'The Asian Cocaine Crisis: Psychoactive pharmaceuticals and the limits of empires, c. 1900-c.1945'

Speaker biography: James Mills is Professor of Modern History at the University of Strathclyde and founding Director of the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (CSHHH) Glasgow.  His publications include Cannabis Britannica: Empire, Trade and Prohibition, c. 1800-c. 1928 (OUP 2003), Cannabis Nation: Britain, control and consumption 1928-2008 (OUP 2012) and the edited volume of papers (with Patricia Barton), Drugs and Empires: Essays in modern imperialism and intoxication, c. 1500-c. 1930 (Palgrave 2007).  He is currently writing the history of cocaine in Asia funded by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.  See www.strath.ac.uk/cshhh for more details.


 Between 1890 and 1945 Asia formed one of the world's largest markets for cocaine as it became a medicine and intoxicant for users as far apart as Bombay and Shanghai. Responses by governments there show they quickly viewed this as a crisis. As early as 1900 administrators in Bengal attempted to limit sales to those for strictly medical purposes, and by 1912 officials from a number of Asian governments had forced cocaine into the emerging international drugs regulatory system at the Hague Opium Conference. In subsequent decades administrators grappled with Asian consumers of the drug, and with those that defied governments to produce and distribute it. It is not clear that they did so successfully, as by the 1930s consumers were estimated in the millions across Asia and it was calculated that India alone received five metric tons of the drug annually (worth around $1 billion at today's prices, UNODC 2010, p. 71).  This paper will consider the drivers of both consumption and control, and argue that the history of cocaine there shows how capitalism and commercial organisations often defied efforts at colonial control.



Tue, 10 Dec 2019 -
13:00 to 14:30

 Primary Health Care Directorate Common Room, Old Main Building, Groote Schuur Hospital, E47-25, Observatory 7925

Contact Information: 

Nondumiso Hlwele