Week of December 27, 2020

Historical Highs


7-Up first arrived in 1929 with the less catchy name of “Bib Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” A mouthful, but note the third word; the drink contained the mood enhancer lithium until it was federally banned from beer and soft drinks in 1948. Coincidentally, the drink appeared just weeks before the The Great Depression began in the US, when most people needed all the mood lightener they could get.


Heroin was developed by drug giant Bayer in 1895 as a painkiller and cough suppressant, promoted as safer than morphine, and was even recommended for children. The name derives from “heroisch,” German for “heroic,” but the company quit selling the syrup 15 years later when its addictive properties had become obvious.


From 1886 until 1903, Coca-Cola did indeed contain real cocaine, and the “Cola” part is from the kola nut, the extract of which supplied caffeine in the first recipe. The original drink was produced as a type of faux wine in response to a short-lived 1886 alcohol ban in Atlanta, where the company is still headquartered.


While they eschewed cocaine, opium, and morphine, Nazi soldiers fueled many of their battles with pills of a methamphetamine-based drug known as Pervitin, developed in 1937 by German chemist Fritz Hauschild. Also known as “pilot’s salt” and “tank chocolate,” Hitler himself was given frequent injections of this early crystal meth, though Allies’ tests with the drug were stopped when the side effects were judged too severe.


Before federal statutory bans and enforcement of the 20th Century, medical and recreational opium use was common in the US. It was used to treat wounded soldiers in the Revolutionary War and Civil War in the form of powders and solutions, and Asian immigrants brought with them the practice of smoking it. A very common medicine of the time was laudanum, which was opium dissolved in alcohol. Unfortunately, this wide-scale use led to an opioid epidemic which predated the current one by well over a century.


Cocaine used to be common to numb the mouth for otherwise-painful dental procedures, and was sold as droplets and chewables. Modern dentists use novocaine (novo = new, and the last part of cocaine), but this chemically different anesthetic does the job without the addiction risk of the original. Also note that several other modern anesthetics use the -caine ending, such as lidocaine (aka xylocaine) and benzocaine.


While now more known for psychoactive effects, marijuana was historically grown for the production of paper, rope, sails, canvas, and clothing from the hemp fiber. The Mayflower sailed over with hemp in its sails and caulk, British colonies were ordered to grow it, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson raised it and encouraged others to. In fact, the US government accepted tax payments in hemp, and Virginia farmers were legally required to raise it. There was more government-encouraged hemp growing during WWII’s “Hemp for Victory” program, but the plant was largely discouraged and prohibited in the US until more recent legalization efforts. While all the same plant, the sticking point is often THC content, since this is the chemical that gets you high. Legally, hemp must by bred to have less than 0.3% or less of this by dry weight to avoid the more stringent regulations applied to hemp which can produce the psychoactive effects.