Drugs and society
Drugs are familiar to people for several thousand years. They were consumed by people of different cultures, for different purposes: during religious ceremonies, to recuperate, to change consciousness, to relieve pain and unpleasant sensations.
Already in the pre-writing period, we have evidence that people knew and used psychoactive chemicals: alcohol and plants, the consumption of which affects consciousness. Archaeological research has shown that as early as 6400 BC people knew beer and some other alcoholic beverages. Obviously, the fermentation processes were discovered by chance (grape wine, by the way, appeared only in 4-3 centuries BC). The first written evidence of intoxicant use is the story of Noah’s drunkenness from the Book of Genesis. Various plants have been used that cause physiological and psychological changes, usually in religious ceremonies or during medical procedures. An example is the use in the Middle East of 5 thousand BC. “grass of joy” (apparently, opium poppy). Around 2700 BC China has already used hemp (as an infusion, as tea): Emperor Shen Nung ordered his subjects to take it as a medicine for gout and absent-mindedness. Stone Age people knew opium, hashish, and cocaine and used these drugs to alter consciousness (during religious rites) and in preparation for the battle. On the walls of the burial complexes of the Indians of Central and South America there are images of people chewing coca leaves (one of the ways to take cocaine), dating from the middle of 3 thousand BC. It should be borne in mind that the fact of using a drug in one culture does not give us the right to assume that in other cultures at the same time people knew this drug and used it. As now, there are similarities and differences in the use of drugs by people of different cultures.
Throughout history, contacts between distant cultures have occurred through trade and war. For example, as a result of the crusades and journeys of Marco Polo, the Europeans recognized opium and hashish, which were widespread in the East. Later travels of Europeans (mainly Englishmen, French, Portuguese and Spaniards) to America brought new discoveries. The main psychoactive substances brought to Europe from America are cocaine (from South America), various hallucinogens (from Central America) and tobacco (from North America). Studies have shown that a two-way exchange took place between cultures. The birthplace of the coffee tree is Ethiopia. The Europeans became acquainted with the coffee drink in the 17th century, the sailors brought coffee beans to South America, which is now the world’s leading coffee producer. We add that from Europe came to America alcohol, obtained by distillation, and in Chile in 1545 hemp appeared.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, there were practically no restrictions on the production and use of drugs. Sometimes attempts were made to reduce or even prohibit the use of certain substances, but they were short-lived and, as a rule, unsuccessful. For example, tobacco, coffee and tea were initially greeted by Europe with hostility. The first European to smoke tobacco – Columbus’ satellite Rodrigo de Jerez – was imprisoned upon his arrival in Spain, as the authorities decided that the devil had settled in him. There have been several attempts to outlaw coffee and tea.
There are also cases when the state did not prohibit drugs, but rather promoted the flourishing of their trade. The best example is armed conflicts between Britain and China in the mid-19th century. They are called the Opium Wars, because English traders imported opium into China. By the mid-19th century, several million Chinese were addicted to opium. At this time, China, of course, came in first place in the world in the consumption of opium, most of which was grown in India and shipped to the country by the British. The Chinese government has passed many opium import control laws, but not one of them (including a total ban) has the desired effect. The British did not want to reduce the opium trade: first, it gave great profits, and secondly, in England itself there was no such surge of drug addiction, although opium was widely used in medicine. In 1839, a conflict broke out: the Chinese government destroyed a large cargo of opium belonging to British and American traders. The first opium war began. Britain won and, by the Nanking Treaty of 1842, received, among other things, the right to use the ports of Hong Kong as compensation for the destruction of opium. Trade continued and in 1856 led to the second war. This second opium war ended in 1858, and according to the terms of the Treaty of Tiensa, China continued to import opium, but could impose large customs duties. The opium trade declined and eventually stopped only at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a campaign began all over the world for allowing the use of drugs for medical purposes only (as painkillers).
In the twentieth century, almost the same drugs were used in Europe and America. Interestingly, many new or well-forgotten old drugs were first used in the United States, and then they spread to other countries, so that America set the tone for international drug use,
Description of the process by an amphetamine user
“Coming from amphetamines can not be compared with anything. You sleep powder, dissolve in water, put into a button accordion. Then you drag your hand with a belt. At this time you are very excited, your heart is pounding because you know that in a couple of minutes you will be happy. And here you go in. “