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Book review: ‘High Society – Mind Altering Drugs in History and Culture’ by Mike Jay

This book was published to coincide with an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in 2010. It starts with a voyage around the globe detailing drug use by different societies and cultures; from tea and coffee, to betal nut, cocaine and alcohol.

The author tells the history of drug use from ancient archaeological records to the modern day.  He details the progression from using plants and herbs to the scientific discoveries of the 18th & 19th centuries. There are interesting examples of drug experimentation being carried out by scientists and medics before the drug disseminated into the wider society.

The negative impact of drugs is discussed, looking in particular at Prohibition in America in the 1920's .The book ends with a look into the future and how modern society views drug use.

The book is informative and gives a wide-ranging review of drug use in its historical and scientific context. It does not focus on the rights and wrongs of drug use in modern society, but looks at drug use in its wider cultural and social context. The book is beautifully presented with a large number of illustrations and artwork, including pieces from the Wellcome Collection archieves.

Rating: 9/10

Dr Holly Simms is a locum GP in Hertfordshire