The second phase of writing my second book, Strange Trips, began in September of 2015. I signed a contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press and set to work. But it was far from straightforward.
I was a full-on member of the academic precariat at the time. And it was a difficult period – at least in a professional sense. I was juggling a lot of lectures at the University of Saskatchewan, looking after my kids part-time, and trying to stay engaged in my chosen field.
After my PhD viva in London (see my last post), I returned to Saskatchewan to work at the Health Quality Council. (It was a tremendous experience.) Then I began a SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship in 2011 and the time just flew right by. Seriously. It zipped by faster than I could have imagined and I wasn’t at all ready for the end of the way-station that was my postdoc.
Professor Erika Dyck at University of Saskatchewan was super helpful and the History Department hired me for short term gigs after I wrapped up my postdoc in 2013. (Whatever one thinks about short-term academic positions, I was satisfied with keeping one foot in the ivory tower. That said, there were definitely times when I built up resentment.)
In 2014, I published A Prescription for Scandal. I was extremely proud of it and it won a book prize. However, it didn’t lead to a tenure-track job. It was a really difficult moment and by 2015 I was questioning academia. There was a real high and low associated with that book.
It wasn’t easy. That’s for sure. I was such a wet-behind-the-ears neophyte…and I struggled to “sell” myself or engage with my colleagues via social media. I wasn’t a blogger back then. And I wasn’t on Twitter. Worse still, I didn’t have a good sense about packaging my work – how to write a book proposal or talk to acquisition editors with even a modicum of confidence.
1. You wouldn't believe how many books your editor is working on at once. Sometimes I barely believe it myself. 2. Start. The. Permissions. Process. Early. Preferably yesterday. https://t.co/F4XAjBIPNS
But I had confidence in myself. I was also surrounded by a strong network of family and friends. To put it another way, I wasn’t alone. I had help. I was in a stable relationship. I had been (relatively) careful with money. A large family could babysit. I was lucky.
So I decided to double-down.
In early 2015, I kept teaching at the University of Saskatchewan. I developed new classes. I stayed engaged. More than that, I didn’t stop writing. I wrote and wrote. I decided that I was not going to let the system “get me down.” At least for a little while longer.
Throughout the spring, I was in the midst of “turbulent time,” which is also a term I use in my book…
…but I honed my proposal and submitted it to MQUP. It was received positively! After some back and forth, a revised proposal, and a series of productive conversations, we agreed to work together. That was September.
Little did I know that I’d be moving to Scotland within the year.
Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe. William James and Philip K. Dick. Welsh’s Trainspotting. Burroughs’s Junky. And DeQuincey’s Confessions of an Opium-Eater.
These are some of the authors and books that often come to mind when you bring up intoxicants in popular fiction and non-fiction. In thinking about the writing of Strange Trips: Science, Culture, and the Regulation of Drugs, it occurs to me that five works were particularly influential.
McGill-Queen’s University Press recently asked me for the top 5 books that inspired my while writing Strange Trips. I had a few thoughts. And you can check out my list over on the MQUP site.
Here’s the best song I can think of with ‘Top’ in the title.
Ridin’ down the highway
Goin’ to a show
Stop in all the by-ways
Playin’ rock ‘n’ roll
Gettin’ beat up
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
If you think it’s easy doin’ one night stands
Try playin’ in a rock roll band
It’s a long way to the top
If you wanna rock ‘n’ roll
Then, yes: bagpipes!!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, folks! Here’s another appropriate song for a ‘Top 5’ post
The first phase of writing my second book, Strange Trips, began in 2010.
It was a brisk London evening on February 28th and I was up far too late. My PhD viva was the next day and here I was watching the Olympic Men’s Hockey Final – the United States versus Canada.
The Canadian team, thanks to Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal, ended up winning a tight game and I went to bed enervated. The next day’s examination was a success and I passed with minor corrections.
(Who’s to say how the viva would have turned out if that gold medal game had gone differently?)
After the day’s trials, I caught the Tube home and had a nice evening. My celebrations that night were relaxed and forward-looking. A good friend Morgan – who worked for Groupon at the time – asked about what happened next. Now that this phase of my life was complete, what were my prospects? Did I have a good crack at an academic gig? Did I want to stay in a university-setting?
I told him that I wanted to stay in the academic game, but that it was rough. Seriously rough. The market was constricted in the wake of the recession. I had published a few pieces, but nothing off-the-charts amazing, at least relative to other excellent peer scholars. I told him – honestly – that it would be a real f—— slog and that I was up for it!
We headed off to some pubs in Muswell Hill and continued chatting. Morgan discussed his passion for photography and video and music, while I blathered on about potential writing projects. Morgan told me about street photography and I told him about starting up a book about drugs that were (or could be) both evil and angelic.
That was how Strange Trips started. In North London. In Muswell Hill. The night of my PhD viva.
It would take another nine years for the book to come to fruition!
Ultimately, The following day I got on a flight to frigid Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where I was working and living. While a book idea had formed, I still had some student loans to pay off and it was time to get back to work.
So “London Calling” also serves as a section of my book.
In writing about heroin in hospice care and end-of-life care, I discuss how medical knowledge was transmitted between London-based physicians and Canadian doctors.
Did the Supreme Court unanimously de-escalate the drug wars last month? The optimist in me says “yes,” and the historian in me agrees.
In Timbs v. Indiana, the Court ruled that the state could not seize and forfeit the plaintiff’s Land Rover as a result of his drug conviction. While this decision alone will not end “policing for profit,” it will subject state asset-forfeiture laws to unprecedented scrutiny. Michigan and South Carolina legislators immediately introduced bills to reform asset forfeiture, for example, and district attorneys in Alabama scrambled to show how their forfeitures are already transparent and constitutional.
In 2016, the film Doctor Strange was released to moderate acclaim but much fanfare. It was considered Marvel’s trippiest film to date. Critics praised the hypnotic visuals (for being next level Inception) and its mind-bending, time-twisting ending. They also praised Benedict Cumberbatch’s full-on arrogance, and Tilda Swinton’s performance as the bald Ancient One.
One critic argued that the film provided “a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.” Another critic noted that the movie was “basically a reboot of Iron Man, only with a lot more prettier things to look at while you’re stoned.” A third and final reviewer noted how the film was grounded in “the mind-expanding tenets of Eastern mysticism” but was “different enough to establish a solid niche alongside the blockbuster combine’s established money machines.”
In 1963, when comic book readers were first exposed to Dr. Stephen Strange, he wasn’t terribly likable. Serious and with silver-streaked hair, Strange was middle-aged and aloof. He was a different kind of hero. There was no super strength nor a billion-dollar trust fund to draw from; he had no callow jokes and there was certainly no unadulterated patriotism. Alex Pappademas has done a great job in writing about him for the website Grantland (when it still existed, that is).
Strange wasn’t a puncher. He solved problems and defeated villains by entering dreams, jettisoning his physical body, and studying (yes, studying) his library full of ancient magic books for hours upon hours upon hours.
As he once put it, “I have truly gained the greatest power of all. That which the fountainhead of all other power…I have gained the gift of knowledge.” His rise to become the Sorcerer Supreme, the sole protector of the earthly realm, was predicated on learning and revising – occasionally cramming the night before – magical and mystical techniques.
So how does Dr. Strange relate to my new book, Strange Trips?
Prior to becoming a thoughtful and magical superhero, Stephen Strange was at one time the finest surgeon in the United States, as obnoxiously arrogant and money-driven as he was brilliant. He was a personification of free-enterprise medicine and the biomedical model in action.
When a fellow physician told Strange that a patient wished to thank him for performing an operation successfully, his response was: “I can’t be bothered!” Lighting a cigarette coolly, Strange added, “Just be sure he pays his bill!” And worse still, Strange refused services to anyone without resources to cover the costs. “Sorry,” Strange heartlessly told a potential patient as he examined X-Rays, “if you won’t pay my price, I can’t help you! Find another doctor!” Whoa.
However, Strange’s life was irrevocably altered after a single-vehicle collision and the resulting nerve damage in his all-important hands. Everything went downhill. His career was over; he would never perform surgery again.
Yet, Strange was unwilling to give up. Having heard whispers of a miracle physician, a mystical being who could cure any health problem, Strange travelled abroad. In a state of desperation and anxiety, he ventured to India to seek out the Ancient One, even though it was clear he was doing so for greedy and selfish reasons. Only after a period of introspection and a series of trials (including saving the Ancient One’s life) does Strange realize the error of his ways and begin his spiritual conversion; essentially, his transition from a Western-trained doctor to a different kind entirely.
Dr. Strange’s first appearance in the comic book world was in December 1963 and other real-life doctors were contemplating mysticism and the medical model.
In November of that same year, Harvard divinity-school grad Walter Pahnke published the results of his “Good Friday Experiment,” in which volunteers were dosed with psilocybin in Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who both held doctorates in psychology and supervised the experiment, were dismissed from Harvard that same year. Not without some irony, it was Andrew Weil, the future alternative-health celebrity doctor, that told The HarvardCrimson about the nature of Pahnke’s research.
(I was lucky enough to learn more about Leary and Pahnke at the Psychoactive Substances Collection at Purdue University. You can read about it here.)
By the beginning of the 1960s, LSD and other hallucinogens had become well-known substances within bio-medical research circles, but had yet to influence mainstream society in any significant way. And as the 1960s wore on, the capacity of researchers to establish quantifiable and verifiable results became ever more puzzling.
(Of course, there’s tremendous discussion now about the return of these types of medicines. See below.)
WOW! Look at our amazing line up of speakers!More TBA,the weekend consists of 4 simultaneous tracks of lectures, running all day over 3 days. AND there’s the workshops,performances,art exhibition and the new Telesterion where you can browse the bookshop and stalls!🧠👁💊🇬🇧🍄 pic.twitter.com/k3XWr9aQsa
While counterclaims – that LSD produced madness, for example – were perhaps over the top, medical researchers still found themselves caught in a moral panic over the value of LSD.
Sandoz, undoubtedly worried about its reputation, temporarily suspended production of its LSD supplies in 1963. Richard Alpert, for his part, set off for India in 1967, and there he found the conditions for his own spiritual conversion. After training under Hindu holy man Neem Karoli Baba in India, Alpert was renamed Ram Dass. By 1970, he was trying to influence medicine and society more broadly through his promotion of psychedelics and, bizarrely, in 1970 he told an audience of health professionals that they could learn much about caring for the sick from Dr. Strange and the comic book Strange Tales in which he featured!!
Dr. Strange embodies several important lessons about medicine and health – many of which play out in the pages of my book.
Most obviously, he blends science and culture.
Beyond that, he captures, firstly, the economics of American medicine. Strange was once all about the money, whereas many physicians were adopting a more activist role in society, intensifying their participation in such social practices as parenthood, early childhood education, poverty, and the wider economy. In 1964, for instance, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) was founded after an enhanced “medical presence” was requested by activist organizations in Mississippi following the murder of three civil rights volunteers. MCHR’s national membership had by 1971 grown to 10,000 health workers across the country, and one of the dominant principles of the group was that health activism – and not just mental health activism – was a vital national concern. These interventionist impulses represented the “therapeutic ethos” of the Great Society.
Secondly, Strange also represented the medical tourist in action. When he sought out cures for his damaged hands in India, he was by no means an innovator. The practice harkens back to ancient times when pilgrims and patient-consumers journeyed long distances to visit mineral waters or healing temples.
Yet, in recent years, international medical tourism has blossomed in Asia, India, and elsewhere, raising significant questions about patient choice, global competition, and the various costs involved; some critics maintain that medical tourism widens the gap between social classes and creates even greater health disparities, even as the quality of the health care in destination countries is challenged. By contrast, proponents suggest that such tourism exacts pressure on expensive in-country health care facilities to lower prices and foster social/economic development, while at the same time acting as a revenue stream to fund existing services. This rendering holds medical tourism as a leveler of disparity. Either way, patients have adopted medical tourism to get their hands on drugs or have their hands fixed, as in the case of Dr. Stephen Strange. (Daniel Beland writes about medical tourism here.)
Finally, Dr. Strange epitomizes the rise of alternative medicines and the contested nature of medical knowledge. Sometimes this means quackery. Sometimes not.
Strange’s career trajectory, in short, showcases the move from a biomedical model to a mystic or shamanistic one. Through Strange we may view shifting perceptions of how medical recommendations are established and codified, treatments determined, and medicines agreed upon. No longer a licensed surgeon, Strange still healed the sick, just through different means. Histories of “alternatives” to the medical mainstream, which might include traditional Chinese or Eastern medicine, faith-healing, and toe-twisting, have much in common with LSD, ecstasy, and magic mushrooms.
And the 1960s gave greater momentum to “other” or “outsider” medicines that ultimately conflicted with learned medical traditions, which were inextricably linked to scientific progress. In 1963’s AMA: Voice of American Medicine, the author proclaimed how doctors in the US had heroically fought against nostrums and quackery. Much like superheroes, physicians in the American Medical Association never “hesitated to reveal the most sordid aspects of the business” and expose the “graft and ravages of the nostrum vendors.” Published the same year as Strange Tales hit newsstands, Andrew Weil alerted Harvard authorities to the “Good Friday Experiment,” and Sandoz cut off supplies of LSD to researchers, the book failed to discuss the spectral line that separated different kinds of medicines. It was and remains a fine line demarcating legality and illegality, acceptance and demonization.
Dr. Strange did not make it into my book. Some topics make it. Others don’t. Just like Dr. Strange and you and I, books themselves go through strange journeys.
However, the topics of economics, medical tourism, and alternative medicines are all included. The context in which scientific and medical evidence is produced plays a significant role in how a drug and medicine is assessed. For Dr. Strange, this process provided “the greatest power of all…the gift of knowledge.”
 Erika Dyck, “‘Just Say Know’: Criminalizing LSD and the Politics of Psychedelic Expertise, 1961-68,” in Ed Montigny, ed., The Real Dope: Social, Legal, and Historical Perspectives on the Regulation of Drugs in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011): 169-196.
 Gerald Caplan, Principles of Preventive Psychiatry (New York: Basic Books, 1964); John A. Talbott, “Fifty Years of Psychiatric Services: Changes in Treatments of Chronically Ill Patients,” Review of Psychiatry Volume 13, John M. Oldham and Michelle B. Riba, eds. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1994), 93-121.; Matthew Smith, Hyperactive: The Controversial History of ADHD (London: Reaktion Books, 2012), 89-91; Sandra Bloom, Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Societies (New York: Routledge, 2013), 111-117.
 Brian Balogh, “Making Pluralism ‘Great’: Beyond a Recycled History of the Great Society,” in Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur, eds., The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 163. For recent and authoritative works on the Great Society, see: Julian E. Zelizer, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society (New York: Penguin Press, 2015); Gary May, Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2013). See also: John Dittmer, The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009).
 Hao Li and Wendy Cui, “Patients without borders: The historical changes of medical tourism,” University of Western Ontario Medical Journal (Fall 2014): 20-21. See: I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson, eds., Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016); Jill R. Hodges, Ann Marie Kimball, and Leigh Turner, eds., Risks and Challenges in Medical Tourism: Understanding the Global Market for Health Services (New York: Praeger, 2012).
 Janice Dickin, “‘Take Up Thy Bed and Walk’: Aimee Semple McPherson and Faith-Healing,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 17, no. 1 (2000): 137-153; Charlotte Furth, “The AMS/Paterson Lecture: Becoming Alternative? Modern Transformations of Chinese Medicine in China and in the United States,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 28, no. 1 (2011): 5-41; Barbara Clow, “Mahlon William Locke: ‘Toe-Twister,’” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 9.1 (1992): 17-39.
 Charles Rosenberg, “Pathologies of Progress: The Idea of Civilization at Risk,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72 (1998): 714-30.
 James G. Burrows, AMA: Voice of American Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963).
Did you know that Benedict Cumberbatch was not the first actor to play Dr. Strange?
The American Institute for the History of Pharmacy was established at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1941. And the mission of the Institute is to ‘advance knowledge and understanding of the history of pharmacy and medicines.’
In January, I took on the role of Historical Director of AIHP. Along with Dennis Birke (Executive Director), and with the support of the Board of Directors and the rest of the team here in Madison, we are planning a new phase for this venerable organization. We would like you to be a part of it!
We have all manner of memberships, including a student membership scheme. AIHP has published its flagship journal Pharmacy in History since 1959 and many other educational treasures can be found on the website. AIHP also offers awards and grants for emerging and established scholars alike.
Between now and February 28, 2 new members of the organization will be awarded a free copy of my forthcoming book #StrangeTrips.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Annemarie McAllister, Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire, and Pam Lock, a doctoral candidate and the GW4 Developing People Officer at the University of Bristol. They organized a conference on alcohol called Radical Temperance: Social Change and Drink, from Teetotalism to Dry January, held at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England, from June 28-29, 2018. This is their general report, with more posts to come over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
The signing of the teetotal pledge on 1 September 1832 in Preston by a group of seven men, including the social reformer Joseph Livesey, was a pivotal moment in the history of the temperance movement in Britain. Preston was thus an obvious home for the first-ever conference to bring together historians, social scientists, and third sector groups concerned about support for alcohol-free lifestyles…