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History of Drug Use

Bottles from the 1700s

From that first cup of coffee to the last cigarette -- Americans rely on chemical substances to change the way they feel and act.

Using hundreds of artifacts, Altered States guides visitors through the history of drug abuse in America, beginning in the 1600s, when Europeans were introduced to tobacco and most people believed that alcohol was a "good creature" that nourished the body, eased its pains, cheered the heart and prolonged life. Viewers will journey through the hard-drinking frontier days, the Temperance Movement, the rise of the 19th century opiate and cocaine use and addiction, Prohibition, the psychedelic 1960s and the drug-wracked 1990s.

Photographs, film clips, posters and more than 230 drug-related objects -- from cocaine spoons and snuff jars to to hypodermic needles and tobacco advertisements -- form a broad panorama of substance use and abuse throughout history.

Interactives relate current issues to their historical precedents, updating visitors' knowledge about contemporary issues such as the dangers of smokeless tobacco, the appeal of inhalants to teens, medical use of marijuana, alcohol and health, and cigarette consumption.

Quotations from literature, diaries and other first-hand accounts recall the pleasures and ills associated with different substances. Interactive "stations" explain the properties of the various substances discussed throughout the exhibit.

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