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Biomedicine in museums

Poppy's milk so bitter, so sweet

Our own Jesper Vaczy Kragh has just reviewed Thomas Dormandy’s Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream (Yale UP) in yeasterday’s online issue of Times Higher Education:

By tracing the early history of opium, Dormandy shows that drug addiction and prohibition are recent inventions. In classical antiquity, opium was praised by poets and priests, and even the medical oracle of the Roman Empire, Galen, had nothing to say about the dangers of addiction. Whereas excesses in alcohol use were well known and often punished in Rome, opium was not linked with criminal or immoral behaviour.

I really don’t know if I would prefer to be a nicotinist, an alcoholist or an opium addict. It’s probably a question of ‘personalised medicine’. We know there is a strong genetic component in the body’s reaction to alcohol. Our reactions to opium and other drugs too are probably a complicated mix of genetic predisposition and current metabolic state.

So what works for one person, at one stage of life, doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else, and vice versa. What’s most important is to bring drug use out of the moral sphere and treat it as all other kinds of more or less dangerous or beneficial (or both, depending on the dosis) interactions between our bodies and the rest of the material world.

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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