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High Society

  • Free
  • Exhibition
Photograph of visitors in the High Society exhibition at Wellcome Collection.
High Society exhibition, Dave Sayer. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

With the illicit drug trade estimated to be worth billions each year and new drugs constantly appearing on the streets and the internet, it can seem as if we’re in the grip of unprecedented addiction.

Yet psychoactive drugs are nothing new, and those most familiar to us – alcohol, coffee and tobacco – have all been illegal in the past. From ancient Egyptian poppy tinctures to Victorian cocaine eye drops, Native American peyote rites to the salons of the French Romantics, mind-altering drugs have a rich history. This exhibition explored how these drugs were first discovered and how they came to be both fetishised and demonised.