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Drug History

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The History of Drugs

Drug use and abuse is as old as mankind itself. Human beings have always had a desire to eat or drink substances that make them feel relaxed, stimulated, or euphoric. Humans have used drugs of one sort or another for thousands of years. Wine was used at least from the time of the early Egyptians; narcotics from 4000 B.C.; and medicinal use of marijuana has been dated to 2737 BC in China.

As time went by, "home remedies" were discovered and used to alleviate aches, pains and other ailments. Most of these preparations were herbs, roots, mushrooms or fungi. They had to be eaten, drunk, rubbed on the skin, or inhaled to achieve the desired effect.

One of the oldest records of such medicinal recommendations is found in the writings of the Chinese scholar-emperor Shen Nung, who lived in 2735 BC He compiled a book about herbs, a forerunner of the medieval pharmacopoeias that listed all the then-known medications.

He was able to judge the value of some Chinese herbs. For example, he found that Ch'ang Shan was helpful in treating fevers. Such fevers were, and still are, caused by malaria parasites.

South and Central American Indians made many prehistoric discoveries of drug-bearing plants. Mexican Aztecs even recorded their properties in hieroglyphics on rocks, but our knowledge of their studies comes mainly from manuscripts of Spanish monks and medical men attached to the forces of the conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485-1547).

Pre-Columbian Mexicans used many substances, from tobacco to mind-expanding (hallucinogenic) plants, in their medicinal collections. The most fascinating of these substances are sacred mushrooms, used in religious ceremonies to induce altered states of mind, not just drunkenness.

These were all naturally occurring substances. No refinement had occurred, and isolation of specific compounds (drugs) had not taken place.

As the centuries unrolled and new civilizations appeared, cultural, artistic, and medical developments shifted toward the new centers of power. A reversal of the traditional search for botanical drugs occurred in Greece in the fourth century BC, when Hippocrates (estimated dates, 460-377 BC), the "Father of Medicine," became interested in inorganic salts as medications.

Hippocrates' authority lasted throughout the Middle Ages and reminded alchemists and medical experimenters of the potential of inorganic drugs. In fact, a distant descendant of Hippocrates' prescriptions was the use of antimony salts in elixirs (alcoholic solutions) advocated by Basilius Valentius in the middle of the 15th century and by the medical alchemist Phillippus Aureolus Paracelsus (born Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, in Switzerland, 1493-1541).

South American Indians, especially those in the Peruvian Andes mountains, made several early discoveries of drug-bearing plants. Two of these plants contain alkaloids of worldwide importance that have become modern drugs. They are cocaine and quinine. Cocaine's potential for addiction was known and used with sinister intent by South American Indian chiefs hundreds of years ago.

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychoanalyst (1856-1939), treated many deeply disturbed cocaine addicts. In the course of his practice, he noted the numbing effect of the drug. He called this effect to the attention of the clinical pharmacologist Carl Koller, who introduced cocaine as a local anesthetic into surgical procedures.

But not until the 19th cent. A.D. were the active substances in drugs extracted. There followed a time when some of these newly discovered substances morphine, laudanum, cocaine were completely unregulated and prescribed freely by physicians for a wide variety of ailments. They were available in patent medicines and sold by traveling tinkers, in drugstores, or through the mail.

During the American Civil War, morphine was used freely, and wounded veterans returned home with their kits of morphine and hypodermic needles. Cocaine and heroin were sold as patent medicines in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and marketed as treatments for a wide variety of ailments. Recreational use of opium was once common in Asia, and from there spread to the West, peaking in the 19th century. Opium dens flourished. By the early 1900s there were an estimated 250,000 addicts in the United States.

The majority of human societies throughout history have practiced recreational drug use in various forms. Probably the best known example of a recreational drug is alcohol, which most cultures have manufactured in one form or another. As with any drugs, some recreational drugs are addictive, most are harmful to one's health, and some are illegal in most places.

A wide variety of drugs have been employed for recreation at various times through history. By far the most popular recreational drug in modern society is caffeine, accepted by nearly all societies today. Also very popular are alcohol and nicotine in the form of tobacco, present and accepted in most cultures today. Despite relatively recent proscription as an illegal drug in much of the world, marijuana retains its historical popularity.

The problems of addiction were recognized gradually. Legal measures against drug abuse in the United States were first established in 1875, when opium dens were outlawed in San Francisco. The first national drug law was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required accurate labeling of patent medicines containing opium and certain other drugs. In 1914 the Harrison Narcotic Act forbade sale of substantial doses of opiates or cocaine except by licensed doctors and pharmacies. Later, heroin was totally banned. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions made it illegal for doctors to prescribe any narcotic to addicts; many doctors who prescribed maintenance doses as part of an addiction treatment plan were jailed, and soon all attempts at treatment were abandoned. Use of narcotics and cocaine diminished by the 1920s. The spirit of temperance led to the prohibition of alcohol by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, but Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

In the 1930s most states required antidrug education in the schools, but fears that knowledge would lead to experimentation caused it to be abandoned in most places. Soon after the repeal of Prohibition, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Drug Enforcement Administration) began a campaign to portray marijuana as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction. In the 1950s, use of marijuana increased again, along with that of amphetamines and tranquilizers.

The intolerance of drug use that characterized the earlier decades of the Twentieth Century changed with the tremendous social changes and



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