DESPITE the tremendous increase in and broadening of drug use by Americans during the past decade, only one book -- Consumers Reports' Licit and Illicit Drugs , published in 1972 -- delved into the topic with any sense of detail and detachment. While the report was awesome in its scholarship (over 600 pages long, 40 of them footnotes), its conclusions closely paralleled those of the most ardent druguse advocates: namely, "stop emphasizing measures designed to keep durgs away from people." After exorcizing many of the myths that have evolved around drug use, the editors recommended not only the legalization of marijuana, but also a government program to assure the availability of pure heroin or methadone for addicts. Throughout, Licit and Illicit Drugs was repeatedly critical of the federal government's unwillingness to provide balanced, objective information for the 25 million Americans estimated by the National Institute of Mental Health to use drugs regularly.
Now, seven years later, two books have arrived attempting to do just that -- what varying degrees of impartiality. Jack S. Margolis' Complete Book of Recreational Drugs is effectively an abridged version of the standard Physician's Desk Reference -- the fat, illustrated volume that catalogues every pill manufactured in this country. The High Times Encyclopedia of Recreational Drugs is a collection of long, rather freewheeling essays -- ranging from history to law, paraphernalia to aphrodisiacs, marijuana-growing to religion -- sandwiching information between pages and pages of folklore and anecdotes.
Although both books acknowledge the recreational aspects of drugs, Margolis' is clearly the more reserved. He is careful, at the outset, to draw a fine distinction between drug use and abuse: "Drug use becomes drug abuse when it causes harm to the individual user, when it causes harm to other members of society, or when it causes harm to the fabric of society itself."
Meanwhile, the first word we get from the writers of High Times , who have been publishig an advocacy journal on drugs for the past five years, is: "Nothing in this book should be construed as recommending or condoning illegal activities of any kind. The information contained herein is solely for educational purposes and is not to be used as a substitute for medical or for legal advice."
Margoils' book is essentially a reference work, in general listing only pharmaceutical drugs, although there are extensive essays on marijuana, cocaine and a few other orgainc substances. A reader wishing to know about, say, diazepam (Valium) would look it up alphabetically and find out that it is a depressant or tranquilizer, acts on the central nervous system, is used medicinally to reduce tension, can be a mild euphoriant, comes in various pill-form dosages and creates an effect of mild sedation.
The surprising omission in Margolis' book is a section illustrating the drugs referred to -- an essential element of both the Physician's Desk Reference and the High Times Encylopedia .
While the Encyclopedia serves partly as a reference book -- including photos of 40 varieties of marijuana and a list of recommended drug lawyers -- it will probably be of most interest to individuals looking for a four-pound compilation of the world's drug lore.
It is here, for instance, that the reader can discover that Europeans had considered the writings of the alchemist Geber (A.D. 750) "juibberish" -- the origin of the term -- until they experienced the effects of his alcholic creations; or that Queen Victoria was delivered under chloroform; or that Pope Leo XIII endorsed the effects of cocaine (which is reportedly being brought into this country now at the rate of a ton a week); or that Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1870, wrote of the joys of sniffing ether.
In its own rambling way, the High Times Encyclopedia incorporates much of the historical data on drugs that is so carefully set forth in Licit and Illicit Drugs : how opium and cocaine were respectively associated with Orientals and blacks and subsequently made illegal; how Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, regularly misstated information about drugs to gain congressional support; how the U.S., in creating its marijuana lasw, totally overlooked the exhaustive "Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report," published in India in 1894, which effectively demonstrated the harmlessness of the drug.
The High Times Encyclopedia is less specific about methods of drug usage than Margolis' book, although there are some points of disagreement: Margolis, for instance, claims that no plants containing belladonna (like jimson weed) can be used recreationally; the Encylopedia , on the other hand, describes a number of positive expericences.
This difference aptly characterizes the two books: Margolis is concise, direct and tends to be conservative; the Encyclopedia is long (about 500 large, two-column pages, with 800 illustrations) discursive and tends to be audacious and even outrageous. And while neither book approaches the scholarship of the earlier Consumers Union report, both fill a definite demand in general drug literature.