People often imagine drug use to be a modern phenomenon, but an ancient ‘drug pouch’ shows that people were taking cocaine and hallucinogens a thousand years ago.
Reearchers found a ‘drug pouch’ in the Sora River valley in south western Bolivia, containing ‘snuffing tablets’ used to crush plants into sniffable form.
There were also three fox snouts, and a mix of chemicals suggesting that the powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca was used at least 1,000 years ago.
The researchers tested the pouch and found traces of cocaine, plus hallucinogens including dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and possibly traces of ‘magic mushrooms’.
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The find suggests that ancient people in Bolivia may have combined different drugs.
Researcher Dr Jose Capriles said: ‘We already knew that psychotropics were important in the spiritual and religious activities of the societies of the south-central Andes, but we did not know that these people were using so many different compounds and possibly combining them together.’
Dr Capriles said the fox-snout pouch was likely to have belonged to a ‘shaman’ – a type of witch doctor.
‘It is possible that the shaman who owned this pouch consumed multiple different plants simultaneously to produce different effects or extend his or her hallucinations.”
Dr Capriles said that finding harmine and DMT – the primary ingredients of ayahuasca, a drink reported to induce hallucinations and altered consciousness – in the pouch suggests the use of the brew as one of the drugs in the shaman’s kit.
He added: ‘Some scholars believe that ayahuasca has relatively recent origins, while others argue that it may have been used for centuries, or even millennia.
‘Given the presence of harmine and DMT together in the pouch we found, it is likely that this shaman ingested these simultaneously to achieve a hallucinogenic state, either through a beverage, such as ayahuasca, or through a composite snuff that contained these plants in a single mixture.
‘This finding suggests that ayahuasca may have been used up to 1,000 years ago.’