Chasing the dragon across the world

A summary of a fascinating 1997 article on how the practice of consuming heroin by ‘chasing the dragon‘ – inhaling vapours after heating the drug on tin foil – spread across the world.

Heroin smoking by ‘chasing the dragon’: origins and history

Addiction. 1997 Jun;92(6):673-83;

Strang J, Griffiths P, Gossop M.

The history of heroin smoking and the subsequent development and spread of ‘chasing the dragon’ are examined. The first heroin smoking originated in Shanghai in the 1920s and involved use of porcelain bowls and bamboo tubes, thereafter spreading across much of Eastern Asia and to the United States over the next decade.

‘Chasing the dragon’ was a later refinement of this form of heroin smoking, originating in or near Hong Kong in the 1950s, and refers to the ingestion of heroin by inhaling the vapours which result when the drug is heated-typically on tin-foil above a flame. Subsequent spread of ‘chasing the dragon’ included spread to other parts of South East Asia during the 1960s and 1970s, to some parts of Europe during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and to much of the Indian sub-continent during the 1980s.

At the time of writing, ‘chasing the dragon’ has now been reliably reported from many parts of the world but not from others with an established heroin problem-such as the United States and Australia. The significance of this new form of heroin use is examined, including consideration of the role of the different effect with this new form of use, the different types of heroin, and changing public attitudes to injecting.

The article also notes that the popularity of particular drugs tends to rely equally on the methods of consumption as the effects of the substances themselves.

For example, the popularity of morphine in the late 19th century was equally dependent on the development of the needle and hypodermic syringe and the development of cigarettes massively increased the number of tobacco smokers.

Link to locked article on the history of ‘chasing the dragon’.

I am yours for 2 coppers

I’ve just found a wonderful 1973 study on the psychoanalysis of graffiti that discusses how unconscious desires might be expressed through public scrawlings.

It has a completely charming table that compares graffiti from A.D. 79 Pompeii with 1960’s Los Angeles to demonstrate the similarity of themes across the centuries.


The author concludes that “aggressive-destructive and incorporative wishes are similarly satisfied by the wall writer at the expense of the wall owner” although overtly sexual images should be considered as definitely expressing sexual themes.

Link to locked 1973 study the psychoanalysis of graffiti.

Tea in Bellevue

The entry to the historic Bellevue Hospital in New York City, famous for its psychiatric wards which have housed a long list of artists, writers, musicians and actors.

As a result of treating so many of New York’s artistic community over the years, it has turned up in many works of art as a result.

For example, jazz great Charles Mingus named one of his tracks Lock ‘Em Up (Hellview of Bellevue) after spending time on the wards.

Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, also a one time resident featured it in his epic poem Howl:

who talked continuously seventy hours from park to
pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping
down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills

In fact, Ginsberg met fellow writer and then fellow patient Carl Solomon in the institution, to whom he dedicated Howl.

If you want a good overview of the hospital’s history New York Magazine has an excellent 2008 article that looks at the high and lowlights of its long existence.

Rather prosaically, I visited and had a cup of tea in the auditorium.

Link to New Yorker article ‘Checkout Time at the Asylum’.