Greeks and drugs: Drunkenness and the use of hallucinogens related to classical Greek culture


“Are you crazy unfortunately, and there is no drugs that can heal you, and is not without drugs that you delire “   Euripides, The Bacchae

Drugs are substances that have accompanied humanity since prehistoric times, debased and consecrated, as vehicles of creation or destruction, every culture has consider  them as a nature, a god, a stigma, worship … The ancient Greeks, who lived in the time of Plato in the V century BC,  were no exception to these variants, indicating that they did not consider all such substances as a kind of demonization as has occur in our contemporary culture.

Knowledge of Greek culture has come to our days through the myths, satires, comedies, tragedies, songs, hymns, sculpture and of course philosophy of the classical greek authors. Through these we also come to know that it was usual among Greek people to drink wine as a religious ceremony to praise the god Bacchus or Dionysus.

It was also common the use of plants and fungus as medical remedies. In connection with the medical aspect, worth noting the concept of drug (pharmakon). According to the Greeks’  «drugs are substances that act by cooling, heating, drying, moistening, contracting and relaxing, sleeping or doing».

To reach this concept the Greeks took many years of wisdom. In the Odyssey Helen serves nepenthes (Greek: ne = no, penthos = pain, sorrow), the poet says that the mixture of some drugs is healthy and of others is deadly. It should be emphasized that Pharmakon means remedy and poison, both, not just one or the other.

Speaking of “Datura metel” for example, Theophrastus says:

“One drachm is given if the patient should be encouraged and simply think well of himself; twice this dose if must be delirious and hallucinating; triple if it should be permanently insane; a quadruple dose is given if the man should be killed “.

Later on the terms used are narcotic (English) and then the French criminological literature use the term stupéfiants. Here is where begin to confuse these terms as dangerous and problematic substances, but we see that the Greeks were very sure about the concept of pharmakon.

It is known the case of the mysteries of Eleusis, ceremonies where revellers received a potion (the kykeon) which is known to contain “flour and mint” and some substance from a fungus which is the base of today’s LSD. At these ceremonies came such men as Plato, Aristotle, Prussian, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, who were persons of intellectual depth and indisputable sobriety.

Plato and Aristotle were initiated by the psychoactive alkaloid that in modernity, that is the 60s, created the whole movement of psychedelia and is currently growing in the music world the electronic genre psycho, precisely where its main exponents consume LSD, which is a sophisticated version of the same which proved even Cicero and Plutarch.


André, Erik (2009) Clasical drug use: Greek and Roman drug freedom, Detrived from

Escohotado, Antonio (1989) A brief history of drugs, Alianza

Euripides, The Bacchae

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s