouble with waterfront unions, and in Italy, US alarmed at communist influences in Naples and Sicily. So did a deal with LL to fix both problems. He was deported to Sicily and then left unpoliced for a decade under US protection. He brought heroin in from Turkey, had it refined in Marseilles, and then sent it to US.

Mao Tse Tung is only leader to successfully eradicate poppy farming and the opium trade anywhere. However, the nationalist Chinese he defeated, the KMT, retreated to the jungles of Burma, where they took over the opium fields. Because they were a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communists, the CIA, through its Sea Supply Company, funded the KMT with about $35 million worth of equipment between 1950 and 1953.

MASH units in Korea big part of reason for reduced casualties. In WW1 8.5% US soldiers died, in WW2 4%, in Korea 2.5%. But army had problems with drug use. Heroin was cheap - about 80 cents for a 65mg dose - and it was used recreationally just like alcohol.

1971 report to Congress claimed that 15% troops in Vietnam were addicted to heroin and marijuana. What wasn't mentioned was America's role in creating the new drup-producing Golden Triangle of Laos, Burma and Thailand. The CIA ran covert ops in Laos for nineteen years, mainly as a transport hub for its support for KMT and other anti-comm groups. There are credible allegations that the CIA flew heroin out of Laos to fund their own operations. The CIA denies this.

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan 1979-89, they tried scorched earth policies to depop countryside - blowing up irrigation pipelines and blocking roads so that farm goods couldn't get to market. The Afghans were left with no other source of income but poppy growing and opium smuggling, so they turned to that on a large scale. And bc they were fighting the Russians, the US happily supplied them with weapons.

With the departure of Russian army, local warlord took control, extorting protection money for the growers. Sick of the costs, the populace welcomed the stability of the Taliban.

Well-meaning Westerners tried to reduce the opium flooding into Europe. A British initiative offered compensation to the farmers, who promptly planted more in order to receivemore compo.

Today, Afghans are growing superior GM poppies (seeds engineered in China), which is resulting in an increase in yield of around 40% each year.

Gulf War disproportionate number of blast injuries from IEDs. Found that post traumatic strees disorder risk substantially reduced if given pain relief within an hour of the injury. So medicsdole out fenatnyl lollipops. Instant pain relief, and better than intavenous drug bc self-medicating - if th soldier passes out, the lollpop falls from mouth, so less danger of overdose.

(London Times)

The message could have been from John Belushi inviting Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse over to get wasted. “We will have a fair trial of Bang. Do bring down some Hyoscyamine pills, and I will give a fair trial of Opium, Henbane and Nepenthe,” it said. Except this was what the lifelong junkie Samuel Taylor Coleridge said to Tom Wedgwood, son of his patron, circa 1800. Within a couple of years the young, talented Wedgwood was dead from an overdose.

The story of opium is the most compelling of the countless ways history repeats itself. If humankind’s four basic urges are for food, sex, shelter and sleep, the fifth is for intoxication to ease the passage of life. Since neolithic man discovered the power of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, and died with its capsules stuck in his rotten teeth and his bones riddled by its consumption, we’ve never stopped flirting with death or bliss.

Lucy Inglis’s fabulous book Milk of Paradise is the history of civilisation as shaped by opium. About 5,000 years ago in the soil of the Fertile Crescent, stretching from Greece to Iran, someone cut a poppy head and allowed the opium latex to drip into dried teardrop shapes — the milk of paradise. Egyptians dosed babies with it, the Greeks used it for sleep, suicide and gynaecology. Marcus Aurelius, deprived of his daily tonic, displayed the nervous symptoms of regular opiate users, making him perhaps the first known drug addict.

Marco Polo, heading east, relayed stories of young men dosed on opium and sent on Shia Islam suicide missions. In the 12th century in Salerno, Trota (referred to as “Dame Trot” in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale), recommended it in childbirth as a soporific sponge, and its direct application to the vagina to help sexual frustration. In Oxford the head of Merton College grew opium poppies and cannabis, probably for a medicinal drink called dwale, while a 14th-century English physician John of Arderne, a specialist in removing anal fistulas (the curse of rich men on horseback) made an anaesthetic of mandrake and Egyptian opium, which he rubbed on his patients’ skin before surgery. Happily, half of them survived the operation. Paracelsus, a Swiss-German contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, invented laudanum, tincture of opium heated with alcohol.

The West wanted more of this miraculous pain-easing commodity. The Brits, in the shape of the East India Company, carved a new trade map of the world for it. In Bengal, where the rich consumed cocktails of opium, nutmeg, mace, cloves, Borneo camphor, ambergris and musk, and in the East Indies, where they regarded opium “the way a worker looks upon his bread”, the drug was easy to procure. The Mughals granted the company trading rights to their supplies.

Inglis, a historian and novelist, is the creator of the award-winning Georgian London blog. To opium’s much larger sweep of history, she brings astonishing detail, but also freshness — a modern sensibility exploring old but still jaw-dropping facts.

Milk of Paradise coolly exposes some of today’s global business brands as yesterday’s drug lords. William Jardine, a ship’s surgeon for the East India Company, was trading in opium by the early 1800s, as was James Matheson, another Scot. The Jardine-Matheson partnership made more money than it could count, shipping thousands of chests of opium from Hong Kong to China and returning loaded with tea. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) aimed to control all opium routes east of Suez. The HSBC was created to bank the money and the opium lobby persuaded the British government to fight two opium wars to protect its trade. The East India Company grandee Robert Clive, known as Clive of India, was an opium addict who probably died of an overdose.

Within a century countless Europeans were exceedingly wealthy and an estimated 25 per cent of the Chinese were addicts. Many Chinese emigrated to America’s west coast, taking opium with them. In the 1870s in the mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota (which had a Chinatown and three opium dens), a woman called Martha Jane Burke, aka Calamity Jane, was a dancer. She also procured girls for the owner of the local theatre, Al Swearengen, who had a brothel, ran the town’s opium trade and maintained his girls on opiates. Hopefully Doris Day knew none of this.

Who could resist the appeal of opium? Very few. Laudanum was a rapidly intoxicating painkiller that whizzed into every European and American household’s medicine cabinet. With it, children were soothed and the melancholy self-medicated. By now, the morality of the opium trade was being discussed and there was the first consideration of addiction. In 1868 the Pharmacy Act was passed in Britain, which limited the sale of certain drugs over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. The death rate for children under five almost halved in three years. But opiate addiction continued to rise among women. In 1871 one doctor, typical of the Victorian medical profession, pointed his finger at the wealthy woman “idly lolling upon her velvety fauteuil”, a breathtaking hypocrisy when most doctors were morphine users and many were addicts. Hypocrisy runs through opium’s history like a golden thread, and Inglis quietly tugs at it.

The monster of morphine was unleashed in the early 19th century, when the active ingredient in opium latex was discovered. By the 1840s it had already changed the world for good and ill, as the invention of hypodermic syringes made instant release from pain a reality and annihilation a possibility. It was still believed at that point that only oral consumption made you an addict; the error soon became apparent. By the 1880s the first rehabilitation centres were opened in Britain.

The scientists were unstoppable. In Germany in 1897, morphine was synthesised into heroin and salicylic acid into aspirin (aspirin was regarded as the more dangerous because it made the stomach bleed). Heroin pills, covered in sugar or chocolate, were cheap and easy to make. Inglis raises an amused eyebrow at Syrup Toluheras: each dose comprised 20mg of heroin, 150mg of cannabis, tartar emetic, chloroform, alcohol and syrup of tolu from Colombia. It was, unsurprisingly, very popular.

The International Opium Commission led to a convention in the Hague in 1912, which decided to control morphine and cocaine — embarrassing for Britain, which at the time had three big pharmaceutical companies exporting morphine and heroin straight to China. There’s a strange symmetry with today, when we bemoan the Chinese for flooding our markets with drugs such as spice.

Prohibition in the US and UK followed, and international criminals moved in, creating illicit trading routes that shaped the world anew. The genie would never go back in the bottle. The word “junkie” entered the dictionaries in the early 1920s, derived from the ever-growing hordes of young men scavenging scrap metal in Manhattan. In these chapters on the dark side, Inglis paints succinct portraits of the mafia and Afghanistan, now producing 90 per cent of the world’s heroin, that make you shake your head in astonishment. Illegal opiates, she points out, are an eternal international credit line, sold via a modern version of the Silk Road, the dark web. They even have their own currency, bitcoin.

The writer William Burroughs once described how heroin “hits the backs of the legs first, then the back of the neck, a spreading wave of relaxation slackening the muscles away from the bones so that you seem to float without outlines, like lying in warm salt water”. Opium as medicine has saved millions of lives, but doomed millions of others seeking recreation or a salve for a tortured soul.

It strikes different ages in different ways, and its latest metamorphosis is among OxyContin addicts in America’s rust belt and rural poor. Here, cut with the synthetic opiate fentanyl, which has proved its worth in countless surgeries, it is killing in frightening numbers. As Inglis puts it, in her restrained, lucid prose: “An active trade in opioid that will sedate elephants indicates a deeper malaise in the US psyche.”

Milk of Paradise is a triumph, epic in scale and full of humanity. Geopolitics was changed by the poppy: it influenced the development of navigation, exploration and world trade; hand-in-hand with war, it helped to create the wealthy economies, science, medicine, crime and human despair of the modern world. The poppy, she says, will always be one of the greatest global commodities for good and evil — and we will always be at war with it.


HUNTINGTON, West Virginia, is dying. As a share of the town’s population, overdoses kill more than ten times the American average. Startling numbers of babies are reportedly addicted to opioids at birth. The country at large is suffering, too: 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, compared with 58,000 fatalities in the Vietnam war. This is not how things were meant to be. Scientists developed opioids to dull pain, not cause it..

As Lucy Inglis recounts in her sweeping new history of opium, the tension between the substance’s medicinal virtue and its dangers is ancient. From their earliest uses, opium and its cousins have both soothed and troubled people. Roman herbalists used the drug to combat dysentery, even as they warned against the “chilled extremities” and “laboured breath” of overdosing. Two thousand years later, a doctor anguished by the addictive power of morphine reflected that no drug “has been so great a blessing and so great a curse to mankind”.

Ms Inglis untangles these contradictions with gusto, guiding readers from primitive Neolithic experiments with poppies to the modern “war on drugs”. Her narrative is propelled by savagery and greed. In 1621 the Dutch helped secure trade in the East Indies (which included opium) by murdering and enslaving 13,000 people on the islands east of Java. Two centuries later Victorian merchants got rich by forcing the “vile dirt” into China, spawning an estimated 12m addicts.

Yet if the opium trade led to violence, violence has also led to the development of innovative applications for opium. The syrette, a sealed single-use dose of painkilling morphine, emerged from the mud and guts of the first world war. Severely wounded troops in Afghanistan have been treated using lollipops laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Ms Inglis does not just trace the arc of history. She wallows in the exotic details of her story - from the sharpened bamboo the Chinese used to fight British interlopers, to the heroin pills “flavoured with rosewater and coated with chocolate” that were once sold over the counter. Remarkable personalities scamper past. Ralph Fitch, an Elizabethan adventurer and opium trader, returned with tales of the king of Thailand and his pet white elephants, all “dressed in cloth of gold”. Antoine Guérini fought for the French resistance before making it big in the heroin business. There are energetic descriptions of drug culture, from the Romantic poets to David Bowie.

Sometimes “Milk of Paradise” reads like fiction. Occasionally the author overcrowds this narrative with incidental characters; in what is a panoramic survey, she is prone to the odd tendentious claim. Nonetheless, this is a deeply researched and captivating book. The final chapters, in which Ms Inglis escapes the archives, are especially compelling.

Her interviews provide rich insights into the modern heroin trade. Asked if his family grows poppies, one Afghan farmer is blunt. “Sure. Who doesn’t?” A study of the online drug world is similarly revealing. One forum helped addicts avoid dangerous, fentanyl-spiked heroin. The Silk Road website facilitated over a million drug transactions in just two years. Like opium itself, Ms Inglis discovers, the internet has been both a blessing and a curse.

(The Spectator)

America has for years been struggling with a shortage of the drugs it uses to execute people, yet it was only in August, in Nebraska, that the first judicial killing using opioids was performed. Aside from moral questions about the death penalty itself, the resistance for so long to this obvious solution denotes a particularly sadistic puritanism, as though it’s an unacceptable risk that even the last moments of a condemned man should be at all pleasant.

Opium and its derivatives and synthetic imitators constitute a miracle class of drug: nothing else is as good for pain relief, as Lucy Inglis’s bright and anecdote-packed history shows. Modern British and American soldiers, wounded on the battlefield, are given fentanyl lollipops, so that if they lose consciousness the lollipops drop out of their mouths and they avoid overdose. And the use of opium to treat the wounded in war goes back as long as human cultivation of the opium poppy, which dates from Neolithic times.

The book is a long sprint, indeed, through the last 3,000 years or so of wars, medicine, and the drug trades, legal and illegal, from China to Afghanistan and South America. This vast scope means that sometimes the reader may not be able to see the poppy for the trees. Engrossed in some detail about the American Civil War, one realises that one hasn’t heard anything about opium for many pages. Occasionally, we race along merrily: ‘On land, as at sea, the 16th century was a time of extraordinary change and innovation,’ the author writes, which can hardly be gainsaid. But the book’s enjoyment comes from its colourful characters: the mystical doctor Paracelsus, who invented laudanum in the 16th century, or the 18th-century American doctor and politician Benjamin Rush, who wrote that small beer results in ‘serenity’, but brandy encourages ‘fighting and horse racing’, while gin begins in ‘perjury’ and ends in ‘burglary and death’. (Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, grew opium poppies on his plantation.)

By the late 19th century, opiates were successfully commercialised in products such as Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a morphine concoction recommended for putting children to sleep; and Inglis traces the line from here, through prohibition, to the rise of the heroin trade under the Triads and Mafia, and up to the present ‘opioid crisis’ in America, the over-prescribing of addictive painkillers.

This last, apparently, ‘indicates a deeper malaise in the American psyche’; but such powerful drugs are always political. In the 19th century, opium was associated with Chinese immigrants to America’s west coast and the subsequent alleged degradation of white women’s morals, so a huge wave of anti-Chinese sentiment culminated in California’s Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not repealed until 1943. Stories of drug-crazed black men, similarly, helped pass official prohibition of opium and cocaine by 1922. Inglis shows persuasively, meanwhile, how Allied attempts to suppress poppy farming in Afghanistan after 2001 were not only doomed to failure but counterproductive in the battle for hearts and minds.

The author’s style is perky and informal, which can result in her writing such things as ‘the drug is both a tremendous force for good and an indescribable evil’ — which, if true, is a shame, because it would be a decent idea to try to describe it. In fact, Inglis is throughout rather unattractively moralistic about her subject. She describes Coleridge ‘misusing’ laudanum, as if the poor sap had been in the habit of pouring it over his head, and endorses Southey’s criticism of the greater man’s ‘indulgence’. Coleridge died ‘an unhappy addict’, Inglis concludes with satisfaction, though it bears pointing out that he had written some rather good poetry and criticism along the way. She also describes the long life of the great De Quincey as ‘riven by disputes, nightmares, debt and drug dependence’, which again is rather to miss the literary point.

For an investigation into why people use opium and other substances recreationally in the first place, one must look elsewhere —for example to Richard J. Miller’s excellent Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs. Inglis, for her part, just seems consistently baffled as to why anyone might want to get off their face. She is still surprised when relating how Hunter S. Thompson had ‘few regrets’ about his pharmacological adventures; but a line of his explains something about the attraction of altered states of mind that these 400 pages otherwise cannot. ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone,’ Thompson is supposed to have said, ‘but they’ve always worked for me.’

Books by Title

Books by Author

Books by Topic

Bits of Books To Impress