"Morphine," writes Richard J. Miller, "is the most significant chemical substance mankind has ever encountered." So ancient that remains of poppies have been found in Neolithic tombs, it is the most effective drug ever discovered for treating pain. "Whatever advances are made in medicine," Miller adds, "nothing could really be more important than that." And yet, when it comes to mind-altering substances, morphine is only a cc or two in a vast river that flows through human civilization, ranging from LSD to a morning cup of tea.
In Drugged, Miller takes listeners on an eye-opening tour of psychotropic drugs, describing the various kinds, how they were discovered and developed, and how they have played multiple roles in virtually every culture. The vast scope of chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier boggle the very brain they reach: cannabis and cocaine, antipsychotics and antidepressants, alcohol, amphetamines, and Ecstasy - and much more.
Literate and wide-ranging, Miller weaves together science and history, telling the story of the undercover theft of 20,000 tea plants from China by a British spy, for example; the European discovery of coffee and chocolate; and how James Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous man of letters, first isolated the alkaloid we now know as caffeine.
Miller explains what scientists know - and don't - about the impact of each drug on the brain, down to the details of neurotransmitters and their receptors. He clarifies the differences between morphine and heroin, mescaline and LSD, and other similar substances. Drugged brims with surprises, revealing the fact that antidepressant drugs evolved from the rocket fuel that shot V2 rockets into London during World War II, highlighting the role of hallucinogens in the history of religion, and asking whether Prozac can help depressed cats.
Entertaining and authoritative, Drugged is a truly fascinating book.
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Interesting reading but heavy on the biochemistry
I enjoyed this audiobook but have a background in the field. The author takes us throughout each of the various classes of mind and mood altering drugs, both prescription and illegal, offering a brief history of each, their uses, effects, efficacy etc. Most, if not all the drugs covered here will be familiar to most readers and there is lots of interesting details, trivia, and factoids. This isn't a book for anyone searching for the right "med" - rather, is more of a history of man's flirtation with and apparent need for, mind altering experiences. I was captivated throughout. My only criticism was that the author tends to delve a little too deep into the biochemistry of each drug which tends to overwhelm the reader at times. As well, I got the sense the title was the publisher's ploy to make this rather academic book more appealing to the lay reader. Still, for anyone with an interest in the history and science behind many of our modern drugs of choice to either treat or self-medicate psychiatric illnesses, this is the book for you.
No complaints about the narration. Could have been dry given the subject matter but to the credit of Clark.
A good review; not very competent reader
- David Steinsaltz