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Points Bibliography: New Perspectives on the Regulation of LSD, Cannabis, and Heroin in U.S. History

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Editor’s Note:  These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography being compiled by Jonathon Erlen. They were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but are now periodically featured on the Points blog. For more information, contact Dr. Erlen through the above link. We are happy to point out that today’s selection features new work from Adam Rathge and Sarah Brady Siff, two longtime Points contributors!

“Too Hot to Handle”: LSD, Medical Activism, and the Spring Grove Studies (M.A. Thesis)

Author: Halsem, Lauren M.

Abstract: In the early 1950s, medical researchers across the United States began investigating the use of the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) as a facilitating agent in psychotherapy. Despite great promise, crisis struck this young field when, in the early 1960s, the federal government began tightening regulations on LSD—this being a result of public and political anxieties about increasing recreational use of the drug, as well as changing clinical trial standards. Scholars maintain that psychedelic researchers unilaterally responded to the crisis by abandoning the field, fearing that their continued association with the drug would wreak havoc on their careers and personal lives. However, a close examination of the proceedings at the Spring Grove State Hospital, located in Catonsville, Maryland, tells a different story. Drawing on archival material from Purdue’s Psychoactive Substances Research Collection, this thesis explores the Spring Grove research team’s effort to midwife a more favorable view of this defamed drug. In doing so, this analysis provides a new perspective on psychedelic researchers’ response to the LSD crisis.

Advisor: Kline, Wendy P.

Publication Year: 2016

University/Department: Purdue University, History

Cannabis Cures: American Medicine, Mexican Marijuana, and the Origins of the War on Weed, 1840-1937

Author: Rathge, Adam

Abstract: This dissertation charts the medicalization and criminalization of the drug now widely known as marijuana. Almost no one in the United States used that word, however, until it was introduced from Mexico in the early twentieth century. Prior to that, Americans often called it hemp or hashish, and generally knew it as Cannabis – the scientific name given to a genus of plants by Carl Linnaeus. That transition in terminology from cannabis to marijuana serves as the crux of this project: It begins in 1840 with the formal introduction of cannabis into American medicine and ends in 1937 with the federal prohibition of marijuana. In between, it charts nearly a century of medical discourse, social concern, and legislative restrictions surrounding the drug – demonstrating that the origins of our nation’s war on weed are much older and more complicated than previous studies have suggested. In short, marijuana prohibition in the United States was not a swift or sudden byproduct of racism and xenophobia toward Mexican immigrants, but instead, the culmination of broad evolutions in public health and drug regulation coupled with a sustained concern about the potential dangers of cannabis use dating to the mid-nineteenth century.

Advisor: Summers, Martin A.

Publication Year: 2016

University/Department: Boston College, History

Tough on Dope: Crime and Politics in California’s Drug Wars, 1946-1963

Author: Siff, Sarah Brady

Abstract: This dissertation places state lawmaking and local enforcement at the center of its analysis of the U.S. drug wars by exposing California’s efforts to reduce the traffic in illicit substances during the first two decades of the postwar era. In contrast with existing work that sees drug enforcement as federally directed, this research reveals that state and local initiatives drove attitudes and action on illegal drugs. The California drug-control experience in the postwar era shows that the drug wars were locally escalated through grassroots campaigns, overzealous law enforcement, and political jockeying to solve the problem of increasing illicit drug use. Beginning just after World War II, law enforcement agencies and the mass media in the greater Los Angeles area encouraged widespread panic over heroin and marijuana smuggled from Mexico. Federal agencies fueled this concern during congressional hearings on organized crime, which connected the “narcotics menace” to the mafia and communism, birthing local crime commissions focused on drugs and juvenile delinquency. Police Chief William H. Parker engineered a brutal narcotics enforcement regime that targeted minority neighborhoods and violated the constitutional rights of drug defendants in defiance of court rulings, suggesting Los Angeles as a western site of massive resistance. Californians interrogated the relationships between federal, state, and local enforcement arms, whose leaders often disagreed and failed to cooperate. Increasingly politicized, drug control became a major issue in the 1962 governor’s race, with Republican Richard Nixon pressing for harsh penalties and Democrat Pat Brown seeking to protect the rights of drug defendants and replace prison time with rehab. California’s critique of the federal drug-control regime was widely publicized and convinced President John F. Kennedy to reorganize federal agencies tasked with combatting drugs. California exercised an early and deep influence over the course of U.S. drug policy at midcentury by pressing the federal government to combat drug trafficking from Mexico and questioning the methods of longtime drug czar Harry J. Anslinger. This dissertation extends backward the traditional timeline of the modern U.S. drug wars and opens a discussion about the roles played by citizens, local officials, and state governments.

Advisor: Stebenne, David

Committee Members: Baker, Paula; Steigerwald, David

Publication Year: 2016

University/Department: Ohio State University, History


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