HIGH SOCIETY, Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture, with Mike Jay

Cutting edge cultural historian, Mike Jay. Mike's book, High Society was published to rave reviews from the broadsheets, arts magazines, the British Medical Journal, as well as historical and science journals alike


Mike Jay explored the spectrum of mind-altering substances across the globe and throughout history and set his controversial subject in the widest possible context. The accompanying exhibition at London's Wellcome Collection drew recommendation from as far afield as the Wall Street Journal. Now Mike brings his unique combination of erudition and insight to the Ebenezer.

Every society is a _high_ society. From the prosaic to the exotic, the link between mind-altering drugs, and human intellectual, economic, religious and artistic life is as inextricable as it is undeniable. Almost all of us are users of one drug or another. Drugs are part of what it is to be human.

It is a profound and valuable relationship but also a destructive one.

Today the illicit drug trade is worth an estimated £200bn a year.

It is questionable whether prohibition discourages consumption. And some assert that it merely inspires damaging patterns of manufacture, supply and use and overwrites what might be a more traditional and benign relationship to drugs with a necessarily pernicious one.

However, it is just as questionable whether legalisation, or _regulation_, would be an effective means of preventing deleterious consumption.

Facts, guesswork, conjecture... We read the same things but the conclusions we draw conflict. It is not clear what course our legislators and law enforcers will take. Nor is it easy to separate the benefits drugs bring us from the hysteria surrounding them.

Mike surveys humanity's immemorial engagement with psychoactive plants and chemicals and explores why 'drugs' have developed such a controversial image in the modern West.


Mike Jay

Mike has written widely books on the cultural history of science and medicine, and is a leading specialist in the study of drugs across history and cultures. As well as High Society, he is the author of the widely acclaimed Emperors of Dreams, a narrative 
history of drugs in the nineteenth century Guardian - This excellent book; and The Atmosphere of Heaven, on the discovery 
of nitrous oxide and the brilliant circle of inspired scientists and artists, including Davy and Coleridge, who brought it about. He is the editor of Artificial Paradises, a rich, varied and exhilarating survey of drug literature, published in Penguin Twentieth Century Classics. His critical writing on drugs and their histories appear in 
The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The London Review of Books.


Praise for High Society

Read Introduction

Images from Wellcome Exhibition - Video

Excellent…shows that drug use stretches back too far, and too widely across the globe, to be considered an aberration of the human condition’ Financial Times

‘Marvellous…deserves high praise for rendering a complex, controversial topic with clarity and elegance’ British Medical Journal

‘A vivid report on the other side of drugs’ Hanif Kureishi, Books of the Year, The Guardian

Take the long view, says this entertaining book…the discovery of novel psychoactive substances has been going on throughout human history’ Wall Street Journal

‘An excellent book…a wonderfully open-ended subject’ Telegraph

‘Jay explores medical, religious, social and economic roles psychoactive substances play around the world…an excellent overview’ Science

2012Martin Keeley