Drugs in Ancient History

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 6-5-12

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 6-5-12. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3903

Question of the Week: When did people start using drugs?

According to a 2009 historical overview by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,

“The use of psychoactive substances has occurred since ancient times …”

Reviewing just opium, cannabis and coca, the UNODC goes on to say,

“The use of opium for medicinal and recreational use is documented in antiquity. The Sumerians referred to it as ‘Gil Hul’ or ‘joy plant’ as early as 3000 B.C. Techniques of opium production were passed to the Babylonians from where it spread to other countries in the Near and Middle East. Opium production shifted from Mesopotamia to Egypt around 1500 B.C., to Persia probably around 900 B.C, and to Asia Minor around 500 B.C.”

The UNODC also traces cannabis use to

“as early as 4000 B.C. in Central Asia and north-western China, with written evidence going back to 2700 B.C. in the pharmacopeia of emperor Chen-Nong. It then gradually spread across the globe, to India (some 1500 B.C., also mentioned in Altharva Veda, one of four holy books about 1400 B.C.1), the Near and Middle East (some 900 B.C.),
Europe (some 800 B.C.), various parts of South-East Asia (2nd century A.D.), Africa (as of the 11th century A.D.) to the Americas (19th century) and the rest of the world.”

Regarding coca, the non-profit Acción Andina states that,

“Archaeological evidence has confirmed that the coca leaf has been  cultivated and used by the indigenous people of the Andes region for at least 4,000-5,000 years while other estimates put this as far back as 20,000 years.”

Thus the short answer to the question of when people started using drugs is a very, very long time ago!