Early History

Historical records of alcohol, opium, and other psychoactive substances appear with the earliest Egyptian and Chinese writings. Opium was described as an ingested medication in these first documents, especially for medicinal purposes. Mayan, Aztec, and Incan statues and glyphs indicated drug use for ritual reasons (Furst, 1972). Medieval accounts recorded traditional alcohol and drug use. Travelers of that era often viewed use patterns in other areas as unusual, aberrant, or problematic; examples include reports of Scandinavian "beserker" drinkers by the English and reports by Crusaders of Islamic military units or "assassins" intoxicated on cannabis. Along with animal sacrifice and the serving of meat, the provision of alcohol, betel, opium, tobacco, or other psychoac-tive substances came to have cultural, ritual, or religious symbolism, including hospitality toward guests (Smith, 1965). Affiliation with specific ethnic groups, social classes, sects, and castes was associated with consumption of specific psy-choactive substances. For example, one group in India consumed alcohol but not cannabis, whereas an adjacent group consumed cannabis but not alcohol (Carstairs, 1954). Altered patterns of psychoactive use have signaled other, more fundamental cultural changes (Caetano, 1987). Religious identity could be tied to alcohol or drug consumption. For example, wine has been a traditional aspect of Jewish, Catholic, and certain other Christian rituals and ceremonies, whereas some Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and fundamentalist Christian sects prohibit alcohol drinking. In addition to distinguishing people from one another, substance use may serve to maintain cooperation and communication across ethnic groups and social classes, from Africa (Wolcott, 1974) to Bolivia (Heath, 1971).

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