Cultural Drugs

Group page for Matt, Taylor, Meredith, Will, Jonny, and Cate

Cultural Drugs


Various cultures and geographic locations have different traditions and customs informing their choices to use certain plants. What a drug means in one culture may mean something completely different and have completely opposite uses in another. Evidence suggests that humans have been using drugs since the beginning of time. Though we now know many of the harmful effects of these drugs, past cultures saw these substances as plants and/or foods. They were also often used as medicines or in religious ceremonies. The plants involved within cultural drugs have had such a great impact due to the ways in which they influence humans and their actions, whether they be acting as a stimulant, tranquilizer or other. Their effects and uses have remained important to human lifestyle over the years. The long and widespread history of drugs in cultures throughout the world has had significant impacts on human civilization.


Opiates, drugs made from the poppy plant, have an extensive history. Their earliest use was nearly 7000 years ago, and they have since been used in various cultures around the world as both a medicine and a narcotic drug. Today, morphine, a type of opiate, is used as a common painkiller in hospitals, and heroin, another type of opiate, is a dangerously addictive drug.

Poppy Flowers
Poppy Flowers



The cultural use of Coca is different in every culture but if there is one thing cross culturally the plant is used for, it is the production of the drug Cocaine. While Cocahas a very negative connotation in the United States and has been subject to many pieces of legislation and political controversies and drug wars, it is considered a cash crop in Bolivia and is an integral part of the Bolivian social traditions and economy. While there are governmental laws in Bolivia and regulations that aim at controlling the growth of coca, a great deal is still used to create cocaine. Farmers usually sell about 50 pounds of coca leaves from each harvest to the government regulated market. The rest, usually 200 pounds or more is sold to buyers who work with traffickers and pay well over the governmental price. As a major part of the drug war, coca is nonetheless a major cash crop and opportunity for the government and citizens of Bolivia.


homepage tobacco.jpg
homepage tobacco.jpg

Five interesting facts about tobacco:
  1. Tobacco is one of the few crops entering the world trade specifically on a leaf basis.
  2. Tobacco is the most grown plant in the world that is not used for food.
  3. Over 15 billion cigarettes are sold each day.
  4. Nicotine, the drug found in tobacco, is known to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
  5. Every 8 seconds someone dies from tobacco.[1]

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Similarly to the Coca plant, the Nicotiana plant also brings some negative connotations along with it. The Nicotiana plant is used to make Tobacco . This plant is part of the “family Solanaceae because they are dicotyledonous plants that are in the “nightshade family.” This plant was essential in early American life, where it was used as a cash crop and was tremendous for the America economy. John Rolfe founded the first tobacco plantation in Jamestown, Virginia where it saw an immediate boom to the countries exports.[2] In the beginning, it was unknown how toxic this plant was and its consumption was widely acceptable and people thought it was good for them.

"There is an herb called uppowoc, which sows itself. In the West Indies it has several names, according to the different places where it grows and is used, but the Spaniards generally call it tobacco. Its leaves are dried, made into powder, and then smoked by being sucked through clay pipes into the stomach and head. The fumes purge superfluous phlegm and gross humors from the body by opening all the pores and passages. Thus its use not only preserves the body, but if there are any obstructions it breaks them up. By this means the natives keep in excellent health, without many of the grievous diseases which often afflict us in England."[3]

As time went on, more and more people began to realize however that this was far from the truth. Although this plant was instrumental in helping early America stabilize, it has since been under attack do to its dangerous properties and is responsible for thousands of deaths and millions of dollars in medical expenses.

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Just as Tobacco has received harsh criticism from today's society, Marijuana is another plant that has fallen under the scrutiny of societal prejudice and misunderstanding. Though this plant has been used for thousands of years, across the entire world, it is viewed in a negative connotation and as a gateway drug to greater more severe illicit drugs. However, as a result of recent scientific findings and numerous claims regarding its benefits, marijuana is beginning to reverse its image within societies eyes and many are now calling for its federal legalization. Marijuana possess the ability to treat numerous ailments, and here in the US we have yet to understand its full potential as a result of its Class 1 Narcotic status under the Federal Government. Many have argued that the use of government funds to pursue and prosecute users of this drug is a glaring misuse of governmental finances and by reversing this we could help reduce the financial stress of our nations deficit. Furthermore, numerous states across the country have already granted the plants legal medical usage and a few others have even legalized it for its recreational usage. Yet because this plant is still recognized, in the governments eyes, as an illegal drug, patients of this plant risk being prosecuted for their prescribed medical treatment.

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Coffee has been an important plant for centuries. Since its discovery in 800 A.D., it has allured a number of people for its bold and flavorful qualities. It has acted as one of the main stimulants for humans due to its caffeine content and other properties. Coffee has journeyed from a form of black gold to an everyday morning ritual and its significance has varied from culture to culture. Its uses are myriad and are included in everything from religious practices to social gatherings. In particular, the coffee shop became a hub for dialogue, free speech and self expression. They were very significant in creating space for key issues to be discussed and criticized. By some in power, coffee shops were even considered a threat to their country's stabilization. Coffee has had a lasting impact on humans because of the way it has been able to grab their attention, keep them alert, and stimulate conversation and experiences in a way that only a natural plant could.


Khat has been used for centuries starting in the African Horn as a stimulant to natives. Khat is most effective when it is chewed, much like tobacco. Khat has two active ingredients that give similar effects to drinking a cup a coffee. The active ingredients are cathinone and cathine. Since Khat is perishable it is sometimes dried, once it is dried it does not have as strong of an effect. This has become an issue for transporting the item from country to country, yet due to improved infrastructure Khat is starting to be distributed across the world. Since Khat is starting to become more popular there are now cafes set up in places such as London that allow customers to purchase and enjoy the item. Khat used occasionally is not dangerous, yet compulsive use can lead to grandiose hallucinations accompanied by manic behavior.


Coca for Meredith
Coffee for Taylor
Marijuana for Matt
Tobacco for Jonny
Khat for William
Poppies for Cate
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