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History of Drug Abuse: The 40s

The 1940’s were kind of a slow time in the history of drug abuse or maybe drug abuse wasn’t as well documented. If it wasn’t well documented it may have been because many of the illicit substances we know today to be illicit weren’t illicit yet. Meaning, a lot of the drugs today that are illegal weren’t illegal yet, so drug abuse wasn’t really classified as drug abuse yet.  Also, in the 1940’s drug abuse and addiction were not problems of enough magnitude to capture space in newspapers since Hitler and the buildup to WW II dominated America’s attention. This doesn’t mean there was no drug abuse going on because there was especially with alcohol and alcoholics-in fact because of this the 1940s saw the rise of a program you may know well, Alcoholics Anonymous.

This is the history of drug abuse 1940s.

History of drug abuse 40’s: Emergence of the Hipster

Hipster or hepcat, as used in the 1940s, referred to aficionados of jazz, in particular bebop, which became popular in the early 1940s. The hipster adopted the lifestyle of the jazz musician, including some or all of the following: dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic humor, self-imposed poverty and relaxed sexual codes.

History of drug abuse 40’s: Benzedrine aka. Amphetamines

Benzedrine, in the form of inhalers and later tablets, was readily available over the counter until the 1950s. Marketed under this brand name by Smith, Kline & French (the company that was to become part of GlaxoSmithKline), the drug was initially used as a bronchodilator. However, people who needed help to breathe soon discovered that the innocuous inhaler had a potent stimulant effect. By 1949, many stories had been reported of the drug being used for recreational purposes, as well as an appetite suppressant. A decade later, “bennies” (as they came to be known) were reclassified as a controlled substance. Benzedrine was then replaced by non-prescription inhalers containing propylhexedrine, which was sold as Benzedrex.

History of drug abuse 40’s: Cocaine

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotic Act outlawed cocaine in the United States and usage declined throughout the 1940s through the 1960s. In the 1970s cocaine regained popularity as a recreational drug and was glamorized in the U.S. popular media. Articles from the time proclaimed cocaine as non-addictive. The drug was viewed as harmless until the 1985 emergence of crack.

History of drug abuse 40’s: LSD

LSD was accidentally discovered and ingested by Dr. Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz Laboratories, who found himself embarking on the first LSD “trip” in history in 1943. Soon after Hofmann’s initial experimentation with LSD, he provided samples of the drug to psychiatrists at the University of Zurich for further testing into possible uses. In the 1950s, the U.S. military and CIA researched LSD as a possible “truth drug,” which could be used for brainwashing or inducing prisoners to talk. However, after military interest in LSD waned in favor of other drugs, the psychiatric community began to research and issue reports on the drug’s possible therapeutic capabilities for psychotic, epileptic, and depressed patients.

History of drug abuse 40’s: Marijuana

The Volstead Act of 1920, which raised the price of alcohol in the United States, positioned marijuana as an attractive alternative and led to an increase in use of the drug. “Tea pads,” where a person could purchase marijuana for 25 cents or less, began appearing in cities across the United States, particularly as part of the black “hepster” jazz culture. By 1930 it was reported that there were at least 500 of these “tea pads” in New York City alone. During the Great Depression as unemployment increased, resentment and fear of the Mexican immigrants became connected to marijuana use. Numerous research studies linked marijuana use by lower class communities with crime and violence. In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which criminalized the drug. From 1951 to 1956 stricter sentencing laws set mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. In the 1950s the beatniks appropriated the use of marijuana from the black hipsters in the 40s and the drug moved into middle-class white America in the 1960s. In the second major wave of American opiate addiction, heroin was integrated into the new cultural identity of the “hipster”, first through the Harlem jazz scene in the 1930s and 1940s and then through the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s. During this period the major supply of heroin entering the U.S. came through the “French Connection” which was a collaboration between Corsican gangsters in Marseille and the Sicilian Mafia.

History of drug abuse: The Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous

While Alcoholics Anonymous has a long history before the 1940’s, 1940 was a year after the Big Book was published. In the 1940’s many aspects of AA’s traditions came about. The 1940s saw the immense growth of AA from being one small house to moving west, north, south, and east. Meetings began forming in France and Ireland as well as Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand by 1946. In 1947, meetings starting forming in England, Canada, Brazil and then the following year Sweden, Finland, Japan and Korea followed suit. Growth continued liked this, exponentially across the world throughout the entire 1940s.

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