Methods for the study of psychoactive substance use disorders through time and space include the archaeological record, anthropological studies of preliterate societies, and the historical record. Archaeological data document the importance of alcohol commerce in late prehistorical and early historical times, both in the Mediterranean (where wine vessels have been discovered in numerous shipwrecks) and in China (where wine vessels have been found in burial sites). Poppy seed caches have been recorded in a prehistoric site in northern Turkey. Incised poppy capsules have been noted in the prehistoric headdresses of Cretan goddesses or priestesses, indicating an early awareness of opium harvest methods. Availability of carbohydrate in excess of dietary needs, fostered by neolithic farming technology and animal husbandry, permitted sporadic cases of alcohol abuse (Westermeyer, 1999).

Anthropological studies of preliterate societies have shown the almost universal use of psychoactive substances. Tribal and peasant societies of North and South America focused on the development of stimulant drugs (e.g., coca leaf, tobacco leaf, and coffee bean) and numerous hallucinogenic drugs (e.g., peyote). They used hallucinogens for ritual purposes and stimulant drugs for secular purposes, such as hard labor or long hunts. New World peoples discovered diverse modes of administration, such as chewing, nasal insufflation or "snuffing," pulmonary inhalation or "smoking," and rectal clysis (DuToit, 1977). African and Middle Eastern ethnic groups produced a smaller number of stimulants, such as qat, and hallucinogens, such as cannabis (Kennedy, Teague, & Fairbanks, 1980). Groups across Africa and the Eurasian land mass obtained alcohol from numerous sources, such as honey, grains, tubers, fruits, and mammalian milk. Certain drugs were also used across vast distances, such as opium across Asia and the stimulant betel nut from South Asia to Oceania. Old World peoples primarily consumed drugs by ingestion prior to Columbus's travel to the New World.

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