Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs

Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs

Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs

Consuming Habits: Global and Historical Perspectives on How Cultures Define Drugs

Synopsis

Covering a wide range of substances, including opium, cocaine, coffee, tobacco, kola, and betelnut, from prehistory to the present day, this new edition has been extensively updated, with an updated bibliography and two new chapters on cannabis and khat. Consuming Habitsis the perfect companion for all those interested in how different cultures have defined drugs across the ages.

Psychoactive substances have been central to the formation of civilizations, the definition of cultural identities, and the growth of the world economy. The labelling of these substances as 'legal' or 'illegal' has diverted attention away from understanding their important cultural and historical role. This collection explores the rich analytical category of psychoactive substances from challenging historical and anthropological perspectives.

Excerpt

The essays in this volume focus on the history or anthropology of a group of substances which are generally considered to be neither food nor medicine, but have in common the fact that they are psychoactive – in the sense that they alter, to a greater or lesser extent, the state of consciousness of the user. While it has become customary to equate psychoactive substances with ‘drugs’ as a category of illicit commodities, it should be remembered that some of the world’s most widely consumed products, such as tobacco, coffee, tea and cocoa, have these mind-altering properties. Consumers of tobacco and coffee, for example, habitually self-administer psychoactive compounds – nicotine and caffeine – in the most efficient manner possible by smoking and drinking respectively. Although these are both legal substances (tobacco’s status is currently contested), the categories of licit and illicit are neither static nor rigid. Some substances that are presently illegal in the West were legally consumed here not too long ago: opium, cannabis, cocaine and LSD, for example. And the opposite is true. In some times and places, both tobacco and coffee have been classed as illicit commodities with heavy penalties for use or (in this classification) abuse. Some substances, moreover, are classed as licit in one culture and illicit in another: alcohol, for instance, is forbidden in Islamic societies, but in most of the rest of the world it has usually been legally available, at least to adult males. The boundary between illicit and licit is a shifting and negotiable one, historically and cross-culturally. As Richard Rudgley reminds us, restrictions on psychoactive substances embody the outcome of conflicts over who has access to the means to alter consciousness and behaviour, such as bodily control. Such proscriptions specify who is permitted to alter their state of consciousness and under what circumstances. Which states of consciousness have been encouraged, tolerated or forbidden have been culturally and politically specific.

It is now generally recognized that the consumption of these substances reaches back into prehistory and across most cultures. The issues that historians and anthropologists raise about the production, distribution and consumption of other goods and commodities are just as appropriate . . .

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