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What Was the First Recreational Drug?

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Rodney Edson
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In a way, this is a kind of golden age for the aspiring recreational drug user: putting aside the public health consequences of a market flooded with mass-produced speed, painkillers and anti-anxiety meds, and putting aside as well the cost (in terms of cartel violence, punitive War on Drugs sentencing measures, etc.)

of our country’s readily accessible store of coke, heroin, MDMA, weed, and experimental Chinese research chemicals, the fact remains that there are more options out there than ever for those who’re looking to get (responsibly!)

For this week’s Giz Asks, we reached out to a number of historians specialising in drug history to figure out the very first substance to ever be abused (vs. taken medicinally).

Professor, History, University of Sheffield, and one of the world’s leading historians of intoxicants and intoxication

My own work on intoxicants in medieval and early modern Europe (the last 1,000 years) makes it very clear that foodstuffs and drinks ostensibly valued for their nutritional and medicinal properties were also consumed for their psychoactive effects, and in relation to many different kinds of sociability.

Just as classicists have reminded us that the foundational institution of western civilisation—the Greek symposium—was to all intents and purposes a ritualised drinking bout, so archaeologists tell us that psychoactive substances have been prepared and taken from the very earliest times of Homo existence.

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Rodney Edson
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