Historical Events and Moments That Wouldn’t Be the Same Without Drugs

Despite the fact that Hollywood often portrays drug users as burnouts, criminals, or otherwise indigent, there are actually a lot of drugs that changed history. Ever since the first caveman plucked a weird-looking plant from the ground, thought, "Hmm, this looks tasty!," and sent himself on a long, strange trip, humans have been fascinated by drugs. Evidence of drugs in history can be found in many early cultures. These ancient societies took drugs to see the future, to commune with the Earth, and to get closer to their versions of god.

Nowadays, our relationship with drugs has changed quite a bit. Yes, like your D.A.R.E. counselor taught you, drugs can be bad. But the past also shows us that drugs can actually change the trajectory of history. Plus, without drugs, we wouldn’t have Breaking Bad, right? This list explains how drugs changed history, and, in turn, how drugs changed the world.

  • Cocaine Put the 'Coca' in Coca-Cola to Establish a Multi-Billion Dollar Company

    Cocaine Put the 'Coca' in Coca-Cola to Establish a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
    Photo: Dsdugan / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    In 1886, Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton, himself a morphine addict, attempted to capitalize on the success of drinks like Vin Mariani by creating his own cocaine-laced wine. To avoid stringent liquor laws, he combined his concoction of Coca leaves and kola nuts with sugar water instead of wine. Americans had never tasted anything like it and latched onto it immediately. By the time Coca-Cola took cocaine out of their secret formula in 1929, the company was worth many millions of dollars and their wealth still grows to this day.
  • Ancient Greek Philosophers May Have Been High When They Came Up with Democracy

    Unlike the highly regulated drug culture of today, ancient Greece was more like the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene, according to research by scholar David Hillman. In his studies of ancient drug use, Hillman found some surprising and controversial results. Hillman says, “The early Greek philosophers who inspired the mental revolution that influenced the birth of democracy were the biggest drug-using lunatics of them all...So not only did democracy spring up in a drug-using culture, but its roots lie in a drug-using, shamanistic, intellectual movement. I think it's perfectly safe to say: 'No drugs, no democracy.'" Far out, dude.
  • Viking Berserkers May Have Conquered Europe with the Help of Magic Mushrooms

    Viking Berserkers May Have Conquered Europe with the Help of Magic Mushrooms
    Photo: Lous Moe / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Early in European history, the Vikings came a-conquering and brought with them advancements in technology, trade, and building. Despite the less than ideal raping and pillaging part, Viking influence in the region can still be felt today. Some historians believe that the most badass of the Vikings, the Viking Berserkers, used a secret weapon to guarantee a fury so fierce that no mere mortal could overtake them.

    That secret weapon was the Amanita muscaria mushroom, a red and white fungi that resembles the power-up mushroom from Super Mario Brothers. Its hallucinogenic effects fit the description of the Berserkers's behavior found in the literature of the time. Coincidentally, this is also what happens to Mario - he imagines himself to be bigger and stronger, promptly proceeding to kill everything in sight.

  • Europe's Love of Tobacco Helped America Become Independent

    Englishman John Rolfe, Pocahontas’s future husband (not by her choice), came to Virginia in 1610 and found the colonists there starving and miserable. Luckily, he had a seed of an idea to turn the colony around. Rolfe brought tobacco seeds from the West Indies and started farming them in Virginia. In a short time, he created the first successful American cash crop and began to export tobacco to Europe for big profits. From then on, tobacco helped early Americans fund their colonies and, not too long after, their War for Independence.