Scientists suggest humans used drugs even in prehistory, having discovered over-and-over evidence linking Stone Age man to herbal mixtures for “visions and journeys.” Researchers have even discovered equipment used to prepare hallucinogenic drugs for sniffing, dating them back to prehistoric South American tribes. Ceramic bowls and bone tubes for inhaling fumes or powders appear to have originated in South America between 100BC and 400BC.
Bone tubes are common in pre-contact South America, and are associated with ritual shamanism. Archeologists have suggested that humans were extracting mind-expanding drugs from mescal beans and peyote cacti as far back as 5,000 years ago. Here are some quick examples of the most convincing evidence for the use of mind-altering substances in human prehistory.
6000 B.C. – Mescal seeds (Sophora secundiflora) have been found (and dated with carbon14 )in the Pecos River region of Texas, suggesting that paleo-hunters have been tripping for millenia.
5000 B.C. – Rock art in Algeria (as well as Chad and Libya) depicts mushrooms; sometimes the mushrooms are coming out of human figures.
1500 B.C. The Rig Veda represents one of the earliest documents in the Indo-European language group. It mentions “Soma” in about 10% of its verses. Soma was a god, and an inebriant. Researchers today still debate which inebriant.
250 B.C. – Effigy bowls, as well as bone tubes, deriving from the Late Classic period of the Mayan Empire suggested that hallucinogenic enemas were common among the elite. The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in Central America is also well-documented.
In the modern era, LSD experiments were common in the 1950s and 1960s. The studies were legal, although, shortly thereafter, the media turned against the now notorious “hippie psychedelic and it was criminalized in every state, classified in the United States as a Schedule 1 drug of no medical value, and banned globally by internationally treaty. Before most people had even ever heard of LSD, in many places, like Hollywood, students, professionals, clergymen, writers, artists and celebrities happily turned on, tuned in, but didn’t drop out.
“It was a time when scientific research with psychedelic drugs was perfectly acceptable,” said Oscar Janiger, a psychiatrist who administered LSD to more than 900 patients in the longest ongoing experiment of the drug’s effect on humans in a nonclinical environment.
After nearly fifty years of government thaw, the scientific community is once more warming to LSD. New advances in neurochemistry – the study of the chemical pathways believed to drive human thought, emotions, and behavior – has led researchers to the conclusion that LSD is a valuable tool in understanding consciousness and the human brain. The drug also has apparent therapeutic benefits in the treating of alcoholism, drug addiction, and numerous other psychiatric disorders. Of course, you can’t touch the topic of LSD politically. Socially it is already becoming more accepted, as it becomes easier to acquire (discussed below) and cannabis is legalized.
Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana, occurs naturally in many tropical and humid parts of the world. Its use as a mind-altering drug has been documented by archaeological finds in prehistoric societies in Euro-Asia and Africa.
The oldest written record of cannabis usage is the Greek historian Herodotus’s reference to the central Eurasian Scythians taking cannabis steam baths. His (c. 440 BCE) Histories records, “The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed [presumably, flowers], and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapor as no Grecian vapor-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy.”
Classical Greeks and Romans were using cannabis, while in the Middle East, use spread throughout the Islamic empire to North Africa. In 1545 cannabis spread to the western hemisphere where Spaniards imported it to Chile for its use as fiber. In North America cannabis, in the form of hemp, was grown for use in rope, clothing and paper.
And these examples are just a few; hallucinogenic drugs were likely used in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Australia. Some rock art in the paleolithic caves in Europe (@10,000 B.C.) seem to record episodes of altered states of consciousness.
A Revolution In Consciousness Distribution
If you were to explain this history to a martian, the martian might be confused, then, why a man named Ross Ulbricht is facing years in jail for revolutionizing the way these drugs, used by many civilizations and individuals throughout human history (including revered human beings) are delivered.
Ross Ulbricht is accused of being Dread Pirate Roberts, the founder and administrator of the online marketplace Silk Road, a site that has been called the “Amazon.com of illegal drugs.” Ross faces charges of money laundering, computer hacking and, first and foremost, conspiracy to traffic narcotics.
Federal authorities claim that the Silk Road made about $1.2 billion in sales in its over two year existence. Illegal narcotics, from ecstasy to LSD to psilocybin and (mostly marijuana) could be purchased from unknown sellers. Being on Tor, as the site is, users were able to remain anonymous. And therein lies the “revolution.” In the age of the War on Drugs, getting drugs – even ones derived from plants and fungi, and have been used throughout human evolution- has been a dangerous affair. With a site like Silk Road, the market was made more transparent, with users being able to read reviews of the anonymous sellers and the goods or services they provided, while hiding behind the relative anonymity provided by some of the internets tools of encryption.
Ultimately Ulbricht denies the allegations, and his attorney, Joshua Dratel, has said “The evidence can’t establish that he is who they say he is, or that he’s done what they say he’s done”.
Along the way, Ulbricht has faced an uphill battle. His court date is in November, but he’s only recently been handed the 4 terabytes of evidence against him. His case will set an important precedent for the internet, as he would be the first administrator of a website convicted of a crime based on the actions of a site’s users. His mother recently discussed Ross’s situation, and the implications for everyone:
Because Ulbricht lacks funds for defense, a fundraising website has been created by his family and friends, as well as the crowdfunding site Tilt.com. The website Silk Road was mostly used for marijuana purchases. 50%+ of Americans surveyed believe that marijuana should be legalized, while in a Huffington Post survey 8% believe LSD should be legalized, and another 9% are unsure.