5 Illegal Drugs That Were Once Legal and Recommended
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

5 Illegal Drugs That Were Once Legal and Recommended


This post was originally published on May 19, 2014.

It’s hard to grasp, I know. But dammit, it is the truth: lots of the drugs we now consider scandalously dangerous, even deadly, used to be legally considered, well, NBD. Here are five of those drugs.

1) Meth

Amphetamine was first created in 1887 in Germany; methamphetamine, more potent and simpler to make, was developed in Japan in 1919. In the ’50s, doctors prescribed methamphetamine as a diet aid, and to help with depression. That began to change, though, throughout the 1960s—injectable methamphetamine was becoming more and more available and popular (thereby worsening its abuse). In 1970, the US government made the drug illegal for most purposes. After that, American motorcycle gangs controlled most of the drug’s manufacturing and distribution. In the ’90s, Mexican drug trafficking groups set up large laboratories in California. While these massive labs are able to generate 50 pounds of the substance in a single weekend, smaller private labs have sprung up in kitchens and apartments, earning the drug one of its names, “stove top.”

2) Heroin

One of the most addictive, destructive and deadly drugs out there was once considered a possible cure for morphine addiction. Yup: heroin was first invented as a less addictive replacement for morphine (as well as being used as a cough medicine). Heroin was created in 1874, and was unrestricted until 1914. In 1924 the drug got outlawed but it was later found to be much more addictive and harsher on the body when doses were not kept.


MDMA was actually only outlawed as recently as 1985. Though it’s long been associated with club kids and ravers, the drug’s history is more…medical. After being invented by a chemist in 1912 when he was looking for a substance that would help stop abnormal bleeding, MDMA was used to encourage and aid psychiatric patients in being open with their therapists. When the drug’s touchy-feeling euphoric stuff was revealed, it started looking attractive to young raver types. Then its abuse began to rise, so laws were set to restrict its access and use.

4) Cocaine

Cocaine was first extracted from coca leaves in 1859 by the German chemist Albert Niemann. It wasn’t until the 1880s that it started to become more broadly accepted and popular in the medical scene. Good ol’ Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud even used the drug himself! Whoa man. Freud was the first public figure to broadly promote coke use as a tool to help cure depression as well as impotence. Then, in 1886, the drug got a bigger bump in popularity when John Pemberton put coca leaves in his new soda: the one and only Coca-Cola, obvi. In 1912, the US government reported 5,000 coke-related deaths in just a year, so by 1922, the drug had been banned.

5) Pot

Today we’re all aware of the brouhaha in many American states regarding marijuana legalization. The debate has been raging for years and years, and in the last few years we’ve witnessed many changes in various states’ individual laws. As a drug, regulations on the sale of Cannabis sativa started way back in 1619. But weed was, for the most part, unrestricted up until the early 1900s, and armers grew it to use in paper and textiles. Around 1906 and on, the labeling of cannabis as a “poison” began in many states; staunch prohibitions launched in the 1920s. By the mid-’30s, Cannabis was regulated as a drug in every state.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.