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History Of Drugs: When Were Drugs Invented?

The history of drugs is long and complex, with various cultures and civilizations using different substances for different reasons.

March 21, 2023

History Of Drugs

Drugs have been used by humans for thousands of years.

The earliest recorded use of drugs dates back to the Stone Age, where humans used plants and herbs for medicinal purposes.

The history of drugs is long and complex, with various cultures and civilizations using different substances for different reasons.

History Of Drugs Timeline

  • 8000 BCE: The ancient Egyptians use cannabis for medicinal purposes and religious ceremonies.
  • 5000 BCE: The Sumerians use opium for pain relief and to induce sleep.
  • 1500 BCE: The Indians use the hallucinogenic plant, soma, in their religious rituals.
  • 1200 BCE: The Chinese begin using ephedra as a stimulant.
  • 400 BCE: The Greeks and Romans start using opium recreationally.
  • 1500 CE: Europeans begin importing tobacco from the Americas and smoking it recreationally.
  • 1804 CE: Morphine is isolated from opium by a German pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner.
  • Late 19th century CE: Coca-Cola is invented, containing cocaine as one of its ingredients.
  • Early 20th century CE: Heroin is synthesized by Bayer Pharmaceuticals and marketed as a non-addictive substitute for morphine.
  • Mid to late 20th century CE: LSD becomes popular among counterculture movements in the US and Europe.

As you can see, drugs have been used for a variety of reasons throughout history, ranging from medicinal purposes to recreational use.

When Were Drugs Invented?

Until the mid-nineteenth century, nature's pharmaceuticals were all that were available to relieve man's pain and suffering. The first synthetic drug, chloral hydrate, was discovered in 1869 and introduced as a sedative-hypnotic. It's still available today in certain countries.

Ancient Civilizations

The ancient Egyptians were known to use opium for pain relief, while the ancient Greeks used opium and cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Chinese were the first to discover the medicinal properties of cannabis, and they used it for a variety of ailments. The Mayans and Aztecs used hallucinogenic plants like peyote and morning glory seeds for religious and spiritual purposes.

Modern Era

In the 19th century, drugs like morphine and cocaine were widely used for medicinal purposes. However, their addictive properties were not yet fully understood, and they were often used recreationally.

In the early 20th century, the first drug laws were introduced, and drugs like opium, cocaine, and cannabis were banned in many countries.

In the 1960s, the use of drugs like LSD and marijuana became popular among the counterculture movement.

This led to a shift in attitudes towards drug use, and many countries began to relax their drug laws. However, the rise of drug abuse and addiction led to a renewed crackdown on drug use in the 1980s and 1990s.

What is the oldest drug in human history?

The oldest drug in human history is believed to be either Cannabis, which dates back to around 8000 BCE. Other people believe opium, which comes from the poppy plant, may be one of the oldest drugs known to humans.

The ancient Sumerians referred to it as the "joy plant" and used it for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

Opium was also used by the Greeks and Romans for pain relief, and its use spread throughout Asia during the Middle Ages.

Its addictive properties were not fully understood until much later, leading to widespread abuse and addiction. Despite its dangers, opium remains an important medicine in modern times and is still prescribed for severe pain relief.

What drugs were used in the 1700s?

During the 1700s, various drugs were used for medicinal purposes. Opium remained a popular pain reliever, and it was often mixed with alcohol to create a tincture known as laudanum.

Cocaine was also widely used as a local anesthetic, particularly in dentistry.

It wasn't until the late 19th century that cocaine's addictive properties became more widely known.

Additionally, during this time period, tobacco use became increasingly popular in Europe and eventually spread to other parts of the world. Tobacco contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive substance that can have serious health consequences.

While some of these drugs were useful for their intended purposes, their widespread abuse and addiction led to growing concerns about their impact on individuals and society as a whole.

This ultimately paved the way for stricter drug laws and regulations in the centuries that followed.

The History of the War on Drugs in the United States

The war on drugs is a term used to describe the ongoing effort by the U.S. government to combat drug use and drug trafficking.

The history of the war on drugs dates back to the early 20th century, when states began passing laws to regulate the sale and use of narcotics.

In 1914, Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, which regulated and taxed opium and cocaine.

This was followed by the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, which effectively criminalized marijuana.

The war on drugs as we know it today began in earnest in the 1970s under President Richard Nixon. Nixon declared drug abuse "public enemy number one" and launched a massive campaign to combat drug use in America.

This included increased funding for law enforcement agencies, tougher penalties for drug offenses, and an emphasis on interdiction efforts to stop drugs from entering the country.

Despite these efforts, drug use continued to rise throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In response, President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs even further with his "Just Say No" campaign and increased funding for law enforcement agencies.

However, many critics argue that these efforts were misguided and ultimately ineffective.

The war on drugs has been criticized for its disproportionate impact on communities of color, its emphasis on punishment rather than treatment for addiction, and its failure to address underlying social issues like poverty and inequality that contribute to drug use.

Today, there is growing support for a shift away from punitive measures towards more comprehensive approaches that prioritize prevention, education, and treatment.

Many states have also begun legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use as public opinion shifts towards a more liberal approach to drug policy.


The history of drugs is a long and complex one, with various cultures and civilizations using different substances for different reasons. While drugs have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, their recreational use has led to addiction and abuse.

Today, drug laws vary widely across the world, with some countries legalizing certain drugs for medicinal or recreational use, while others maintain strict drug laws.

Dr. Elizabeth Drew
Medical Director

Medical Director Dr. Elizabeth Drew graduated from Hahnemann University School of Medicine and completed her family practice residency at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown PA. In 2005, she opened her family medicine office in Doylestown, and in 2008 she treated her first patient for opiate addiction.

Since then Dr. Drew has attained her board certification in Addiction Medicine, treated more than a thousand patients for addiction to opiates and alcohol, participated in programs to educate the community, traveled to Washington DC to educate our legislators, and served as Medical Director at some of the best addiction treatment programs in Pennsylvania.

She understands that addiction is a chronic disease that no one would choose to have, and her treatment philosophy is based on respect, compassion, and empowerment. She is excited to be the Medical Director of MPower Wellness and work to provide superior addiction treatment in Chester County.

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