The intoxicants used in society might be taken as the following: alcohol, bhang, ganja, tobacco and opium, coca etc.
Alcohol as an intoxicant
Alcohol, also known by its chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive substance that is the active ingredient in drinks such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits (hard liquor). It is one of the oldest and most common recreational substances, causing the characteristic effects of alcohol intoxication (“drunkenness”). Among other effects, alcohol produces a mood lift and euphoria, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, impairment of cognitive, memory, motor, and sensory function, and generalized depression of central nervous system function. Ethanol is a type of chemical compound known as an alcohol, and is the only type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages or is commonly used for recreational purposes; other alcohols such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol are toxic.
Alcohol can cause nausea and vomiting in sufficiently high amounts (varies by person). Alcohol stimulates gastric juice production, even when food is not present, and as a result, its consumption stimulates acidic secretions normally intended to digest protein molecules. Consequently, the excess acidity may harm the inner lining of the stomach. The stomach lining is normally protected by a mucosal layer that prevents the stomach from, essentially, digesting itself. However, in patients who have a peptic ulcer disease (PUD), this mucosal layer is broken down. PUD is commonly associated with the bacteria H. pylori. H. pylori secrete a toxin that weakens the mucosal wall, which as a result lead to acid and protein enzymes penetrating the weakened barrier. Because alcohol stimulates a person’s stomach to secrete acid, a person with PUD should avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Drinking alcohol causes more acid release, which further damages the already-weakened stomach wall. Complications of this disease could include a burning pain in the abdomen, bloating and in severe cases, the presence of dark black stools indicate internal bleeding. A person who drinks alcohol regularly is strongly advised to reduce their intake to prevent PUD aggravation.
The Sumerians in 3400 BC cultivated the opium poppy and referred to it as Hul Gil, the “joy plant.” It was passed on to the Assyrians who in turn passed it on to the Egyptians. The Ebers papyrus (c. 1500 BC), one of mankind’s oldest medical documents, describes a remedy to prevent excessive crying in children using grains of the poppy plant, strained to a pulp, passed through a sieve, and administered on 4 successive days. Opium was known to ancient Greek and Roman physicians as a powerful pain reliever.
Translators of the original Greek say that the drug that was mentioned was Nepenthe, which figuratively means “that which chases away sorrow”; (ne = not, and penthos = grief, sorrow, or mourning). So, literally, it means “not-sorrow” or “anti-sorrow”. In today’s world, Nepenthes would be an anxiolytic or an antidepressant. It is thought that this substance was prepared from opium..
It is believed that nepenthes maybe similar to laudanum, an opium tincture attributed to Paracelsus in the 16th century. In the 19th century, laudanum was extensively used in adults and children, for numerous indications such as insomnia, cardiac and infectious diseases. Laudanum was not taxed and hence, cheaper than gin or wine, and so the working class largely consumed laudanum. In the early 20th century, encyclopedias in Western countries still stated that persons in good mental and physical health could use opium without risk of dependence. Opium was also used to treat melancholia.
Coca (Erythroxylon coca) has been used as a medicine and stimulant for over 4000 years. It is grown in the Andes mountains of South America – in Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. Cocaine is extracted from its leaves and inhabitants in South America would chew the leaves as they believed it to elevate mood, help with digestions, and suppress appetite.
Nearly 100 years ago, cocaine was touted as a wonder drug – a cure for everything from morphine addiction to tuberculosis to depression to dyspepsia. To meet the demand, American drug companies began to explore South America for new medicines.
Cocaine has an anesthetic effect and Western medicine used it as such especially in nasal surgery. Cocaine still has limited use in medicine today as a local anesthetic. It is still occasionally used in medical procedures as a topical anesthetic for skin lacerations, nose or throat surgeries, and dental procedures.
Incidentally, at one time there was cocaine in Coca-cola (late 1800s). At that time it was common to use cocaine in patent medicines. Coca-cola drastically reduced its cocaine content to a “mere trace” when it became known that cocaine could be harmful. It was not until 1929 that Coca-Cola drink became cocaine free.
In the 1970s, cocaine evolved as a recreational drug but it was expensive and widely believed to have no serious consequences. It was perceived as a “safe drug.” The price dropped steadily, and by the mid-1980s, it was used on a regular basis, especially by the Americans. The realization that cocaine was highly addictive and dangerous was slow and brought home by the high-profile deaths of celebrities.
Cocaine is processed as powder and crack; crack is considered the more dangerous form of cocaine. Powder cocaine is the hydrochloride salt form (cocaine HCL). As a salt, it is soluble in water, stable as a powder, and usually snorted through the nose and absorbed through nasal mucosa membranes. It can also be dissolved in water or melted and injected. Crack on the other hand is powder cocaine that has been processed with a base, such as baking soda, to remove the HCL, hence, has a slightly modified chemical structure, which allows it to reach the brain more quickly, producing a more intense “high” and thus allowing crack to have greater potential for addiction. The name “crack” is derived from the cracking sound this form of cocaine makes when burned.
Cannabis (Marijuana or hashish)
Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are stimulants and have permeated our culture. They are integral for social interaction and studies claiming health benefits have proliferated. The use of these commodities is a way to escape the drudgery of everyday life.
Each culture has methods to deal with the harshness of reality. Among the Sufis, a Muslim sect, hashish (cannabis or marijuana) was eaten or smoked to reach a state of euphoria. Hashish (sometimes called “wine of Haydar”) was known to the Arabs long before its alleged discovery in mid-12th century by the ascetic monk, Haydar, founder of the religious order of the Sufis.
Fly-agaric or Amanita muscaria mushroom Priests or shamans have consumed plants for millennia to induce states of trance. The shamans were guardians of the traditions of their culture, and their knowledge of myths, songs, medicines and religious rites was extensive. The mushroom Amanita muscaria, commonly known as fly-agaric, has been at the center of religious rituals in Siberia and Central Asia for at least 3000 years. The fly- agaric is a hallucinogen. The Siberian shaman performed religious rituals usually under the influence of fly-agaric (“mushroom intoxication”). The first known account of the phenomenon is found in a journal written in 1658 by a Polish prisoner of war, who describes its use among the peoples of Western Siberia. The myths of many Siberian peoples contain fly-agaric themes. In many Siberian languages, words meaning “ecstasy”, “intoxication” and “drunkenness” are traceable to words meaning fly-agaric. Siberian cliff drawings depicting armless, one-legged figures bear a remarkable resemblance to the descriptions of figures by men under the influence of Amanita Muscaria.
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