c. 900 - 100 BCE
Scythians use opium and cannabis in religious ritual

From about 900 to 100 BCE, nomadic tribes dominated the steppes and grasslands of Eurasia, from what is today western China all the way east to the Danube. Known to the outside world as Scythians, these people were united by their nomadic, horse-centered lifestyle but were never a single political entity.

A once-in-a-lifetime discovery by Russian archaeologist Andrey Belinski has provided new insight into their drug-using reputation. While excavating what appeared to be an ancient burial site, Belinski and his team found a pair of tiny solid gold, elaborately decorated vessels that had crusty patches of sticky black residue on them. On analysis, the residue was found to contain both opium and cannabis.

The residue seems to confirm stories told by ancient authors, like Herodotus, that the Scythians marked important occasions with drug-fueled rituals. Belinski thinks the opium was consumed as a concentrated drink, perhaps while cannabis was burning nearby. He is convinced that both drugs were being used simultaneously. His team also found evidence that the site was not a common burial place. More likely, it was the site of some important religious ritual in which opium and cannabis were consumed.

Source: Curry, A. (2016). Rites of the Scythians. Archaeology, July/August.

Drugs: Cannabis (marijuana), Opium (morphine, heroin, opioids)
Regions: Asia, Europe
Topics: Cultural factors (social, religious, ritual)