For as long as animals have been able to get high there have been users and abusers of mind-altering substances. This traces back millions of years into our ancestry. Altered states of consciousness are also very much part of who we are as a species. Humans have been taking drugs for as long as people have been alive. Our ancestors have been eating fermented fruit for millions of years. In the Neolithic Period, the age-old tradition of drinking “monkey wine” led people to develop actual wine and then later beer. Much later in the Medieval Period, Arabian chemists discovered how to properly distill alcohol, which quickly became wildly popular among Europeans. Due to the way in which souls form and function, people typically do whatever it takes to produce altered states of consciousness and there is something very atavistic about drunkenness. The point is that intoxication is a basic animal drive just like digestion or procreation but it is often unfairly restricted by regulation, with a few exceptions like the attempted prohibition of booze here in the United States.
Long before the Coca-Cola Company ever made use of the cocaine in coca leaves and the caffeine in kola nuts, people all around the world consumed them as performance-enhancing supplements to their diet. As part of this, the major trade routes of the ancient world centered around a number of different commercial goods, including drugs like opium which were often far more precious than gold or even salt. It was all part of the ever-increasing transoceanic trade and travel happening back then. Five hundred years before Columbus came to North America the Vikings arrived, circa 1000 CE. Meanwhile, the Polynesians were making contact with South America. The former brought herbs like henbane and the latter kava. Two thousand years before that, circa 1000 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians brought different psychoactive herbs to and from the Americas.
It all traces back hundreds upon hundreds of generations ago when something really profound began to happen to our kind. At that point in time, different clans of people started to intentionally select, prepare, and consume various substances that contain certain chemicals, like psychedelic alkaloids for instance. This inevitably served as a catalyst for the emergence of peak experiences in our pious species. The Oracle of Delphi even went so far as to huff pythia gas during her ceremonies. As a more appropriate example, the “smoke walkers” were shamans who developed techniques to induce mystical trance states by breathing in the fumes of drugs like cannabis and then dancing to certain rhythms. Long before vape pens became trendy priests would use incense burners to vaporize the resin from frankincense and other psychoactive drugs in order to produce altered states of consciousness. Taking the right drugs is just part of being a good mystic, maybe even a good person.
From the prehistoric psychedelic art of Pleistocene cavemen to the blue lotus wine of the Ancient Egyptians, the consumption of mind-altering substances has been an essential meme throughout the whole of human evolution. In line with this, the celestial-emperors and priestess-queens were often the most well-informed people of anyone alive at the time, including being expert herbalists among many other things. They were the avatars of gods and goddesses who made use of supernatural sacraments here in the natural world. In this way, entheogens and empathogens have been, and continue to be used in a number of different ways the world over, including education, celebration, divination, and initiation, to name but a few. Long ago, Native Americans developed all sorts of interesting ways to get high, like smoking wild tobacco out of nose pipes until they passed out or chewing coca leaves all day to stay energized. The Andean people figured out how to eat solid ash with the coca to neutralize the bitter taste and activate the cocaine. Certain shamans even learned to boil the San Pedro cactus to get more mescaline from it.
As part of the extensive ancient intercontinental drug trade that resulted from all of this, Ancient Egyptians were able to consume both nicotine and cocaine, among many other things. Later the Toltec and then the Aztec not only ate magic mushrooms, but also imported and exported different strains as well. Over a thousand years ago, here in North America the Mississippian culture was dependent on a powerful shamanic emetic stimulant that had to be brought to the capital city from hundreds of miles away. The point is that thousands of years ago, there was already an extensive network in place to transport drugs around the world. At a time when archaic Amazonian jungle chemists were only just beginning to brew ayahuasca to experience DMT trips, Africa was already extensively trading with the Americas. Thus, long before anyone ever thought possible, coca and tobacco leaves were brought from the New World to the Old.
A few millennia ago groups of Asians also interacted with Europeans and North Americans and anyone else they could find. So, along with Chinese silk making its way around the globe not just hundreds but thousands of years ago, there were a number of known and unknown intoxicants that were transported far and wide as well. This likely included everything from peyote to nutmeg and everything between. The reality is that archaeologists and ancient alien enthusiasts both tend to underestimate the abilities of our ancestors in different ways. The people of old weren’t really primitive nor were they highly advanced. Prehistoric humans were just far more knowledgeable and capable than people often give them credit for.
The drug trade existed on the open global market for millennia before finally going underground to the international black market in more recent times. One of the first instances in which this is known to have happened was among the Aryans in central Asia who crossed the Kush Mountains and came in contact with people in the Indus Valley. The Aryans brought with them a mystical drug known as sauma, which went on to become soma in Sanskrit among the Hindus and hauma in Avestan among the Zoroastrians. However, the sacred substance quickly went from being revered to reviled by society and eventually became illegal. The thing is that it was still considered a sacrament to the devout who then had to buy an illicit controlled substance on the black market to continue practicing their faith.
Prior to that drugs were essentially just thought of as any other kind of commodity, although they were often reserved for elite individuals. As part of this, people have been using cannabis for millennia. For instance, the ancient Indians would drink bhang and the Iranians had mang, both of which were cannabis-based elixirs. This traces at least as far back as the mystics Shiva and Zarathustra, respectively. Cannabis is mentioned in the earliest scriptures on Earth, such as the Vedas and Zend-Avesta. It was known the world over. As part of this, the violent hashish assassins eventually gave way to a very peaceful Sufi understanding of Allah in the Middle East, based on a much healthier relationship with weed. When used properly cannabis can be medicine, and sometimes even Medicine.
Going all the way back in time to the advent of modern theology, the prophet Zarathustra was the first mystic in history to bring forth the concept of Heaven and Hell, which he claimed to have discovered after consuming copious quantities of cannabis. Later the prophet Moses went on to use cannabis, myrrh, and other ingredients to concoct a special anointing oil for him and his disciples. The recipe can be found in the original version of Exodus, 30:22–24. This inevitably led to Jesus becoming “the anointed one”, for it is surely that Gnostic unction which brings salvation. As part of this, the Hebrew term “kaneh bosm” predates the Scythian word “kannabis”, which then led to the Greek phrase “cannabeizen” meaning “to burn cannabis”, and so on and so forth. To this very day, Rastafarians smoke spliffs to keep the Western monotheistic tradition going, and sadhus toke bud from chillums as part of the Eastern polytheistic approach.
Unbeknownst to most historians, the use of mind-altering substances was both paramount and tantamount to modern civilization, which is ridiculous given the current state of the war on drugs around the world. Looking back it’s easy to see how Persian, Thracian, and Scythian influences all led to the Eleusinian mysteries. Highly influential Greek philosophers and mathematicians like Socrates and Pythagoras were themselves the products of secret drug rituals that changed not only their lives but that of the entire world in the process. Then, during the Medieval Period, Arabian inventors developed the process of distillation, thus allowing herbalists to become full-fledged pharmacologists. Centuries later, in the Renaissance Period, a few alchemists put together the Voynich manuscript. They were well connected clandestine druggists who were part of an exclusive guild of Italians who spared no expense to keep their formulas secret.
Ultimately, the thing to take away from this is that the so-called drug “counterculture” is in many ways the very basis of culture itself. The problem is that everyone needs to be able to properly distinguish between things like the use of psychedelics and the abuse of narcotics. If decades of personal experience have taught me anything it would have to be that there is a really big difference between entering a higher reality and escaping a lower one. Good drugs lead to eudaimonic happiness while bad drugs only yield hedonic pleasure. Plus, the ancients only had natural drugs whereas we have artificial ones, which are far more potent and often incredibly dangerous. Either way, psychoactive substances are an essential part of the human condition. Unfortunately, contemporary priests, physicians, and pharmacists have all but replaced classic medicine men and something critical is being lost in the process. So, no matter how far humanity may fall from grace, we mustn’t forget that drugs should always be respected for what they can do to, and have done for, each and every one of us.