It’s been heavily documented throughout history that ancient civilizations around the globe, dating back over 5,000 years ago, would use a variety of psychedelic plants, medicines, and a variety of other substances for cultural, religious, and recreational purposes.
Some cultures in Africa and Australia date back over 60,000 years, and have been using a combination of native plants and rhythmic dancing to evoke altered states of consciousness as part of a ‘right of passage’ into assuming the responsibilities of adulthood.
The exact dosage and level of everyday use in these ancient civilizations is commonly debated amongst researchers. But the well documented rituals as well as DNA evidence from ancient burial chambers makes it clear that psychedelic (hallucinogenic) substances were certainly part of many ancient cultures.
Let’s take a look at what cultures and civilizations, used what psychedelics, and why.
13 Well Known Ancient Civilizations That Used Psychedelics
1. The San People – 26,000 B.C.- Present
The San People are a tribe in the Southern African Kalahari desert. Largely untouched by modern civilization, the san people live off the land and thrive on their community driven culture.
- Iboga, Kwashi, and GWA Root –
The Kalahari tribes love to celebrate community achievements and milestones just like any other culture, by partying, dancing, and getting a little tipsy.
These recipes and traditions have been passed down in this culture for quite literally thousands of years. They are beyond just random celebrations, they are community building and strengthening deep rooted and meaningful relationships with their community and their environment.
2. Aboriginal Australians – 60,000 B.C. – Present
- Pituri –
The aborigines in Australia are home to the oldest story ever told. It’s a historical story about the eruption of a volcano some 37,000 years ago that is still told to this day.
Researchers have found that the “pituri” as it’s called by the Aboriginies, has been used by tribal elders in Australian aboriginal populations to create altered states of consciousness for generations.
Experts have found that pituri reduces feelings of hunger and thirst and induces “intense dreams”.
Aborigines used these substances in religious rituals and celebrations to provide their youth with a fast-paced educational experience, and to inculcate values, beliefs and religious principles.
3. The Mesopotamian (Sumerian & Barbaloin) Civilization – 4,000 B.C – 539 BC
- Cannabis and Opium –
Quite recently in 2018, researchers in Germany have uncovered hard scientific evidence of both cannabis and opium use in Ancient Mesopotamia. By analyzing residue left inside ancient jugs, archeologists, were able to determine the exact contents.
The Sumerians, who called opium the joy plant, grew it by 3,400 B.C., probably infusing the capsules, in water, mead, or wine to produce an analgesic tea
The exact use of these compounds is not known, but many archeologists believe that because the jugs containing the residue are commonly found in areas of worship, that the compounds were likely used to facilitate religious and ceremonial traditions.
4. The Indus Valley Civilization – 3,300 B.C. – 1,300 B.C.
The Indus valley which is located on the border of present-day India and Pakistan, was a melting pot of cultures dating back to 3,000 B.C.
- Soma –
In the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization part of the culture involved a popular drink called Soma. Soma is vividly described in “The Vedas” which are a 3,000 year old set of texts from the Ancient Indus Valley.
Soma is described a potent psychedelic, used in religious ceremonies and described as increasing awareness, experiencing visionary mystical experiences, and helping those who took it to feel strong sensations of bliss, light, poetic inspiration, and immortality.
Wow, sounds pretty good !
The effects of soma are well described, but the composition is not. Some believe it’s made from multiple plants, while other believe it is the juice from a single plant. Either way, the exact composition Soma is unknown.
5. The Ancient Egyptian Civilization – 3,150 B.C. – 332 B.C.
The ancient Egyptian civilization is one of the most famous and well-known ancient cultures commonly associated with mysterious tombs, impossible to build pyramids, and advanced technology and understandings of the universe.
But what you didn’t know about ancient Egypt was the cultures vast knowledge and use of plant medicines including psychedelics.
- Blue Lotus –
Blue lotus flowers are known as an entheogenic drug. Entheogen’s are mind-altering substances that alter one’s consciousness in a spiritual or religious manner. Considered sacred and closely linked with Egyptian gods, the blue lotus plant was used during religious ceremonies, as well a recreational “feel good” drug.
Aside from being psychedelic, blue lotus have also been found to work on erectile dysfunction.
King Tut’s tomb was famously discovered in 1922 and contained lotus flowers themselves along with numerous lotus engraved artifacts.
- White Lotus –
Similar to Blue Lotus, the psychoactive effects of White Lotus are primarily calming and hypnotic.
White Lotus produces euphoric effects that can create a positive mood shift, and makes regular tasks more pleasurable and satisfying.
- Psilocybin Mushrooms –
There are lots of theories of Ancient Egyptians and psychedelic mushrooms, but there is not any actual evidence. Lots of anectodical evidence, and lots of debate, but no mushroom hieroglyphics have been discovered to date.
- Cannabis –
The exact use of cannabis in ancient Egypt is debated, but there’s no question that cannabis was alive and well at least 4,000 years ago in the ancient kingdom. Experts are unclear exactly when cannabis use became popular in ancient Egypt, but the plant’s residue has been found in Egyptian pots, jars, and other artifacts dating back to more than 4,000 years ago.
Archeologists now believe that Egyptian pharaohs may have used cannabis for ceremonial purposes. Recent analysis has found traces of cannabis on the remains of King Ramses the Great, dating back to 1,213 B.C.
Other ancient texts reveal marijuana use for more medical purposes including, eye pain (glaucoma) headaches, pain, menstrual pain, and as a general anti-inflammatory.
6. Yellow River and Yangtze Civilizations – 2,000 B.C. – 1,046 B.C.
- Cannabis –
Cannabis was a multipurpose plant to the ancient Chinese over 4,000 years ago. Cannabis was used early on for writing, food, and medicine but there is very little mention of its psychoactive properties by the Chinese. It wasn’t until recently that researchers found ancient braziers in tombs that burned high levels of THC. This recent discovery dates back to around 500 B.C.
- Psychedelic Plants –
There’s not a lot of hard evidence of psychedelic plant use in the early days of ancient china. However in 1596, Li Shizhen published a book identifying all ancient Chinese plants, many of which are psychedelic. It took Li over 20 years to compile the information, much of which dated back over 1,000 years.
7. The Maya Civilization – 2,000 B.C. – 1,500 A.D.
The Ancient Mayan civilization was one of the most advanced civilizations in the world, and one of the most heavily influenced by psychedelic plants. The Mayans were not shy about documenting and embracing their culture. Data shows that Mayan cultures used psychedelic substances in therapeutic and religious rituals to communicate with divine powers
- Peyote –
The Mayans were well aware of the intoxicating effects of cactus plants containing peyote, which is a type of cactus that contains more than 60 hallucinogenic compounds,
- Psychedelic Mushrooms –
Consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms in ritual ceremonies was very common in both Mayan and Aztec cultures. Ritualistic mushroom use is thought to be at least 3500 years old. The mushrooms they took thousands of years ago contains two separate compounds, that would cause the user to experience visual hallucinations.
Famous archaeological evidence found known as ‘mushroom stones’ date back to 1000 B.C. The mushroom stones show human’s as mushrooms.
- Toad Bufo –
Certainly one of the most unusual drugs in the Mayan culture was sourced from toad skins. The salivary glands of a specific toad produce toxic substances called bufotoxins, which also have psychoactive properties.
The Bufo Toad is still around today, but is endangered due to it’s demand for psychedelic properties.
- White Water Lily –
The white water lily in Mayan culture was closely related to the same plant species as the lotus in Ancient Egypt.
The white water lily is widely represented in Maya art, especially in its depictions with jaguars and Maya kings. The white water lily was so important to the Mayan culture that is was named “” “vulva of the water” and represented life, sexuality, fertility, and birth.
The lily was used as a calming sedative and mild trance inducer.
8. The Ancient Greek Civilization – 750 B.C. – 146 B.C.
The ancient Greeks were well known for consuming copious amounts of wine, but the drink Kykeon and it’s psycho active properties are lesser known.
- Kykeon –
The origins of kykeon come from the Eleusinian Mysteries, which were some of the most sacred “rites of passage” in Ancient Greek Culture. These ceremonies can be traced back to the Greek Mycenean period around 1,500 B.C.
Kykeon was also later used during harvest celebrations.
Because Kykeon was made from a variety of herbs including barley, its widely understood that Ergot which grows on barley was part of the mix.
Ergot, contains some of the same chemical compounds found in LSD.
- Opium –
The opium poppy has been used in Ancient Greece since at least 3,000 BC which directly aligns with the Sumerian use of opium.
The Greeks used opium as a way to induce drowsiness during rituals practiced in the temples of Asclepius. Also, on the island of Crete, an early shrine was found dedicated to the “poppy goddess” of fertility and health.
- Cannabis –
Greek cannabis use has been written about for centuries. Around 500 B.C., historian Herodotus documented a Greek sub-culture known as Scythians burning cannabis during a funeral ceremony as a way for the tribes mind and body to overcome sorrow and depression.
According to cultural experts,
Despite the lack of recognition of past scholars, cannabis was a part of the Greek social fabric, both as a medicine and as a magical plant that operated as a gateway between worlds.
9. The Roman Civilization – 753 B.C. – 476 A.D.
- Dreamfish –
If you couldn’t tell by the name, the Romans used “”dreamfish”” as their own version of LSD. When eaten the Salema porgy fish (AKA Dreamfish) has hallucinogen effects including lucid dreams for several days after.
The ancient Romans are commonly understood to have consumed these exotic fish as a recreational drug and not for any specific ceremonial purposes.
- Opium & Cannabis-
Similar to the Greeks, the Romans occupied much of the same territory and had access to the same trade routes allowing them easy access to both cannabis and opium. The famous Roman Emperor and Philosopher Marcus Aurelius was known to have used opium daily as a sleep aid.
10. Native American Cultures – 1,000 B.C. – 1,600 A.D.
Before Columbus landed in America and invaded, raped, pillaged, and killed the Native Americans, there were already tribes living in peace in North America for thousands of years. These tribes lived off the land, had strong communities, and thrived in different climates across the Americas,
A large part of these rich cultures were religion, celebrations, and rites of passage. Elders would lead the tribes and part of every tribe was the use of plants as medicines, including psychedelic plants.
- Peyote –
Currently in the United States Peyote is considered illegal, except for members of the Native American Church who are authorized to legally ingest peyote for religious, ceremonial, and healing uses as their ancestors have been doing for thousands of years before them.
In 2005, researchers used radiocarbon dating on two specimens of peyote found in an archaeological dig from a site on the Rio Grande in Texas. The results dated the specimens to between 3,780 and 3,660 B.C.
- Mushrooms –
Ancient shamans, medicine men, and medicine women, used fungi mushrooms to help open their minds to more profound insights, to heighten their senses, and to reach harmony with the universe.
The Native Americans lived close to mother earth and with a deep connection to nature. Going back thousands of years, these cultures learned to deeply appreciate and strategically use psychedelic mushrooms in a multitude of ways.
11. The Persian Civilization – 550 B.C. – 330 B.C.
- Soma –
Similar to the Indus Valley Civilization, the ancient Persians also consumed the drink called Soma.
The origins of Soma has often been debated whether Soma was from Persia and brought to the Indus valley, or from the Indus valley & brought to Persia. More recent research has found the both are true.
Soma has a common origin in the upper-Oxus region of Turkmenistan ( a region right in-between Persia & the Indus Valley). Given that both civilizations were active in close proximity, this true origin of Soma make a lot of sense.
12. The Incan Civilization – 300 A.D. – 1,532 A.D.
The Inca’s are most famous for the ancient city of Machu Piccu and the Nazca Lines. Both are ancient relics of monumental scale and feats that even today we are unsure of how they were accomplished.
But the Incas are also well know today for a profound spiritual and psychedelic drink known as Ayahuasca.
- Ayahuasca –
Today Incan Shamans offer Ayahuasca to tourists on “”spiritual retreats”” who are willing to pay a hearty fee.
But a thousand years ago Ayahuasca took on a different meaning. It was used in ceremonies as a spiritual awakening or positive re-birth, and as a way to “purge” oneself from negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
Ayahuasca ceremonies were an important step in preparing people for living in harmony with Mother Earth. This was the most important ceremony for the Inca culture.
It allows people to open their eyes be grateful for mother earth with an open mind and heart.
The purpose of the ceremony is to find an alignment between the individual and nature. This alignment allows one to understand the importance of living in harmony with the earth, as opposed to dominance over, nature.
13. The Aztec Civilization 1,250 A.D. – 1,521 A.D.
The Aztec’s use of psychedelic’s was very similar to the Mayan Civilizations use of psychedelics. Both cultures lived in Mexico and Central America, so the use of similar cultural medicines and plants makes sense.
It’s clear from the evidence that mind altering chemicals derived from plants, fungi, and fermentation have been used as far back as the history of mankind.
Some of the largest, most well known, and most technologically advanced civilizations would routinely use psychedelics in ceremonies and rituals. These psychedelics gave elders, kings, priests, pharaoh, and scholars profound insights, visions, clarity, and a deeper understanding for the environment around them and the universe at large.
These experiences shaped their cultures at time, which have produced inventions, calculations, and deep understandings of the universe that we still use to this day.
It is clear that not only some, but all ancient cultures used some form of consciousness or mind-altering substances for both spiritual and recreational purposes.
It seems to be a shame that the cultures of today have banned many of these substances, but as more information comes to light, the mainstream media today seems to be coming around to the high level therapeutic uses of psychedelic medicines.
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