The Cult of Pharmacology

How America Became the World’s Most Troubled Drug Culture

The Cult of Pharmacology

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: Published: November 2006

American Studies, Medicine and Health > Public Health and Health Policy, Religious Studies

America had a radically different relationship with drugs a century ago. Drug prohibitions were few, and while alcohol was considered a menace, the public regularly consumed substances that are widely demonized today. Heroin was marketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, and marijuana was available as a tincture of cannabis sold by Parke Davis and Company.

Exploring how this rather benign relationship with psychoactive drugs was transformed into one of confusion and chaos, The Cult of Pharmacology tells the dramatic story of how, as one legal drug after another fell from grace, new pharmaceutical substances took their place. Whether Valium or OxyContin at the pharmacy, cocaine or meth purchased on the street, or alcohol and tobacco from the corner store, drugs and drug use proliferated in twentieth-century America despite an escalating war on “drugs.”

Richard DeGrandpre, a past fellow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and author of the best-selling book Ritalin Nation, delivers a remarkably original interpretation of drugs by examining the seductive but ill-fated belief that they are chemically predestined to be either good or evil. He argues that the determination to treat the medically sanctioned use of drugs such as Miltown or Seconal separately from the illicit use of substances like heroin or ecstasy has blinded America to how drugs are transformed by the manner in which a culture deals with them.

Bringing forth a wealth of scientific research showing the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on how the brain is affected by drugs, DeGrandpre demonstrates that psychoactive substances are not angels or demons irrespective of why, how, or by whom they are used. The Cult of Pharmacology is a bold and necessary new account of America’s complex relationship with drugs.


“ Very highly recommended. . . .” — Joel M. Kauffman,

The Cult of Pharmacology is journalism in the best sense—incisive, meticulous, compelling. . . . [DeGrandpre’s] prose is a model of clarity and elegance, his examples well-chosen and finely limned, his arguments lucid and enlightening. . . . The Cult of Pharmacology will expand the consciousness of anyone who cares to read it. It is a surprising, questing, questioning book, but most of all it is full of hope and humanity. DeGrandpre offers us the chance not to replace myth with truth (and who could honestly offer such a thing?) but to restore agency to individuals and cultures in their mythmaking.” — Richard Barnett, NthPosition

The Cult of Pharmacology will encourage even the most fervent anti-drug campaigner to reconsider the pharmaceutical industry and the war against drugs. . . . DeGrandpre's book provides a multifaceted argument against pharmacologicalism, and he paints a shocking portrait of governmental and institutional myths. I especially appreciated his multidisciplinary approach to the same issue, providing readers with scientific, philosophical, and legal evidence. . . . His arguments will resonate for the political scientist, philosopher, scientist, or average Joe or Jane.” — Laura Guidry-Grimes, Metapsychology Online Reviews

“[A] insightful book on the difficult subject of drugs. . . .” — Andrew Benedict-Nelson, Rain Taxi

“[A]n insightful, historically informed critique of the ideas that guide the war on drugs." — Jacob Sullum, Reason

“[An] ambitious and challenging new work. . . .” — Joseph F. Spillane, Jurimetrics

“[An] interesting and challenging book. . . . DeGrandpre is certainly a capable story teller, and he has a complex understanding of pharmacology that I envy.” — Dan Malleck, Social History of Alcohol and Drugs

“[DeGrandpre’s] thesis is important and original. . . .” — Shum Preston, Registered Nurse

“[DeGrandpre] makes important points, which we should take to heart: When the state makes money through the sale of tobacco and alcohol, yet puts people in prison for marijuana use, the government has failed. When the pharmaceutical industry successfully promotes their drugs for use by individuals who will not benefit from those drugs, our system of protecting patients has failed. And when we scientists let such things happen without speaking out, thereby abandoning the social responsibility to use our knowledge for the public good, we have failed, too.” — Michael J Zigmond, Nature Medicine

“[T]he book deserves to be widely read. As DeGrandpre notes, a century of differential prohibition has done little to curb Americans' psychoactive drug use and has contributed to the medicalizing of a broad array of human discontents. We need new perspectives that transcend these categories, and this book should provoke many useful conversations.” — Caroline Jean Acker, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“[W]ell researched and documented and full of interesting facts. For many readers it will produce a whole new perspective that will have an impact when they reach for the prescription pad or a cup of coffee or disparage the drug user on the street.” — Allen Shaughnessy, British Medical Journal

“Although The Cult of Pharmacology should be required reading for policymakers, it is intended for general use. . . . The author is tenacious in exposing those who he feels are responsible for the present crisis in legal and illegal drug use in America. “ — Fred Joseph, Jr., Foreword Reviews

“Considering legal, pharmaceutical drugs like Ritalin alongside illegal drugs like cocaine allows DeGrandpre to expose the double-standard which has often influenced attempts to regulate psychoactive substances. . . . Indeed, much of the ground covered by DeGrandpre will be familiar to historians of illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and the pharmaceutical industry; the value of this book lies in an attempt to bring together what have often been separate literatures.” — Alex Mold, Medical History

“DeGrandpre . . . delivers a remarkably original interpretation of drugs by examining the seductive but ill-fated belief that they are chemically predestined to be either good or evil. . . . By showing the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on how the brain is affected by drugs, DeGrandpre demonstrates that psychoactive substances are not angels or demons irrespective of why, how, or by whom they are used.” — Drugs and Alcohol Today

“DeGrandpre demonstrates the importance of considering technology within its social contexts. . . . [A]fascinating study. . . . DeGrandpre understands the science of pharmacology sufficiently to explain how these substances actually work. His efforts thus provide an important foundation for historians who will seek to put the findings in broader cultural context.” — Carolyn T. de la Peña, Technology and Culture

“DeGrandpre is at his best in his chapter on brain-stimulation reward and the behavioral pharmacology paradigm, which dispels simplistic notions of behaviorism and conveys countervailing findings that undermine the stability of orthodox claims about drugs and their effects on brains. The pleasurable ease of DeGrandpre’s prose also brings its own rewards. Finally, the book offers a stimulating and provocative commentary on the cultural authority of science.” — Nancy D. Campbell, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

“Doubters should be warned that loose claims are not found in this book. . . .” — Joel M. Kauffmann, Journal of Scientific Exploration

“In a fascinating and compelling narrative, DeGrandpre details various factors that have influenced and changed the perception and use of drugs in America. . . . The author has credentials and has written about drugs before; his global insights are noteworthy. The beauty of his work is that it leaves readers to weigh the evidence presented and draw their own conclusions.” — R. S. Kowalczyk, Choice

“In a fascinating and provocative read, DeGrandpre provides an illuminating social history of drug use in America, an eye-opening window into the legal drug use industry, and a harsh, Szaszian critique of the increasingly popular disease model of addiction.” — Phillip S. Smith, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Part social history and part polemic, The Cult of Pharmacology offers a compelling, if at times disturbing, examination of the ways in which science has been manipulated by commercial and political interests to uphold otherwise arbitrary distinctions between safe and unsafe drugs or good and evil consumers or substance use and substance abuse in modern America.” — Erika Dyck, Isis

“The crush of counterintuitive research DeGrandpre heaps upon us is meant to confound, demonstrating that drugs are a technology like any other: amoral, contextual and wholly imbued by the values of its end-users.” — Ben Gore, The Brooklyn Rail

“The idea that reductive essentialism is a destructive distortion is not new, and the concept of pharmacologicalism resembles several ideas in philosophy, such as the Marxist concept of reification. DeGrandpre makes a novel and productive move in bringing this critique to bear on our culture’s troubled relationship to psychoactive substances. He persuasively establishes that pharmacologicalism is a real problem, and does an admirable job of bringing nuance and complexity to this vitally important area of public debate. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to think about the history of psychoactive substances with complexity and nuance, and especially for anyone who is interested in drug policy.” — Lux, Erowid Review

“This eloquent book gently leads you into a thicket of pharmacological problems. It outlines a set of predicaments and does so with sympathy for the protagonists. For instance, it gives a clear account of Kessler's fight against Big Tobacco during his spell at the FDA, making the rationale for the fight crystal clear—before showing why there are considerable grounds to doubt that Kessler had the right target. Just when you think you know what side DeGrandpre is on, he confounds you. Damn contrarians!” — David Healy, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

“While DeGrandpre’s diatribe may raise the hackles of many, it is nevertheless worth the read, if only to formulate more clearly in our own minds why we continue to regulate drugs the way that we do.” — Trevor R. Norman, Medical Journal of Australia

"The Cult of Pharmacology delivers important messages about the bias and irrationality behind drug policy and our approach to drug use, messages that both clinicians and the general public should hear." — Walter A. Brown, JAMA

The Cult of Pharmacology brings badly needed information, insight, and—above all—sanity to the emotionally charged debate over legal and illegal drugs in America, whether LSD, caffeine, or Prozac. This book should be required reading for those whose lives are touched by the war on drugs—which of course means all of us.” — John Horgan, author of The End of Science, The Undiscovered Mind, and Rational Mysticism

“Every decade or two a book comes along that causes a fundamental shift of gaze. Richard DeGrandpre’s The Cult of Pharmacology is one. It pulls apart the mythic powers we have attributed to drugs, showing that drug effects are not the products of mere molecules alone but of the deeply politicized meanings inscribed upon them by society which shape how they are used. This book charts a new course beyond the repressive excesses and costly failures of punitive prohibition. It will make fascinating reading for citizens concerned with drug use and drug problems; it should be required reading for policymakers.” — Craig Reinarman, coeditor of Crack in America and coauthor of Cocaine Changes

“Those coming to this book with preconceptions should divest them before starting, or at least try to remain calm. Those who think a book on the role drugs play in our culture cannot possibly surprise them are likely to discover preconceptions they never suspected. This is one of the best books to read if you are coming new to the problems that drugs pose, and also one of the best books for those who think they know everything there is to know about drugs. This is a wonderful book.” — David Healy, author of Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Richard DeGrandpre is an independent scholar of drugs and other “technologies of the self.” He has a doctorate in psychopharmacology and was a fellow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He is the author of Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness and Digitopia: The Look of the New Digital You. He has also written numerous scientific, theoretical, and popular articles on drugs and is a former senior editor at Adbusters magazine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Part One. End of a Century

1. Mama Coca 3

2. Cult of the SSRI 34

3. The Emperor‘s New Smokes 64

Part Two. Earlier Times

4. The Placebo Text 103

5. America‘s Domestic Drug Affair 138

6. War 170

Part Three. While at War

7. The Drug Reward 179

8. Possessed by the Stimulus 208

9. Ideology 236

Appendix One. Escalation of American Drug Laws in the Twentieth Century 243

Appendix Two. U.S. Regulations Allowing a White Market for Drugs in the Twentieth Century 245

Notes 247

Selective Bibliography 283

Index 287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4907-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3881-9
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