The Consumers Union Report - Licit and Illicit Drugs. by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine. 1972 Available Online
For anyone interested in a basic text on drugs the Consumers Union Report is a good place to start. It covers all the most commonly used drugs including tobacco, alcohol and caffeine in addition to the illicit drugs. It evens covers glue! I thought the chapters on opiates were especially good. This is one of the best introductory drug texts out there period. Some data may be a little dated but don't let that discourage you from checking this book out. Plus it's online for free.
Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers by Thomas Szasz
Want to know what underlies the motivations behind the War on (people who use certain) Drugs? Prominent anti-psychiatrist Thomas Szasz's polemic against drug prohibition and pharmacratic control of drug supply is required reading for all people who use drugs. I have literally read this book at least three times in its entirety and re-read sections to this day. It's worth quoting the introduction at some length:
There is probably one thing, and one thing only, on which the leaders of all modern states agree; on which Catholics, Protestants, Jew, Mohammedans, and atheists agree; on which Democrats, Republicans, Socialist, Communists, Liberals, and Conservatives agree; on which medical and scientific authorities throughout the world agree; and on which the views, as expressed through opinion polls and voting records, of the large majority of individuals in all civilized countries agree. That thing is the "scientific fact" that certain substances which people like to ingest or inject are "dangerous" both to those who use them and to others; and that the use of such substances constitutes "drug abuse" or "drug addiction" —a disease whose control and eradication are the duty of the combined forces of the medical profession and the state. However, there is little agreement—from people to people, country to country, even decade to decade—on which substances are acceptable and their use therefore considered a popular pastime, and which substances are unacceptable and their use therefore considered "drug abuse" and "drug addiction."
My aim in this book is at once simple and sweeping. First, I wish to identify the actual occurrences that constitute our so-called drug problem. I shall show that these phenomena in fact consist of the passionate promotion and panicky prohibition of various substances; the habitual use and the dreaded avoidance of certain drugs; and, most generally, the regulation—by language, law, custom, religion, and every other conceivable means of social and symbolic control—of certain kinds of ceremonial and sumptuary behaviors.
Second, I wish to identify the conceptual realm and logical class into which these phenomena belong. I shall show that they belong in the realm of religion and politics; that "dangerous drugs," addicts, and pushers are the scapegoats of our modern, secular, therapeutically imbued societies; and that the ritual persecution of these pharmacological and human agents must be seen against the historical backdrop of the ritual persecution of other scapegoats, such as witches, Jews, and madmen.
And third, I wish to identify the moral and legal implications of the view that using and avoiding drugs are not matters of health and disease but matters of good and evil; that, in other words, drug abuse is not a regrettable medical disease but a repudiated religious observance. Accordingly, our options with respect to the "problem" of drugs are the same as our options with respect to the "problem" of religions: that is, we can practice various degrees of tolerance and intolerance toward those whose religions—whether theocratic or therapeutic—differ from our own.
For the past half-century the American people have engaged in one of the most ruthless wars—fought under the colors of drugs and doctors, diseases and treatments—that the world has ever seen. If a hundred years ago the American government had tried to regulate what substances its citizens could or could not ingest, the effort would have been ridiculed as absurd and rejected as unconstitutional. If fifty years ago the American government had tried to regulate what crops farmers in foreign countries could or could not cultivate, the effort would have been criticized as meddling and rejected as colonialism. Yet now the American government is deeply committed to imposing precisely such regulations—on its own citizens by means of criminal and mental health laws, and on those of other countries by means of economic threats and incentives; and these regulations—called "drug controls" or "narcotic controls"—are hailed and supported by countless individuals and institutions, both at home and abroad.
We have thus managed to replace racial, religious, and military coercions and colonialisms, which now seem to us dishonorable, with medical and therapeutic coercions and colonialisms, which now seem to us honorable. Because these latter controls are ostensibly based on Science and aim to secure only Health, and because those who are so coerced and colonized often worship the idols of medical and therapeutic scientism as ardently as do the coercers and colonizers, the victims cannot even articulate their predicament and are therefore quire powerless to resist their victimizers. Perhaps such preying of people upon people—such symbolic cannibalism, providing meaning for one life by depriving another of meaning—is an inexorable part of the human condition and is therefore inevitable. But it is surely not inevitable for any one person to deceive himself or herself into believing that the ritual persecutions of scapegoats—in Crusades, Inquisitions, Final Solutions, or Wars on Drug Abuse—actually propitiate deities or prevent diseases.
Hogshire's book is a good introduction to the opium poppy. There are other books and resources with greater details on the opium poppy. What Hogshire has done is comb through these resources and simplify them in a slender and easy to read overview of opium and the opium poppy. Scientifically minded readers may be left wanting more but the layman will find the book well worth the money. Hogshire has paid dearly for writing this. Michael Pollan wrote an entire feature length article in Harpers detailing Hogshire's persecution at the hands of the prohibitionists.
Messengers of Paradise, Opiates and the Brain: The Struggle Over Pain, Rage, Uncertainty and Addiction by Charles Levinthal 1988
Levinthal's book is a little dated but otherwise good overview on the history of opium, the discovery of endorphins and their role in brain function. He also speculates that the evolutionary development of the endorphin system was central to mammalian evolution from reptilian predecessors. Endorphin Deficiency Syndrome briefly considered.
The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren 1949
Algren's fictional account of illicit card dealer and morphine addict Frankie "Machine" Majcinek living in Chicago after the second world war. The novel follows Frankie and his sidekick Sparrow through daily struggles until he inadvertently kills his dealer in a fight and events spiral out of control ending in tragedy. The novel was also adapted into a film starring Frank Sinatra in 1955.
Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas de Quincey 1821 [Link]
The confessions we first published anonymously in 1821, then released as a book in 1822. A revised and greatly expanded edition was released in 1856. I linked to a free copy from Project Gutenberg.which seems to be the first edition. A sampling:
"Oh! just, subtle, and mighty opium! that to the hearts of poor and rich alike, for the wounds that will never heal, and for 'the pangs that tempt the spirit to rebel,' bringest an assuaging balm; eloquent opium! that with thy potent rhetoric stealest away the purposes of wrath; and to the guilty man, for one night givest back the hopes of his youth, and hands washed pure of blood...."
The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend by Thom Metzger
Today I finished reading Metzger's account of the story of heroin, from wonder drug to demon drug. Metzger borrows heavily from Thomas Szasz, even quoting him in several chapters. The majority of the book is accurate, although he does repeat some popular myths about methadone (it was not named Dolophine for Adolf Hitler). Personally I enjoyed the earlier chapters about the Bayer pharmaceutical company more than the later chapters, although I suspect this is because I am at heart a chemistry geek and already quite familiar with the themes of later chapters. Metzger shows how the "dope fiend" caricature evolved from notions of racial purity and obsessions about cleanliness and purity. I thought the last chapter, titled "the new orthodoxy," could have been longer coming in at only 15 pages in a 216 page book. The book also contains many images of the portrayal of dope in newspapers and notes the similarities to the portrayal of Jews in Nazi Germany. This is a short book that can easily be read in a day or two, but is worth checking out.