It seems like all old people want to do is talk about how things were so much better back in their day, that they didn't need gadgets like smartphones to entertain them when there were perfectly good hoops and sticks lying around. But maybe grandma just thinks that because in the good old days she was hopped up on more makeshift drugs than your average high school dropout. Even though each generation thinks that they're the MacGyvers of getting high, the truth is that people have been partying hard since the dawn of civilization. For example ...
5People Used To Throw Laughing-Gas Parties And Watch Surgeries At "The Ether Dome"
Nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas, is either a commonplace anesthetic or a dangerous chemical weapon depending on which Joker you ask. This compound has been around since 1772, but it took doctors a long time to see its medicinal value. Mostly because they were too busy getting seriously high off it.
Buck Hill Associates
It was either this or typhoid.
Laughing gas wasn't used for anything surgical for about 70 years after its synthesis. Before that it was marketed as a novel carnival gag. Samuel Colt, who later went on to ruin both the musket industry and the Second Amendment, funded his gunsmithing dreams by selling laughing gas at the circus. Under the alias Dr. Coult (is it an alias if it sounds exactly the same?) his roadshow would "educate" people on the wonders of the goof gas for a quarter per hit -- though we're sure that the first giggle was free. Colt/Coult was far from the only guy passing the gas around. It quickly transformed into a high-society fad to sit in a parlor room and get a bunch of people to start laughing like fools. Famed poet and original druggie rock star Samuel Coleridge once said of the laughing-gas parties: "The first time I inspired the nitrous oxide, I felt a highly pleasurable sensation of warmth over my whole frame. ... The only motion which I felt inclined to make was that of laughing at those who were looking at me."
U.S. National Library of Medicine
"Plus, it really keeps the broads in line!"
Colt did the stuff no favors with his snake-oil mercantilism. Because of its circus origins, anyone who suggested that this magic gas could have actual medical value was laughed out of the room. That was until 1846, when a dentist named William Morton put a patient under using nitrous oxide at Massachusetts General Hospital and removed a tumor from the patient's neck. Up to that point, surgery patients had been put under with generous doses of alcohol or opium and on occasion were literally beaten unconscious. When the patient didn't howl in pain, Morton knew he was on to something. And so did everyone watching from the audience stands, because the carnival aspect of medicine didn't going away until much, much later.
Not pictured: The unicycle-riding bear who juggled the discarded tumor.
To wit, the operating theater at Massachusetts General Hospital wasn't even called "the operating theater at Massachusetts General Hospital." It was known as the Ether Dome. Curious onlookers (who were probably also high on ether) could come in and watch all sorts of surgeries being performed, including amputations done by Robert Liston, who was known for his ability to saw off limbs in under three minutes. This was a big draw, because television had not yet been invented, and everyone in the middle- to upper-class was getting high off of medical sedatives all the time.
4U.S. Soldiers Used Their Guns As Bongs
The Vietnam War took a tremendous toll on the United States. A whole generation of young men went overseas to fight (and often die) in one of the most senseless conflicts. But the men who were sent out into the jungle did have one way of taking their mind off the relentless horror: The jungle was chock-full of pot, and weapons can send you to heaven in more ways than one.
This is for fighting and for fun.
It's no surprise that there was heavy drug use during the Vietnam war. Being in the center of a brutal conflict seemingly without end while surrounded on all sides by naturally growing pot and heroin will do that to you. But it was a little trickier to get your hands on the paraphernalia with which to get high. That video shows a bunch of U.S. soldiers putting their mouths to the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun (which they've named Ralph), literally shotgunning some sweet Vietnamese kush. The footage was taken by a documentary crew in 1970, and it became so popular back in the States that 15 years later Oliver Stone paid homage to it by including a very similar scene in Platoon:
But as our hippie grandparents have demonstrated, weed won't exactly kill you. C-4, on the other hand, is pretty famous for doing exactly that. Because of rumors that nibbling on C-4 produced the same kind of high as huffing ethanol gas, some soldiers decided that eating plastic explosives was a good idea. It isn't. To quote some doctors who witnessed this debacle:
"Composition C-4 is the most common plastic explosive employed by the military in Vietnam. Ingestion is followed in a few hours by multiple generalized seizures, hematuria, severe nausea and vomiting, muscle twitching, and mentation changes. Six patients requiring hospitalization were treated by gastric lavage, maintenance of airway, control of seizures, monitoring of urine volume, and maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance. No fatalities were observed."
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for the hospital toilets.
Honestly, if given the choice between being sober in Vietnam and getting dangerously high on plastic explosives in Vietnam, we'd probably snort the C-4 too.