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Education: Higher Education

Seeking Pleasure, Managing Moods: User’ Experiences with Psychoactive Drugs

Class 4. Rebellious Youth


In the 1960s, the spread of illicit drug use from inner city groups to white middle class youth that had begun in the 1950s became an explosive trend. First marijuana, next heroin, and then amphetamines were widely embraced by young people who framed their drug use as a rejection of the conformist, racist, and militarist values they believed dominated American society. Some sought higher consciousness through use of psychedelics such as LSD. Many of the earlier users then moved into political or environmental activism or sought to develop new lifestyle models in venues such as organic farming communes. A wave of younger people taking up these drugs at younger ages and with more hedonistic aims experienced growing rates of dependence and overdose. Alarmed parents and politicians created an anti-drug backlash symbolized by Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug sales, introduced in the 1950s, were lengthened in the 1980s. These longer sentences combined with rising rates of incarceration for drug offenses dramatically increased the numbers of Americans incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

Class Resources
  • Alpert, Richard. “Round-table on LSD.” In United States National Student Association Collection of Background Papers on Student Drug Involvement, edited by Charles Hollander. United States National Student Association, 1967, pp. 101-7.
  • Beck, Jerome E. and Marsha Rosenbaum. “Emergence of Adam and Ecstacy: Distribution and Criminalization of MDMA.” In Pursuit of Ecstacy: The MDMA Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, pp. 13-25.
  • Blum, Richard H. “Students’ Drug Diaries.” In Drugs II: Students and Drugs: College and High School Observations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1969, pp. 169-82.
  • Lemke-Santangelo, Gretchen. “‘Was Opening up like a Tender Flower’: Women’s Psychedelic, Spiritual, and Travel Adventures.” In Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Underground. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2009, pp. 113-36.

Discussion Questions
  1. Lemke-Santangelo discusses how women of the 1960s rejected the narrow and conformist roles their mothers and older sisters had often been confined to, in part by seeking specific kinds of drug experiences. How would you contrast these women’s use of drugs with the consumption of prescribed tranquilizers by housewives in the 1950s and early 1960s? What vision of life did the women Lemke-Santangelo describes develop as an alternative to what may have been expected for them? What kinds of challenges did they encounter?
  2. Beck and Rosenbaum, like Eric Schneider, describe how a drug moved from one social context to another. How does this account of a different drug and a different set of social contexts enable you to make some general observations about how drugs move among social groups?
  3. Blum, a researcher at Stanford University who published widely on drug use by youth, and Richard Alpert, a leading exponent of LSD use for consciousness raising, provide glimpses into drug use by college youth in the 1960s. How might you apply the insights you’ve gained about understanding the social contexts for drug use to better understand the motives for and experiences of drug use by college students in the 1960s?
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