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LoDo, the prequel. —Courtesy of Rocky Mountain PBS

A Mile High—Forever and Ever

A Rocky Mountain PBS documentary explores Colorado's historic love–love relationship with illicit substances.

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How long have Coloradans enjoyed their intoxicants? For at least as long as there have been Coloradans.

This week on Rocky Mountain PBS, “Colorado Experience” reveals how our state’s original settlers partook in booze, cannabis, opium, cocaine, and saloon-hopping even before we became a state. (The first permanent structure in Denver, in fact, was a bar.)

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“Indulgences of the West” details the way early Coloradans—in keeping with the outlaw reputation of the Wild West—ingested just about anything that might provide a buzz. The 30-minute chapter in RMPBS’s ongoing series explains how sometimes these “medicines” were necessary treatments for people who were beat up and bruised from their hardscrabble world of mining and settling an untamed landscape. (Our local love of a certain hops-and-malt-based beverage is part of what lured a German immigrant named Adolph Coors to the area.)

But naturally, in the days before medical research became more established, such practices could turn dangerous quickly, resulting in addictions and overdoses among men, women, and even children. These perilous habits contributed to broader awareness throughout the United States about drug abuse, but by the early 1900s the federal government responded to the growing fears by—go figure—overcorrecting the problem with a series of new laws that eventually (d)evolved into the “reefer madness” and Prohibition eras, the latter of which landed in Colorado four years before the rest of the country. (These laws also fed racist attitudes against Chinese, Mexicans, and African-Americans who were scapegoated for the influx of certain drugs.)

Watch: “Colorado Experience: Indulgences of the West” premieres Thursday, October 8. For stations and airtimes, visit Rocky Mountain PBS, or watch it now on YouTube.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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