[FOUNTAIN]Drugs have come full circle

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[FOUNTAIN]Drugs have come full circle

Drugs are one product of modernization. More precisely, the character of drugs has undergone change since the 19th century. Drugs before the 19th century were primarily used for medical purposes. After the modernization period, drugs were used to enter a world of illusions.

The popularity of opium in Britain where the industrial revolution began can be explained along these lines. On the East End, the heart of Britain's industrial complex, opium brought in from colonies, such as India, was widely distributed. At the time, a product that was a mixture of alcohol and opium, often called laudanum, became very popular, and poppy stems called "penny-sticks" were in wide use. The infant mortality rate surged, as drugs were used to help put babies to bed.

The case in Britain can be seen from drugs' economic side; the "spiritual" side can be explored by talking about drug use in France. Romanticism emerged in 18th century France as a reaction to rationalism and the enlightenment movement. Emotions rather than rational thinking held sway, and people adored anything foreign and exotic. Mysticism captured the people's mind and drugs were considered to be the medium through which inspiration and creativity could be obtained.

Hashish came to France when French soldiers returned from Napoleon's Egypt adventure. The famous Hashish Club, located on St. Louis Island in the middle of the Seine River, was the center for drug-addicted artists. One of them was Charles Baudelaire, a poet preaching symbolism.

Baudelaire took more drugs than advised. While he was floating around in his intoxicated state he declared that he was God and described his experience as being similar to living in an artificial paradise. In his eyes, the intoxicated state made the human being perfect and provided the perfect creativeness needed in the art world.

Nevertheless, at the age of 40, Baudelaire wrote a letter to a young poet who wanted to use drugs so that he could be more creative.

In the letter, he warned not to trust any substances that stimulate the body or mind. He said that those who depend on drugs will become nothing -- neither a businessman nor a literary man.

Sixty years later, in 1920, certain drugs were declared illegal in Germany and Britain, but 80 years after that a new breed of artists, entertainers of the modern age, have fallen victim to drugs under the same pretext that lured so many people into the abyss centuries ago.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Oh Byung-sang

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