Old Vices of Intoxication

It seems that vices of intoxication stay around. A great debate post asked about the demise of cigerattes. I don’t believe it will ever fade. What forms of getting high were once popular, but not today? Or are there modern potions that have re-emerged from an ancient custon?

Well, back in the days of The Old West many of the settlers/outlaws/lawmen/homesteaders/etc. were Civil War soldiers, many of whom had gotten addicted to Morphine during or after the war. These days I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a local drug dealer who could score you some Morphine.

Also, IIRC all those Chinese who helped build the railroads throughout the Old West introduced many a settler to the joys of opium. Again, I think opium has all but vanished from use these days, now that we have “better” drugs such as Heroin, crack, and so on…

Just because we use more refined techniques (i.e. heroin vs tincture of opium, crack vs chewing coca leaves) only means we are more sophisticated, not that your average junkie on the street would refuse a swig of opium if offered to him.

The resurgence of herbal products (Kava Kava, valerian, Ma Huang) is actually showing a trend of going back to the raw materials.

Your premise is interesting… I can’t think of any recreational substances that have vanished from our history.

Absinthe is illegal nearly everywhere, but the recipies (and thus interest) are floating around, still.

Absinthe is illegal 'cause it tastes unbelievably foul. Trust me on this one.

Foul or not, absinthe is legal in Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, and a few other places. You can import it into the UK. This is a well-known Czech manufacturer:


They seem to at least have an order form for “The Americas”, and print a few customer testimonials from the US. I’ve heard conflicting statements about the legality of importation for private use into the US.

When thinking about this topic I’m always interested to note
that even in the 19th century, when most people could buy
opium or cocaine any time they wanted, the drug of choice
for those seeking escape from a hard life was nevertheless

In the 19th century, young society people would get together and inhale the gas ether. They’d all turn into a bunch of giggling, stumbling idiots.

Incidentally, ether’s use as an anaesthetic came later, after a doctor who frequented such parties noticed that with all the stumbling going on, nobody ever yelled, “Ouch!”

That’s why we have WHIPPETS!!! Just Say N[sub]2[/sub]O!

Nitrous and ether are two different substances. Personally, I’ve never heard of anyone getting high off ether, so Myron may have come up with a winner, in terms of an intoxicant that has basically passed from the scene.

Another possibility is chloral hydrate. While often used as a knock-out drug, IIRC, it also had intoxicating effects and was abused in the 19th Century. I also believe it has passed from the scene.


I’ve heard that around the turn of the century some people drank water until they got high (as a result of their brain starting to swell).

Really? I was under the impression that Morphine and heroin are basically the same drug.


“until they got high”, huh? Must have been a long wait. Did they also hyperventilate to get that light-headed feeling? Sit on their hands until they (the hands, that is), fell asleep?

It doesn’t quite count as a “potion”, but trepanation is only rarely (but still) practiced. It’s reputed to do some wonderful things for your “sense of well-being.”

In a word, Laudanum. Did you ever see an old western flick that had a snake-oil salesman in it? Or a patent medicine salesman? They were selling laudanum: a mixture of opium and alcohol. And Oh, the ladies saved up their pin money for it. It didn’t survive Prohibition, but, the more things change, …

We still dispense chloral hydrate.

In my experience on the legal side of the Rx counter, if a substance can be abused, someone will find a way to abuse it.

One of the popular “highs” for bored teens is to drink a bottle of Robitussin-DM (R). Since dextromethorphan is a “relative” of codeine, if you ingest enough, you can catch a buzz. Unfortunately 98% of the time, the guaifenesin in the product will make you puke. Sounds like a lot of fun to me!

One of my professors in college said that people who abuse substances or who are addicted to substances really are not interested in self-preservation. This kind of brings us back around to our original premise with cigarettes.

…But then I would probably be in denial if caffeine were bad for you. And then again, we all gotta go sometime. And why should anyone care if I’m only hurting myself.:wink:

Originally posted by rastahomie

Just my 2¢:
Opium hasn’t vanished from use, I just don’t think it’s extremely common. I smoked opium twice in my younger days and have been offered it a couple more times.

I agree ether is not especially prevalent as an intoxicant, and I have no personal experience with it. However, it did figure prominently, and hilariously, in Hunter S. Thompson’s *Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, * which was written ca. 1970. And I’m guessing that book alone would have “inspired” some measure of ether abuse.

I know I sure as heck tried to find some…

I think that quick-start stuff you used to spray in carburetors was mostly ether, too, though I never was quite THAT curious about it.

Seems the premise of the OP is spot on. More than likely if people “used to get high by doing so-and-so,” someone, somewhere is still doing it.

Consumer Union’s work ‘Licit and Illicit Drugs’ mentions that when ether was used as an intoxicant, they used to drink it, not sniff it.

The high was extremely short acting, and led to chronic gastritis. Ether is also explosive.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

In college, the dental fraternity house used to have interesting parties with nitrous oxide. Not my cup of tea, but go figure.

Of course, I am high on life. Withdrawal is a bitch, though.

Lisa, I’m aware of the classic use of chloral hydrate (the bartender’s knockout drops, a.k.a. the Mickey Finn), but I didn’t know that it was commonly available today. What is it used for? Is a prescription necessary?

We most commonly see Chloral Hydrate syrup prescribed for children who are undergoing procedures such as MRI, dental surgery, etc where a general anesthetic is not in order, but the child needs to be sedated.

It’s also a very inexpensive sedative/hypnotic that I have a couple of old ladies taking as a sleep agent.

It does require a prescription, and it is a controlled substance. I don’t think it is as bad of a drug (addiction potential-wise) as Valium,or Xanax, etc. Maybe the effect isn’t quite as good, so it has fallen out of vogue with drug-seekers?

It brings to mind another question of mine, though…
Why do old people get so hung up on sleep problems? I only wish I could stay up at night and get things done. Regularity of bowels and sleep is a very big preoccupation for a great many of these folks, though.