The Perfect Couple: Drugs and Pop Culture - Newslibre

The Perfect Couple: Drugs and Pop Culture

Whether it’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing about the cocaine and heroin use of the fictional Sherlock Holmes in the late 19th century or Kanye West about drugs like Molly, there have been drug references in popular culture for centuries.

Drugs and alcohol are part of modern culture and it would be foolish to deny it. But how and when pop culture affected the demand for drug use is described below.

Heroin and “The 27 Club”

In the US, the popularity of heroin significantly increased after the Second World War and the Vietnam War, but the era of prohibition (which started in 1920 and lasted thirteen years) formed it as a pop-cultural phenomenon. At the same time with the increased demand for drugs the popularity of jazz. It was played in brothels and underground clubs in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York Harlem.

The Perfect Couple: Drugs and Pop Culture - Newslibre
In the US, the popularity of heroin significantly increased after the Second World War and the Vietnam War. (Image credit: Verywell Mind) – Newslibre

The owners and staff these clubs were often associated with organized crime or control the drug traffic, and musicians became their regular customers. Legends about the miraculous effect of heroin on creativity went far beyond the United States.

British white musicians used heroin, hoping to catch up with the talented African-Americans. They romanticized death and perceived drug addiction and early death as a cost for the talent.

Heroin remained at the zenith of fame until the sensational appearance of psychedelics and returned in the 70–90s as a symbol of the dramatic finale and the “last frontier”. At this time, heroin was finally assigned to the class of drugs that are not used for entertainment.

The Return of Opioids

The United States and Canada have been confronted with a new opioid epidemic in the recent years. According to statistics, addiction mainly affects prosperous middle-aged Americans. This group dies from overdoses more often than representatives of any other social group.

The Perfect Couple: Drugs and Pop Culture - Newslibre
Opioids include fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. (Image credit: Jessica Hill/AP) – Newslibre

The opioid epidemic is a consequence of the 90s pain boom when pharmaceutical companies touted opioids to eliminate all types of pain, arguing that the drugs are not dangerous or addictive.

Opioids have returned to modern pop culture in the form of pharmacy names. Rappers Migos, Future, SchoolBoy Q, and Eminem often mention opioid painkillers with oxycodone. Codeine syrup is also popular and such artists like Young Thug, Gucci Mane, and Lil Wayne mention it time and again in their songs. In the USA it is called “Lean” or “purple syrup”.

Acid Rock

The 60s for the USA and Western Europe became a unique time of leftism when young people opposing conservatism, promoting feminism, ecology, pacifism, and sexual liberation. In the 60s, against the backdrop of the dream of a new society, LSD became especially popular.

Unlike opioids, LSD was synthesized relatively late in the mid-sixties. The substance was used either in closed experiments or in private practice. The new drug was popular among expensive psychotherapists and Hollywood bohemians.

Soon, LSD became mainstream thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts who considered it their duty to introduce this substance to as many people as possible.

LSD became an integral part of the political program of youth in the 60s, and also changed the idea of music and culture in general. The first representatives of acid rock (Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Pink Floyd) offered their listeners a completely new experience. In order to understand and feel their music, it was worth not only to put on headphones but also to change consciousness using LSD.


The idea that music is inseparable from narcotics is ideally embodied in the culture of raves. If acid rock could be heard at home, acid house that appeared in the late 80s was an exceptionally big party with MDMA.

If earlier the standard music speed was 60 beats per minute, with the advent of acid house it doubled. Music critic Simon Reynolds wrote that dance music very soon began to consciously enhance the effect of MDMA.

In the late 80s, the substance appeared at parties and researchers from Ivy League universities offered their visitors to try MDMA instead of cocaine as they considered the substance safer and certainly cheaper. Acid House and MDMA fit together so well that the years 1988-1989 were called the “second summer of love”.

The second big wave of MDMA popularity happened in the early 2010s, during the rise of electronic music. Ecstasy seemed to change the audience and if earlier it was called “Harry” or “Adam”, then in the 2010s it entered the new millennium under the name “Molly”.

In 2012 Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and Rick Ross talked about it in their songs. MDMA is associated with the pop culture more than other drugs, and its popularity almost coincided with music trends and party formats.

Crack and Cocaine

Ideologically, stimulants are on the opposite end from LSD and ecstasy. If hallucinogens and euphoretics offered “enlightenment” and “love”, then stimulants were used in the army for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

In the 70-80s the United States saw a peak in popularity of cocaine, which was ironically called “amphetamine for the rich”. As the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar captured the American drug market, cocaine became more in demand among celebrities and rich people.

The Perfect Couple: Drugs and Pop Culture - Newslibre
Cocaine is an often abused drug, derived from the coca plant, and it’s found in both powder and rock forms. (Image credit: – Newslibre

In a 1982 interview with the New York Times, psychopharmacologist Ronald Siegel, who worked for a Hollywood drug rehab, noted that celebrities are willing to spend a million dollars a year on cocaine. Cocaine’s popularity peaked by 1985 and then it declined due to the crack epidemic.

The popularity of crack, was caused by the high price and popularity of cocaine. Selling crack became associated with immigrants from poor countries and the opportunity to earn and emancipate.

For example, Pusha T sing about selling drugs as a way to succeed in the Clipse-Grinfdin track and Fetty Wap in Trap Queen talks about how he and his girlfriend are preparing crack for sale.


Also read: Are Dental Lasers Effective for Treating Gum Disease?

Amelia Grant believes that information is a great force that is able to change people’s lives for the better. Check out her website and blog for more.

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Author: Amelia Grant

Amelia Grant is a journalist and blogger that believes information is a great force that is able to change people’s lives for the better. She has a strong passion for sharing useful and important things about health self-care, wellness and other advice that may be helpful for people. She is an enthusiast of a healthy lifestyle. You can check out her website for daily updates at Amelia’s Blog.


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