Preface Print
Written by Peter Laurie   
Wednesday, 02 March 2011 00:00


This book is a crude attempt to sum up the major points of our knowledge, and still more our ignorance, about drugs; how to define and control the harm they do to personalities and to society. It is not intended as a handbook on even the small number of drugs that are mentioned, but rather as the beginnings of a rational discussion of drugs in society, and the vehicle for putting forward some new attitudes towards them. If it appears superficial, it must be remembered that although perhaps 10,000 scientific papers have been published on this subject — 1,000 ot\ the hallucinogens alone in the last fifty years, there is an amazing)), small amount of hard information available. Among scientists, as among laymen, this subject stimulates endless streams of subjective, narrative evidence, wild daims and repetitive accounts. My purpose has been to select and assemble some useful nuggets from this vast and amorphous mass. If the reader finishes this book feeling no wiser but rather more confused than before, he is in the same case as the honest professional. Of all the social problems drug abuse is the most intractable and inexplicable. No one in the world has an adequate answer.

It may be relevant to say something about my own attitude towards drugs. Apart from a couple of experiments with benzedrine at school in the mid fifties — during the inhaler craze — and two rather abortive experiences with LSD and marihuana reported here, I have not used drugs and I am not very tempted to. The society of drug users does not seem to me to be particularly interesting — probably my own fault — and life is too busy to afford the time necessary to get to know them. In genera! think, I am one of those people who is impaired by any drug. I do not smoke, and I seldom drink, at least seldom in comparin with my parents' generation.

Broadly speaking, commentators on drugs — both lay and expert — tend to divide sharply into those who are basically pessimistic about humanity and think that drugs distort and corrupt personality, and the optimists who think that nothing, including drugs, changes people very much from their true reality. Both points of view are probably equally wrong, but I must admit to being among the second class.

It may seem impertinent for a journalist without any medical training to write on such a technical subject. My defences are that (a) this field covers so many disciplines that no single person is going to be professionally qualified to speak on them all, (b) in these days of experts, it is perhaps useful that uninformed, but also unindoctrinated persons should do a sort of consumer test on 'scientific work, reviewing what has been done, and asking: how far forward does this get society?

I have to thank many people: the librarians of the Wellcome, British Medical Association and Royal Society of Medicine libraries for allowing me to consult their shelves. I have to thank those addicts and doctors who talked to me, Commander Millen of the Metropolitan Police and other police officers with whom I had interviews when I wrote the first edition of this book in 1965. Finally I have to thank the staff of the Home Office Drugs Branch and Professor G. M. Carstairs of Edinburgh University, Who all - suggested several most useful lines of thought and inquiry and removed many of the crasser mistakes from my first manuscript. It would be beyond human power to remove them all.

Preface to the 1974 Edition   

This edition appears at a time when the scientific arguments about drugs have almost died down. The major facts are no longer in dispute: the interesting research now being done is aimed at showing that drug use is compatible with productive conventional life (heroin, see p. 154; marihuana, p. 42). The battle has moved from the laboratory to the hustings: the forces opposed are becoming more and more political, and the issues at stake in the legalization of soft drugs are economic and social rather than moral or medical. _

Two more important inquiries — the President's Committee on Marihuana and Drug Abuse in America, and the le Dain Commission in Canada — have reported that marihuana is not a significant social danger. Yet in both countries, as in Britain and many others too, legislation has become more ,severe and in America particularly vast sums are being spent to extirpate the drug traffic. President Nixon announced in 1973 a budget of $430 million to deal with the drug problem. When one realizes that this represents the salaries of 30,000 middle class administrators, the size of vested interests that are being installed against liberalization of the drug laws becomes apparent One fears that the legislators are whistling in the dark, for illegal drug use has now become a habit indulged in by substantial numbers of people. ANsurVey by the New York Chamber of Commerce found that of 579,000 sales people in the city, 12,000 were addiqed to heroin, 21,000 to amphetamines, 50,000 to marihuana, 37,600 to tranquiffizers, an& 71,000 to barbiturates. A survey by the B.B.C. progamme Midweek in 1973 found that 4 million people in Britain had, smoked cannabis, 657,000 had tried L SD, 1.2 millions amphetamine, and that half a million people were addicted to barbiturates.

Again, I must thank all those who helped me to write this book and keep it moderately up to date, and in particular the staff of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, whose excellent library made the task of revision very much easier.


Our valuable member Peter Laurie has been with us since Sunday, 13 March 2011.

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