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Drugs, Consumption, and Supply in Asia: The Case of Cocaine in Colonial India, c. 1900–c. 1930


This article examines the market for cocaine in India during the early twentieth century and the efforts of the colonial state to control it. The British authorities issued regulations to prohibit the drug's use as early as 1900, and yet by the start of World War I, cocaine's appeal had become socially diverse and geographically wide. This account of a significant market for a powerful new drug suggests that Indian society was able to rapidly develop a demand for such products even when the colonial state had no part in their introduction. Indians used these new products in complex ways—as medicines, as tonics, and as intoxicants, albeit through the localized medium of the everyday paan leaf. The study points to a reconsideration of a number of debates about the history of drugs and modern medicines in Asia.

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Chunilal Bose . 1913. “Cocaine Poisoning.” British Medical Journal 1: 1617.

Jane Buckingham . 2002. Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

Harry G. Gelber 2004. Opium, Soldiers, and Evangelicals: England's 1840–42 War with China and Its Aftermath. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

James H. Mills 2000. Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The ‘Native-Only’ Lunatic Asylums of British India, 1857–1900. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave.

David Musto . 1998. “International Traffic in Coca through the Early 20th Century.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 49(2): 145–56.

John F. Richards 2002. “Opium and the British Indian Empire: The Royal Commission of 1895.” Modern Asian Studies 36(2): 375420.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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