Flashback Friday: Master Addicts

in Culture

Opium has fueled people’s dreams since the dawn of creation. Some of history’s greatest writers have been partisans of the poppy. Michael Aldrich, drug scholar, explores the laudanum literature in the November, 1982 edition of High Times.

Opium, raw opium—the best painkiller known since the dawn of creation: yet historians, delicately embarrassed, seem reluctant to admit its profound influence on world leaders and events. The history of the human race might be interestingly revised if all the great opium eaters would rise up and dance where they died. Who are these famous monsters, these immortal addict shades?

They pass before us in a dream, revealing all states and conditions of humanity: Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, Avicenna, Paracelsus, Ronsard, Savonarola. Baber, first Mogul emperor of India, and his heirs, poisoning each other with slow-acting poppy juice in a blood feud for control of the subcontinent.

Cardinal Richelieu appears, dueling through eternity with the Three Musketeers. Robert Clive, first British governor of Bengal. Ben Franklin, who died addicted to opium taken for gout, and thereby lived to set a new form of government in motion. William Wilberforce, who got slavery abolished throughout the British Empire. Friedrich von Schiller, giant of German literature.

A thousand Romantic poets fall out of the sky, clutching their laudanum flasks—Elizabeth Barrett Browning keeping hers discreetly tucked away beneath her crinolines. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” she moans, measuring out her drops.

Among millions of recent addicts, seven of planetary influence pass by in a shower of beetles and stones: Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Janis Joplin; in contrast, Hermann Göring, Joseph McCarthy, Howard Hughes; between them stands William S. Burroughs, miraculously alive, gauntly pointing to the future.

It is the Dark Ages of drug addiction, anno Domini 1524. Paracelsus, physician and …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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