Ironically, dealing with drugs is not a modern issue. Drug abuse has been prevalent since ancient times. There are fascinating accounts of early uses (and abuses) of recreational drugs and other natural stimulants from Mesopotamian civilizations (like Babylonian, Sumerian), Mayan periods, from Chinese history, and a plethora of details from Greek and Roman empires. Many well-known historical figures from the past have also been known as ‘drug abusers’.

Drugs have been a big thing since early recorded history and historical evidence, uncovered in last few decades, have shed further light on the extensive social use of opium, coca leaves, psilocybin (shrooms), cannabis and harmala. Sadly, some of these are significant concerns in many countries to this day, despite ‘continuous efforts’ to limit it.

We all know about our own ‘war on drugs’ officially initiated by Richard Nixon in 1971; operations spanning over decades, fought across multiple continents, with and against other authorities in multiple countries, billions spent and a huge number of lives lost. This ‘war on drugs’, which started much earlier than that famous Nixon press-conference, has been an ongoing thing. With so much literature, research papers and investigative pieces, on the subject available online, today, we are not going to ponder much on the recent history in the fight against drug addiction and drug abuse. But we are turning back the clock, to introduce you with many amazing details from ancient times. We are digging up drugs from the Past!

Since the dawn of time, it seems people have been wanting to get high and several research studies and findings support this assertion. Drug abuse was prevalent in almost all ancient civilizations, it dates back to as old as time, and as food and drinks. Early painting and artwork discovered by archeologists, along with fossils of psychoactive plants, found around the world, provide great historical evidence of this drug addiction in antiquity.

Shrooms and Ancient Religions

Artworks unearthed in Africa circa 8,000 BC are the earliest known evidence of ‘magic mushrooms’ or psilocybin. It is believed that these hallucinogenic shrooms were quite popular in the past as well.  These mushrooms were regarded holy in Mayan religion and had a substantial cultural role. Mayan religion associated hallucinations with rituals and sacrifice of the Underworld.

Apart from Mayans, Shamans were also fans of shrooms as they believed their state of mind after having shrooms, connected them to the spirits. There is a whole chunk of historians who are convinced that we have these mushrooms today all thanks to the Shamans and several cultural shifts over the later centuries.

Tobacco As The career Of Prayers

South America is said to be the first place where smoking pipes originated but nicotine has been used since ancient Egyptian times. Several Egyptian mummies are found with traces of nicotine and cocaine which was derived from coca leaves.

Native Americans are known for their use of tobacco. They believed that the smoke from tobacco held the power to carry their prayers to gods. They smoked it to transport their prayers (convenient!). The Native Americans were smoking it even before people of the Old World got to know about it and it became a household name in Europe.

Opium and Alexander the Great

In 3,400 BC, Sumerians were the first to cultivate opium. However, quite a few other ancient civilizations used it, too. It was primarily used for medicinal purposes the same as today and was then abused by some, again the same as today.

There is evidence of Chinese and Romans who used it for recreational purposes. Pipes were invented later and before the advent of pipes, it was taken orally. Soon, it was realized by people from ancient times that the effects of opium are far greater and far worst when they smoke it.

This particular drug has always had the kind of power that can drive civilizations livid. During the 19th century, British and Chinese even fought ‘the opium wars’. The influence of opium over the geopolitics and global political economy was maddening even back then.

Look who made it here, Alexander the Great, surprised? Well, this noble guy was a drunkard, to begin with. He didn’t shy away from opium and introduced the drug quite happily to Persians and Indians.

Opium and Marcus Aurelius

One of the greatest Roman Emperors was a lover of opium. He was a stoic, a philosopher who explains his love for the drug. The facts indicate he needed the drug due to some medical condition and took it every night before bed.

Opium was only available to the higher ranks in the society back then and since Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor, he didn’t have any difficulties.

Herbs and Pot in Pyramid of Ramesses 3

Egyptians were quite familiar with smoking pot but they weren’t restricted to it. Marijuana was also popular as many pharaohs were accustomed to it.

Ramesses III was one of them because signs of pot have been discovered inside his tomb. It is believed that the generation of Ramesses III discovered the medical advantages of cannabis and used it effectively for sore eyes.

Ancient nations were very fond and respectable of magic and prophecies. The ones who claimed to be prophets of sorts were highly honored by the people. However, the evidence shows foulness and cheating, even in antiquity, as most of these respected men were stoned. The oracles sold were drug-induced mirages. The drugs were all herbal mostly.

Marijuana In China

In China, around 2700 BC, cannabis was first used as a recreational drug but other herbs have been there for more time such as Blue Lotus. The effects of Blue Lotus are even found in The Odyssey by Homer where he described it as, “robbing of any willpower”.

Medical marijuana was first used in China under Emperor Shennong around 2700 BC. He encouraged farmers to grow cannabis for industrial purposes. It was used to combat rheumatism and gout. His name, without a surprise, is translated as ‘Divine Farmer’. However, he is more like a mythical creature since his presence hasn’t been 100% confirmed.


The discoveries and evidence from the past, show that it is innate human nature to find escape in hallucinogens and physic drugs. Drug abuse has been a part of most of our history, some did it under the flag of religion while others called it magic.

Whatever they named it, the fact remains that the same drug abuse has been prevalent since ancient civilizations.

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