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The 10 Most Seductive Drugs -- And Their Fascinating History

A brief journey through time, from ancient Sumeria to modern New Jersey, uncovers the mysterious origins of the world's most beloved substances.

1) Alcohol: Ancient Sumeria

Fans of alcohol are in good company; this is a drug that's been in use since the dawn of human time—if carbon dating of jugs found in Jiahu, China to around 8,000 BC is to be believed. But it wasn’t until we settled into agricultural societies that the wine really got flowing. Written records from ancient Sumeria document the uses and quantity of the beer—called "kash"—that was brewed. They even indicate that Sumerians had regulated drinking places similar to modern-day bars. The booze, for its part, was considered worthy of offering to the gods, and even thought to have a civilizing effect: The Epic of Gilgameshmentions a wild man named Enkidu who was seduced to join civilization after he drank seven jugs of beer, “became expansive and sang with joy.” (A harlot was also, apparently, involved.)

2) Peyote: Mexico

Mescaline—the psychoactive ingredient in the peyote plant that's native to Mexico and the Southwest US—has probably been used in religious ceremonies since 3780–3660 BC, according to carbon dating of dried buttons found in a cave on the Rio Grande in Texas. Written records began once Catholic Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico and were alarmed by the practice of eating or drinking peyote during religious festivals. In an effort to discourage use, priests were in the habit of asking their new congregationalists to confess to having experienced the drug’s hallucinogenic effects, right after they asked “Have you eaten the flesh of man?” and “Do you suck the blood of others?”

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