Opium by Thomas Dormandy
I enjoyed a memorable journey through the history, present, and possible future of opium and its derivatives. As usual, it seems that the British and Americans have repeatedly involved themselves in the trade, and rarely for the betterment of their own citizens, or indeed the local populations involved in farming the poppies. Why does it always seem that the countries most involved and able to produce high quality drugs are just the kind of unstable, unpredictable and sometimes unfriendly countries where we have genereated the most havoc for the last century or more: Afghanistan, Asia and South America. More than half the world, surely.
Generally the book is even-handed and felt objective to this general reviewer with no specialist experience. Only a handful of comments seemed to veer slightly towards uncorroborated opinion. Just enough to notice, and just often enough to understand where the author sits on the crime versus illness spectrum. My eyes were well and truly opened by just how mainstream heroin and morphine were at various points in history.
Some fairly buttoned-down eras seem to have been liberally affected by drugs and addiction. Some of them are well known. Coleridge we all knew about, surely, and Doyle. But Florence Nightingale? Astonishing. There simply wasn’t the social taboo that there is now. And perhaps serious drug abuse is more prevalent today than must of us admit or know about.
Other highlights were the passages on biochemistry and revelations such as the word ‘endorphin’ being partly based on ‘morphine’. More astonishment. The overall impact on me was that drugs are and have been a much bigger part of society than I ever realised. They seem impossible to eradicate, and indeed opiates themselves are so close to some of the body’s own natural chemistry that there can be no coincidence. We are all drug addicts, whether we stimulate ourselves indirectly through exercise and food, or whether we take short cuts and inhale or inject the lethal chemicals themselves. Thought-provoking and important stuff.