Where did drugs come from? The answer is both simple, and complex. Clearly, early man realized that certain compounds produced feelings of ecstacy, and bolstered energy. In fact, humans were never the only beings that sought out the opportunity for a little mind-bending, and actively used psychotropic drugs. Cats, for example, have used catnip since it was first cultivated in ancient Italy, during the Etruscan period. Before they were absorbed into the great Roman Empire, the Etruscans made sure that their cats could enjoy drugs with them.
Opium was probably the world’s first widely-used pain reliever. Highly addictive and sourced in ancient Afghanistan, opium has survived through the ages, and been regularly manipulated over the centuries to our present-day addictive and horrific street drugs. Cannabis and tobacco, too, were originally grown and used for their psychotropic effects. As drugs were grown, used, and spread all over the world, the world’s most popular drugs, and anything modeled after them, have origins and stories that matter as part of scientific history. It’s good, though, to know the history of drugs: learning as much as you can about drugs can help to keep curious parties from exploring dangerous options.
From wherever someone receives drugs, staying mindful of symptoms of addiction is important for everyone. If you notice someone in your life has been declining in their appearance, job performance, and is increasingly withdrawn, check in to see if they’re alright. If the person has a history of depression, this could be a warning sign of something more serious. If you do suspect that a loved one, or someone in your life is living with addiction to drugs or alcohol, a call to a local drug treatment center can help you to decide what to do.
Opium and Its Derivatives
Opium and opioids have been a presence in human populations since it was first discovered in the Middle East. When it was first discovered, the flower’s nectar was boiled into a tar, and used to treat pain. The effects of the use of opium were noticeable then, and its use shifted to the treatment of extreme pain. After its discovery, opium made its way out of the Middle East on the backs of beasts of burden and the bags of travelers. When it reached China, it was embraced with delight and enthusiasm for its medicinal properties, and the after effects. Opium gives the sensation of calmness and happiness, in addition to functioning as an appetite suppressant. In opium dens, where the drug was bought and sold, people were invited to stay, lay back, and enjoy their purchases with pipes and other paraphernalia.
Opioids came long after the popularity of opium peaked, around the 16th century. People in various civilizations continued to experiment with opium, and the first opiate, morphine, was created in the 1800s by German scientists. Morphine was shipped all over the world, where it became a popular anesthetic and pain reliever. American Civil War soldiers were often treated with morphine, and when surgery began to gain popularity, morphine became the drug of choice for doctors and surgeons. Contrary to what some seem to believe, morphine didn’t make an appearance in field hospitals on the battlegrounds. It was available then, but expensive, and to perform the oft-needed and dreadful amputations, the typical anesthetic was chloroform and strong liquor.
Heroin was developed after morphine, and is the first opioid. The difference between opioids and opiates is the substance’s relationship to opium: morphine, being directly synthesized from pure opium, is an opiate. Many dangerously addictive drugs, too, are opiates. Heroin and fentanyl, however, are opioids, created from the opium-derived morphine. Like morphine, heroin was developed to address severe pain in hospital settings. After just a few years of use, however, hospitals began to wean themselves off of their dependence on the healing properties of heroin – there were just too many people who would not stop taking it, requiring more and more every time they were dosed. With 100 times the power of morphine, fentanyl was created in the 90s to be used during surgery, but hit the street around the same time, kicking off the worst part of the Opioid Crisis.
Beer and Wine and Grain Alcohol
Wine was one of the first popular alcoholic drinks, and has been referenced and utilized since at least biblical times. It was primarily drunk during celebrations, or to welcome a beloved traveler. A weak type of early beer first emerged along the Mediterranean, but didn’t become anything close to contemporary beers until centuries of development later. The first reports of grain alcohol surfaced in India, and are at least a few hundred years old. If this is true, and grain alcohol indeed originated in India, that would explain why it became popular in China, Japan, Korea, and Russia. India’s centralized location and long history of colonial violence makes it a prime creator and distributor for those sorts of ancient discoveries. Alcohol-related deaths number almost 100,000 each year in the United States, but oddly, the War on Drugs rarely addresses this. Alcohol abuse and addiction, of course, is a problem that is observed and acknowledged the world over. Alcohol may well have been the catalyst for the first addictive behavior in human history due to its generally-free legal status throughout time.
Terrifying and causing unpredictable behavior, meth was first synthesized by a Romanian-born German national named Lazar Edeleanu. The drug wasn’t used, further researched, or developed for decades after its 19th-century discovery. When it did re-emerge, it arrived in Europe, in the hands of WWII soldiers in Germany, given to them as a stimulant. This program was eventually discontinued – the ill effects of the drug on the soldiers was a source of numerous complaints from other soldiers, and from civilians. Even then, people knew the extremely harmful effects of the synthetic stimulant, though this wouldn’t stop another generation from falling in love with it.
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