9 Insane Drugs People Used to Get High Throughout History

Everyone knows the modern drug trifecta of pot, heroin, and cocaine. But that’s where a lot of normal people’s knowledge of illicit drugs ends. Well, listen up squares - believe it or not, people have been getting high for as long as we’ve been staggering around this planet, and some ancient drugs were much more potent than the garbage we’re putting into our bodies today.

Most drugs from history were either made from fungi, or brewed from the vines or leaves of whatever plants were around – and they all opened your mind in some pretty intense ways. Some - like kava and ayahuasca - are still used today, by both native cultures and Western drug tourists. Others - like belladonna and henbane - are probably better left in the past.

  • Henbane Allowed Witches to Fly - And Gave Them a Very Surprising Use for Broomsticks

    Henbane Allowed Witches to Fly - And Gave Them a Very Surprising Use for Broomsticks
    Photo: Public Domain / via Wikipedia

    This hallucinogen grows somewhat wild in southern Europe and across western Asia, and it's also been known to pop up in England and Ireland. This drug has been around for so long that Vikings used it to brew beer that gave them trippy visions that led to "unseemly and immodest in acts, gestures, and expressions."

    But if someone were to drink too much of this far-out brew, they would experience "abdominal pain, convulsions, a sensation of burning limbs called St. Anthony’s Fire, and, ultimately, death." In fact, the plant is so powerful, even smelling it can cause "giddiness and stupor." 

    Henbane has long been associated with witches, and its hallucinatory properties may have been responsible for the mystical visions of the Oracle at Delphi. Henbane is one of the main ingredients in the legendary "flying ointment" (along with hemlock and deadly nightshade) that supposedly allowed witches to "fly." This concoction was supposed to be best absorbed through mucus membranes, so witches would insert it into their vaginas using a special dildo (thought to be the basis for the witch's favorite accessory, a broomstick).

  • Ancient People Used Belladonna to Look Better, Get Higher, and Sometimes Murder People

    Ancient People Used Belladonna to Look Better, Get Higher, and Sometimes Murder People
    Photo: Public Domain / via WIkimedia

    Belladona (also known as "deadly nightshade") is so potent that even one or two berries will cause you to feel some hallucinogenic effects, between three and ten berries will cause you to hallucinate, and as few as ten to twenty will kill you. Even the honey that bees make with belladonna nectar contains doses of the drug.

    Belladonna was a common poison in the ancient world - both Emperor Augustus and Claudius were poisoned by their wives with belladonna. Like henbane, it was a component of "flying ointment" and associated with witches. Considering its extreme toxicity, it's a little disturbing that the drug was also used in eye-drops in the Renaissance to cause women's pupils to dilate, making them appear flirtatious.

    Belladonna and its chemical components are still occasionally used today, though users report it often leads to terrifying hallucinations.

  • Ancient Peruvians Used Ayahuasca to Open Their Minds and Empty Their Stomachs

    Ayahuasca (or yagé) is a kind of tea that's brewed out of the caapi vine found in Peru. The first recorded use of ayahuasca was by 16th-century explorers who encountered indigenous peoples of the Amazon ingesting the tea and freaking out, but now the drug is consumed by people all over the world who want to have a mind-altering experience in the jungle.

    When you take ayahuasca, you ingest concentrated amounts of DMT (a powerful psychedelic) and users have reported that mind expansion, spiritual clarity, and intense personal revelations. (Basically the world becomes a Jodorowsky film.) But to reach that state of euphoria, first you have to vomit up everything in your stomach. While this effect is not exactly pleasant to modern users, some have speculated it might have been a benefit to ancient people by purging their bodies of parasites.

  • Mexican Shamans Used Salvia to Go Backwards or Forwards in Time

    Mexican Shamans Used Salvia to Go Backwards or Forwards in Time
    Photo: Jean de Tovar / via Wikimedia

    Salvia has been used by shamans in the interior of Mexico for hundreds of years in order to reach a higher plane of existence and commune with the spirit world. Aztec shamans would use the drug to foretell the future. Others would use it to visit the past, instead, reliving happy memories from childhood. Today, the practice continues among the Mazatec people of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

    The main way to take salvia is by drinking it in a tea, but in the late 20th and early 21st century, suburban teens started smoking salvia as a legalish substitute for marijuana and they started losing their minds. While some people have very laid-back and peaceful experiences with the drug, other users noted hysterical laughter and hyper-movement with momentary lapses into glossolalia (that is, talking way too much).