History Stories

Illegal drugs have been around for centuries, serving both medical, spiritual and recreational purposes. Today, some drugs are legal while others carry a hefty felony charge with their usage—how did we get here?

The turbulent 1960s saw an increase in the use and acceptance of drugs, which were seen as symbols of rebellion, political dissent and social upheaval. At a press conference on June 18, 1971, Richard Nixon declared that drugs were the “public enemy number one in the United States.” After this press conference, the media popularized the term “war on drugs.”

Over the next few decades there was a significant escalation of global military and police efforts against drugs. In the early 1970s, Nixon appointed the Shafer Commission, formally known as the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, to report their findings on U.S. drug policy. The commission recommended the decriminalizing of marijuana, a suggestion the president ignored. Instead, his presidency saw a dramatic increase in the size and presence of federal drug control agencies and laws, such as mandatory sentencing and “no-knock” search warrants.

President Ronald Reagan doubled down on the war on drugs and incarceration rates skyrocketed, seeing the number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses jump from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997. Nancy Reagan launched the DARE drug education program in 1981, which was adopted nationwide. President Bill Clinton had run on a platform of treatment rather than incarceration, but did not pass significant legislation to counter the growing “war on drugs.” His successor, President George W. Bush, doubled down on a war that was slowing running out of steam, adding tons of money and resources.

While there haven’t been significant actions to curtail the “war on drugs,” there has been a dramatic cultural shift. Today, 28 states (and Washington, D.C.) allow for the use of medical marijuana, while eight states (and Washington, D.C.) allow it to be used recreationally.

Blaze your way through these accounts of illicit substances in Drugs: Altered States. Here’s a look at some of the episodes:

  • Explore the storied and strange history of marijuana in the U.S. and the fight to both criminalize and legalize its import, sale and distribution in Marijuana: A Chronic History.
  • How can we explain the fantastic, exquisite and terrifying visions we encounter when we journey off consciousness’ well-trod path to chart our own course through reality in Ancient Altered States.

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