Dangerous Drugs


Dangerous Drugs - 1899
Advertisement for Bayer drugs, 1899, Credit: Wellcome Collection, https://wellcomecollection.org/works/urcbpct2




The history of drugs lesson was designed to introduce students to narcotics and alcohol in the past.  The idea was to encourage the students to build on their own knowledge of the present whilst also teaching them about the expansion, consumption and legal issues associated with drugs in history.  For the most recent version of this lesson, historical expertise in the classroom was provided by Dr Lucas Richert and PhD Student Maaike de Vries.



Dangerous Drugs was written and designed by Professor James Mills, a specialist in Drug History at the University of Strathclyde.  The lesson was written to introduce new narratives and concepts such as ‘dangerous drugs’, temperance and addiction’ and used a primary source, visual media based exercise, as a way to help the pupils engage with these new concepts.


Engagement and Practice:

The lesson was equally divided between presentation style teaching, group work and a class discussion using worksheets (attached to this article). This was designed to include the pupils as much as possible, through direct group work, question and answer / fill in the blanks sessions and summary sections.

Dangerous_Drugs 2018 – Lesson Presentation

◾Introduction of subject and staff
◾Open class questions ‘What are Dangerous Drugs? Why dangerous? All illegal?’
◾Short teaching section – Alcohol / Temperance / Addiction
◾Class activity – ‘Watch short film ‘Drinking in America’ answer set questions.
◾Teaching plus open questions –Drugs – Opium / Cocaine / Pharmacy Acts
◾Group worksheet exercise: Match historical the description to the health tonic.
◾Group discussion
◾Sum up section

Worksheets and Resources: 

Video: Roots of Prohibition – This video provided an interesting overview of the American relationship and was a popular exercise.

Two worksheets were useful for this section

1. A source analysis sheet to be used as a reference during the media based section of the lesson.  This sheet encourages pupils to consider the importance of content, context, bias and usefulness of source materials.  However, this exercise was primarily led by the questions on the PowerPoint.

Source Analysis Sheet

2. For the second exercise, pupils examined historical advertisement slogans, ingredients and treatment. Their task was to match each product with the correct description.

Drug Advert Activity
Personal Account

Typically, organiser Simon Walker would introduce the topic and the guest tutors.  Most recently Dr Lucas Richert and PhD Student Maaike de Vries contributed to the delivery of this lesson.
Dr Richert explains that this lesson was designed with a pithier teaching style in mind to hold the interest of the pupils.  However, he notes that it was important that the lesson was not simply ‘dumbed-down’ nor streamlined. Materials had to be bold and big, so as to resonate.  Students did not receive a long lecture as this would again test their interest and were instead offered short ‘chunks’ of information and tasks/activities during which they could apply the information they were learning.


Dr Richert was impressed by the pupils as they genuinely and successfully engaged with the complex history of medical ideas. This was a rewarding experience as staff witnessed students comprehensively grasp difficult concepts.


This topic was chosen as health and wellbeing in Scotland is a dominant theme within the Scottish Parliament and also within the University of  Strathclyde. It was quickly evident that between their current education and wider cultural awareness the pupils understood much about drugs and alcohol today.  Therefore it is hoped that by understanding the history of drugs and mental health this will enable better decision-making in the short and long-term future

The second exercise sheet is perhaps a little basic and may be revised for future lessons.  In some sessions, pupils were given posters as primary sources to use with their worksheets.  However, this was difficult given the constraints of time.

Overall, this was an excellent lesson which attempted to combine complex historical ideas with a topic with much contemporary relevance.

Please feel free to access the attached resources for this lesson.  All of the images and information is strictly provided for a non-commercial / education purposes.