- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Learning Pubns; Revised edition (June 1985)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1556910193
- ISBN-13: 978-1556910197
- Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,979,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers Revised Edition
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"This highly original and fully appropriate title, something we have come to expect from Szasz's books, heralds an excellent sociological analysis of man's past and present relationships with drugs....Szasz takes the reader through a religious scenario as imaginatively symbolic and insightfully analytic as any morality play can be." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In his book, Szasz details how drugs such as opium has been used for thousands of years, yet suddenly come to be considered dangerous. Opium was not banned in the US until the early 1900’s. It was banned due to a dislike of the hardworking Chinese immigrants who smoked it in the evening. Opium was used in China and Asia for centuries as a folk medicine.
Prior to banning it in the US, doctors considered opium one of the most important substances in medicine. Thomas Sydenham wrote in 1680: “Among the remedies which it has please the Almighty God to give man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium.” And in 1762 Physician Thomas Dover, created “diaphoretic powder”, which was an opium preparation widely used for the next 150 years to treat pain. Heroin today, for example, is seen as a dangerous substance that causes the user to become instantly addicted, while derivatives of heroin - morphine, and codeine - when prescribed by a doctor are considered safe.
Throughout the book, Szasz details the historical account of how the prohibition of drugs is used as a weapon of those who are in power to use against societies unwanted. Just as witch hunts were used in the past to deal with society's unwanted, so the banning of drugs are used today to symbolically deal with societies unwanted. Poor "white-trash" who sell meth are locked up, while the doctor in a white lab coat writes a prescription for Adderall.
Szasz shows the historical record of how drugs, even so called dangerous drugs, can be used in a responsible way. None of the substances themselves cause addiction. Szasz says looking for addictive properties of a drug, is akin to chemically analyzing Holy water for healing the properties. It is not the chemical itself that is addictive, but the meaning we assign to the chemicals. Paradoxically, Szasz says, the more we ban chemicals, the greater their meaning, and the greater potential for harm.
*Ceremonial Chemistry* gives us insight into the historical record of how various cultures treated drugs and the persecution or praise of drugs throughout the ages. The appendix of the book gives a brief historical overview of drug use and itself is worth reading. In the end, while the book is fascinating, at times it was too detailed for my tastes and overly academic.
Szasz will go down in history as one of the great writers of freedom. This book adds to the insight that he gave to us.
Szasz states in the Preface to this 1974 book, "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 sumptory behaviors."
Here are some representative quotations from the book:
"(W)e had no problem with drugs until we quite literally talked ourselves into having one: we declared first this and than that drug 'bad' and 'dangerous'; gave them nasty names like 'dope' and 'narcotic'; and passed laws prohibiting their use. The result: our present 'problems of drug abuse and drug addiction.'"
"(W)e oppose illicit drugs not because they are the wrong chemicals but because they are the wrong ceremonials."
"(A)lthough the physician OFTEN fails to help his obese patients, he NEVER fails to help himself---to the patient's (or insurance company's, or some other third party's) money."
"The Harrison Act, passed in 1914, aimed ostensibly at controlling addicts, was actually used to control physicians. This act ... made these drugs legally available only through a physician's prescription for the treatment of disease."
"I have tried to show that the view which a society and the individuals in it hold concerning the use and avoidance of drugs depends, in very large part, on whether people regard their reasons for doing what they want to do as temptations or as impulses."