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The History of Drugs In Society
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The History of Drugs In Society

Author: Eugene Leventhal

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The History of Drugs in Society explores the history of different substances and how we’ve lived alongside and interacted with them. This season, we’re going to look at opium in one of three ways: opium as a medicine, opium as a commodity that is traded, and opium as a drug that is consumed and people become addicted to. Each episode will have one of these three as the primary focus. We will start with the first signs of the opium poppy through the current opioid crisis in America and the major issues surrounding opioids globally.
26 Episodes
This week’s episode featured an interview with Jared Moffat, who is a state campaigns coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project. We talked about some of the previous and current efforts he’s been involved with. We then dove into South Dakota, both in terms of work done getting the ballot in place and in terms of what happens now. We also talked about where cannabis policy is headed and what the fight for further change will look like.  Important to note, this episode was recorded before a judge in South Dakota ruled Constitutional Amendment A unconditional for violating the single subject rule. If you want to support the South Dakota efforts, go to  To learn more about MPP, go to To get in touch with me, feel free to reach out on Twitter @DrugsHistory or via gmail (  Be well!
This week, I interview Julia Hilbert, who is the chair of the board of directors at Students of Sensible Drug Policy, the president of DanceSafe Pittsburgh, and works part-time doing direct service amongst other things at Prevention Point Pittsburgh. We talk about her journey getting into harm reduction and drug policy activism, how you can get involved if you’re interested, what harm reduction is, what role stigma plays, and what changes she hopes to see during her career    You can learn more at:   Feel free to reach out over email ( or Twitter (@DrugsHistory).    Be well!
Giving a short(ish) update as the year wraps up. I talk about some plans for next year: narrative is on hold until I can release on a weekly basis interviews coming up related to opioid harm reduction in Pennsylvania and cannabis legalization in the US random interviews might still show up I'm really grateful for all of the people who have tuned in since I launched earlier this year! Feel free to reach out if you have any content ideas or just want to chat about any of the topics we touched on in the first season. You can reach me on and @DrugsHistory on Twitter.  Be well! 
This week I got to speak to Professor Anna Sergi, who is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Essex. We got to cover a few main areas of her research, including Italian organized crime overall, the ‘ndrangheta (both in Italy and internationally), as well as the role of shipping in global cocaine markets, an area in which the ‘ndrangheta is personally involved.  If you’ve heard the ‘about the podcast’ episode, you might remember that Italian organized crime groups in the NY, particularly the Sicilian La Cosa Nostra, was what initially piqued my own interests in the world of organized crime and drugs. So it was particularly interesting for me to get to talk to Anna about the state of Italian mafias today and just how prominent the ‘ndrangheta has become in the last few decades.  Some links: Anna's professional profile Anna's twitter Her e-book, The Port Crime Interface Not her's, but here's the article on EncroChat and the one linking Wirecard and the 'ndrangheta I reference in the intro
In the fourth episode of the season, I'm going over addiction in the East and the West. The episode starts by talking about addiction briefly before laying out some basic history of addiction and intoxication. From there, I cover issues with opium smoking in China before shifting to how addiction differed in the West at the time. I also talk about morphism, the Civil War, and where usage stood heading into the 1900s. In the next episode, I'll cover some medical history relating to morphine and heroin and then will cover Prohibition.    If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on or on Twitter, @DrugsHistory.
This week’s ep features Nidia Olivera, who is a professor at the National School of Anthropology teaching history and drug history specifically. She is also a current PhD candidate at the Mora Institute, where she is looking at the ancient and modern history of psychoactive substances and drug policies in Mexico.  We talked about the history of drug prohibition in Mexico from the time the Spanish arrived through the 1950’s. We covered a wide swath of history and we couldn’t cover everything, so I’m including some additional resources below. Feel free to reach out on @DrugsHistory or on email,  Nidia’s suggested resources: Some others: If you like Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast, check out season 9. A Narco History is a short book that gives a good high level political history. Dawn Paley’s Drug War Capitalism provides an interesting theory in terms of the economic role of deciding specific drug policies.
For this week's bonus episode of the History of Drugs in Society, I spoke to Jirka Taylor about synthetic opioid policy. Jirka is currently a Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation. A social scientist by training, his research portfolio mainly focuses on drug policy and criminal justice more broadly and he explores where those systems intersect with healthcare and social services. We talk about policy responses to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.  Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) or over email ( You can read more of Jirka’s research here:
This episode, the second of two exploring opium as a commodity, focuses on the British role in the opium trade in the 1700-1800s and an overview of the market as we head into the 1900s. I focus on the expansion of the British in India, the Opium Wars, the opium trade overall, and how this sets the stage for prohibition.    Suggested podcasts: Throughline Hong Kong episode  More on Chinese perspective?  Book: Imperial Twilight by Stephen Platt for context leading up to and through the first Opium War
Hello and welcome to the History of Drugs in Society, where we explore the history of different substances and how we’ve lived alongside and interacted with them. I’m your host, Eugene Leventhal.  If you’re interested in learning more about how fentanyl markets came about and how they look like today, you should enjoy this discussion. In this episode, I interview Jon Caulkins, who is a University Professor Of Operations Research And Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Our interview focuses on fentanyl in the United States, looking at both the history and current state of fentanyl market. We talk about the impact of COVID-19 on fentanyl markets, what evidence there has been of fentanyl being mixed with other drugs, and what a term like morphine equivalent dose means and why it’s important to know. We also touch on safe supply, regional and international trends in synthetic opioid usage, and where data on overdoses come from.  Pulling from his bio on the Heinz College site, “Jon Caulkins has been on the Heinz College faculty since 1990, with leaves of absence to be co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center in Santa Monica (1994-1996), to found RAND’s Pittsburgh Office (1999-2001), and to teach at Carnegie Mellon’s campus in Doha, Qatar (2005-2011).     Here is the link to the UN report mention Other links:
My guest this week is Clayton Ruley, who is the Director of Community Engagement and Volunteer Services for Prevention Point Philadelphia. We talk about harm reduction overall as well as how these services have been affected as a result of COVID-19. We also get into questions regarding community, policy, and what makes Clayton most hopeful in terms of harm reduction.    In case you want to learn more: Prevention Point Philadelphia Site - Wishlist - Twitter - Facebook - Step Up To The Plate Campaign - Timestamps  What is prevention point and what do they do - 1:58  What’s your background - 2:56  What brought you to Phill - 3:52 Importance of community in terms of managing addiction - 4:15 Internal vs external community - 5:52 How has Covid affected needle exchange services - 6:38  How have the operations changed - 9:00 Is prevention point involved in the mail home narcan program - 10:13 How might harm reduction change moving forward - 10:52 Any concerns of increased usage during social isolation - 14:15 Policy changes you want to see change - 15:23 What makes you most hopefully in terms of harm reduction - 16:16 Anything that makes you least hopeful - 17:31 Any organizations to highlight - 19:32 How can people support prevention point - 20:36 Outro - 22:03
Opium has been traded for a long time. It was part of a variety of goods that have been bought and sold for millenia. In this episode of the History of Drugs in Society, we start by exploring the early evolution of opium being traded, Marco Polo and the Silk Road, and European colonization in Asia through the 1600s. Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) or email ( audio used for the intro comes from The Great Age of Exploration (1400-1550) Documentary from Discovery Education Documentary and The Distant Drummer: Flowers of Darkness as posted on C-SPAN. Credits on the music goes to Blue Dot Sessions. 
This episode will review the impacts of the coronavirus on both illegal and legal drug markets. In terms of illegal markets, this includes how drug trafficking organizations and street-level drug markets have been affected. As far as legal markets go, we'll take a look at how harm reduction and medical support services and opioid prescriptions overall are dealing with the pandemic, and an example of disinformation.  You can find the full transcript with citations here.  Audio used for the intro: Feel free to reach out on Twitter (@DrugsHistory) and email (
In the first full episode of the History of Drugs in Society, we explore opium as medicine. This will take us from its origins thousands of years ago until the early 1800s. One of the main points of this episode is to see when opioid usage started in the doctor's office.  Intro clip takes audio from Dr. Lydia Kang's talk entitled Origin of Opium and Heroin Treatment from C-SPAN on 12/11/2017.  Some main sources used include:  Opium by John Halpern and David Blistein Milk of Paradise by Lucy Inglis Opium's Human History by Lucy Inglis, Natural History, Mar 2019 You can find a full list of sources here. 
1. About The Podcast

1. About The Podcast


In this episode, I go over why I am doing this, what you can expect from the podcast, some context on where this journey ends, and some terms. All of this is meant to provide some additional context but isn't necessary to follow the podcast. Feel free to reach out over email Credit to Blue Dot Sessions for the music. You can find the audio used for in the intro on C-SPAN. For a full list of citations, you can go here. 
This is a brief introduction to the History of Drugs in Society podcast, which is launching on April 7th. This podcast explores the history of different substances and how we’ve lived alongside and interacted with them.  I hope you'll join along for the journey. Feel free to reach out at 
I'm speaking as part of a Vice in the Victorian Age panel at the Intelligent Speech Conference this year. You can learn more and get tickets here: It takes place on Sat April 21st. I hope to see you there!  Also, I'm putting things on hold prior to then. Feel free to reach out and connect @drugshistory on Twitter or Be well!
Hello and welcome to the History of Drugs in Society with me, Eugene Leventhal. This week, I got to speak with the honorable Scott B. Cecil, who is a city council member in Mount Rainier in Maryland. In addition to that, Scott also runs two podcasts of his own - one called Prohibited which explores prohibition in various contexts, and the other is called the Outlaw Report, which is about cannabis policy and news in the DC area Below are links to both of Scott’s podcasts and you can follow him on Twitter.  Feel free to reach out to me over email ( or via Twitter (@DrugsHistory).  Be well!
This week I speak to Rob Hofmann, who is the Movement Building Fellow for the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Regions with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy or SSDP. SSDP is “the largest global youth-led network dedicated to ending the War on Drugs.” (source)  This is the first of the episodes on the topic of cannabis legalization. With Rob, we’re going to talk about cannabis policy more broadly and what constitutes well-thought out legislation in his eyes.  The conversation with Rob starts with how he got involved in drug policy activism in the first place. We then talk about the ballot measures from election day in November 2020 and the MORE Act that passed through the House of Representatives on Friday, December 4th. Rob and I then talked about some general cannabis policy priorities going into 2021 and 2022. We also touch on the topic of coops and the role that they can play.  If you’re interested in getting involved in SSDP, you can reach out to Rob on I also added links to SSDP in the show notes. You can learn more about SSDP on their site ( or by following them on Twitter (@ssdpglobal).  Feel free to reach out to me over email ( or via Twitter (@DrugsHistory).  Be well! 
This week’s interview with Lilian Kloft, who is a PhD candidate at Maastricht University in the Netherlands working in Neuropsychology & Psychopharmacology. As you’ll hear in this interview, she does a lot of work on the question of how different intoxicating substances affect our memory. We talked about how cannabis, alcohol, and MDMA all affect memory in different ways. 
Sorry I've been MIA, still dealing with some health issues. I'll get back to working on season 1 and some interviews (probably focused on cannabis legalization efforts in Pennsylvania) when I'm up to it. Stay tuned. I do really appreciate every person who checks out the podcast. If you're ever inclined to connect, feel free to do so over email ( or Twitter (@drugshistory). I'd love to hear from ya. Be well!
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