How Serious Was Drug Abuse in Ancient Times?


Drugs. Source: Wikimedia

 Drugs are, unfortunately, as much of a problem today, as they used to be, if not more so. Some of you might know that drugs were a thing that began in the ancient times, and you are correct. This article aims to provide you with an introduction into the issue and some examples of historical figures who used drugs.

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Now that’s a Trip!

There are numerous studies that show us that people liked to get high since the dawn of time. In fact, drug abuse is almost as old as food and drink as such. The main evidence of this is fossils of psychoactive plants and various artworks found by archaeologists around the world. Below you can find some of the many examples of drugs and other psychotropic substances used in ancient times, some of which are still used – and abused – today.


Entrance to World's First Winery in Areni, Armenia.

Entrance to World’s First Winery in Areni, Armenia. Source: Wikimedia

The world’s first winery was in Armenia, but the earliest alcoholic drink can be dated back to 7,000 BC. Wine-making can be traced back to 6,000 BC. As you can probably imagine, Ancient Greeks and Romans were particularly fond of wine. The Greeks even had a god of wine – Dionysius – a deity notorious for partying. The Romans preferred their wine sweet and diluted it with water, whereas the Greeks preferred to add honey. Both civilizations saw wine as a source of good conversation and celebration.


Blackfoot and Harry Behn smoking a pipe.

Blackfoot and Harry Behn smoking a pipe. Source: Wikimedia

Smoking pipes are believed to have originated in South America. However, usage of nicotine dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt – it was found, along with cocaine derived from coca leaves, inside several Egyptian mummies.

Tobacco as such was primarily used by the Native Americans, before it was discovered by the people of the Old World and became popular in Europe. The Native Americans thought the tobacco smoke to be able to transport a smoker’s prayers to the gods.


Chinese Opium Smokers

Chinese Opium Smokers. Source: Wikimedia

The drug was first cultivated by the Sumerians in 3,400 BC, but it was used by quite a few ancient nations. Its primary use was not too dissimilar to today’s – medicinal. However, there is also evidence of its recreational use by the Chinese and the Romans. Prior to the invention of the pipe, the drug was taken orally, but it had a far greater, and a far worse effect, when smoked. Opium has had such an influence over the world that the British had even entered into two disputes with the Chinese known as “The Opium Wars” in the 19th century.

Pot and other herbs

The Blue Lotus

The Blue Lotus. Source: Blogspot

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ancient nations placed great emphasis on magic and prophesies, and the people who claimed they were prophets of sorts were very respected. However, there is numerous evidence that suggests that 99 out of 100 of these “oracles” were actually stoned most of the time and tried to sell their drug-induced visions as “prophesies”. Mostly, these drugs were herbal.

Cannabis’ first use as a recreational drug is believed to have occurred circa 3,000 BC in China. Other herbs, for example the Blue Lotus used in Egypt, are much older. The Blue Lotus’ effects are described by Homer in The Odyssey as “robbing of any willpower”.


Mayan mushroom statues

Mayan mushroom statues. Source: Wikimedia

“Magic mushrooms” have first been discovered on the artworks in Africa circa 8,000 BC. These hallucinogenic shrooms are believed to have been quite popular back in the day. They had a rather substantial role in the Mayan religion, hallucinations associated with sacrifice and rituals of the Underworld. The mushrooms were also very important for shamans and some historians even believe that we largely have them to thank for several cultural shifts.


Now, let’s take a look on some famous figures of ancient history that weren’t averse to drug usage.

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great. Source: Wikimedia

Not only was this warrior a massive drunk, as I’ve previously written, but he also was quite familiar with opium and was only too happy to introduce the Persians and the Indians to it. While the people of these nations didn’t start using the drug for recreation purposes until the 1600s, there is no denying that Alexander the Great was on a first name basis with it, as well as other stimulants.

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