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Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures & Medical Prescriptions


Mind-altering drugs have been used throughout the history of the United States. While some remain socially acceptable, others are outlawed because of their toxic, and intoxicating, characteristics. These classifications have shifted at different times in history and will continue to change. The transformation of a particular drug, from an acceptable indulgence to a bad habit, or vice versa, is closely tied to the intentions of those endorsing its use and their status in society. This exhibit explores some of the factors that have shaped the changing definition of some of our most potent drugs from medical miracle to social menace.

The exhibit is free and open to all during normal library hours. Parking is available for a fee in the 8th Street parking deck. If special accommodations are needed, please contact Thelma Mack, research and education coordinator, at (804) 828-0017.

Additional Programming

'Doc' Al Schalow (VCU School of Pharmacy '61) brings his traveling Medicine Wagon Show to campus. Travel back in time with the medicine showman as he uses humor, magic, and storytelling to recount the cure-alls and patent medicines that were prevelantly sold across the United States in the 19th century. Schalow guides the audience through the historical evolution of government controls on medicine and brings them up to date with current fads and trends. The presentation features information on the history of patient cures that included alcohol, opium, cocaine and other indoxicing medicinals, as well as a number of authentic bottles used to peddle these cures.

Image: Saturday Night, Craigville, Mn., courtesy of the Library of Congress