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

Updated September 7, 2021 61.6k views13 items

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.
  • Cleopatra's Death Might Have Had Less to Do with Snake Venom and More to Do with Drugs

    Photo: Frederick Sandys / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Cleopatra's snake-induced suicide didn't just cement a timeless love story or provide a future career opportunity for Elizabeth Taylor. As the last Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra's death marked a turning point in history: the transition of Egypt into a Roman province and the dawn of the dominant Roman Empire.

    Recently, German scientists discovered our beliefs about Cleopatra's death - it was long held that she committed suicide by having a poisonous snake bite her - may not have been entirely accurate. Instead, they found that she might have killed herself with a drug cocktail that included opium and hemlock, prompting a much less painful death than that of a snake bite.
  • Shakespeare Might Have Used Weed to Get His Creative Juices Flowing

    Photo: John Taylor / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Nowadays, cannabis is openly used by many artists, musicians, and writers to get in touch with their creativity, but did the most important writer of all time seek out the creative benefits of pot as well? Testing of pipe fragments found on the grounds of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon has shown traces of cannabis.

    Although there is no proof that Shakespeare himself owned the pipes, experts can date the pieces to the 17th century, well within Shakespeare’s lifetime. Thanks to experts, humanity may have discovered another thing that Shakespeare and Snoop Dogg have in common, aside from their smooth, silky rhymes.

  • Ergot, A Fungus Associated with LSD, Possibly Caused the Salem Witch Trials

    Photo: John W. Ehninger / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When young girls in Salem, MA began to experience hallucinations and hysteria in 1692, the staunchly religious settlers immediately blamed the devil, of course. Colonists accused the girls of being witches, and when faced with the choice between confession or death, many affirmed their occult status. However, recent research suggests that the girls’ hysteria could have spawned from the ingestion of ergot, a hallucination-inducing fungus akin to LSD that grows on the ears of rye. In this panic, colonists got their first glimpse at the fusion of mass hysteria and religious fundamentalism, a frenzied Whack-A-Mole that continuously pops up throughout history.

  • The Opium Wars Brought Imperialism to China and Introduced China to the World

    Photo: Thomas Allom / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    In the early 19th century, China was like that mysteriously beautiful girl at a party: she had all the goods that other countries wanted but she was completely uninterested in anything anyone had to offer her. Britain had an idea: create a Chinese demand for opium and then China would be forced to trade their valuable goods away to satiate that demand. Britain put their plan into action, pumping opium into China and inciting the first Opium War. In the ill-balanced treaty that followed, Britain instituted the first colonization of China with its seizure of Hong Kong, a territory that didn’t leave Britain’s grasp until 1997.