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I assume that some drugs where known to humanity in some way or other for a long time, but I think actually prohibiting certain drugs would require a state that (for reasons of morals, public health, public order) cares for the pharmaceutical hobbies of it's subjects and has the reach into society to at least start to enforce a ban - and I believe both to be relativly modern tendencies in a state.

Of course, religion (if seen as an institution) has a an interest in what the believers do and a far reach into society, so the muslim ban on alcohol would be an exception.

But for all I know the ancient Egyptians or the medieval Maya may have had strict rules against certain drugs, hence this question.

Edit to add:
wikipedia mentions some dates for bans on Opium:

Chinese edicts against opium smoking were made in 1729, 1796 and 1800.[2] Addictive drugs were prohibited in the west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I read that to mean that the first ban on opium was in the early 18th century.

The article on drug control laws lists no date prior the 20th century.

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@mart So would you accept religious bans or not? –  Voitcus Aug 26 '13 at 13:01
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only if the ban is effective beyond the self-policiing of the believers –  mart Aug 26 '13 at 13:04

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

According to Paul Devereux in his book Mysterious Ancient America, most of the pre-Columbian American civilizations were controlled by shamanistic cults who used various hallucinogenic substances prepared from plants - mushrooms, cacti, jimson weed, etc - to induce trance-like states which gave them the appearance of "communing with the spirit world", etc and was one of the principle sources of their power over the masses. His book documents this extensively using various forms of archaeological and forensic evidence, and the practice continues even today among some of the Amazon Rain Forest Peoples.

As Devereux explains there, the preparation of these substances was generally a secret among the shaman classes, and their use was restricted to them, and to certain individuals at certain ceremonial points in their lives (male puberty rites, for example) who were given a ration of some sort of hallucinogen to facilitate this ceremony. The masses at large had no access to these compounds, being, as they were, the source of the shamans' power.

So we have here a case of "controlled substances" in the ancient world for clearly political reasons. Nor was it necessary for the ruling cults to engage in invasive micromanagement of the lives of the citizenry to enforce this policy: The substances and their preparation were a secret reserved for the shaman classes - the masses simply had no access to them.

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In medieval France at least, the occupation of apothecary was severely restricted by law and required a licence to be lawful (such licences appeared first in Montpellier in the 12th century, probably under the influence of the then famous academy of medicine established there then spread in the rest of France). These licences typically incorporated a prohibition on selling poisons broadly defined as substances able to cause physical harm (more generally, it seems that French people in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were panicked by poisons). Though the ban typically does not contain any detailed list, I think it is reasonable to surmise that hallucinogenic substances would have been considered harmful, as hallucinations were considered diabolical in medieval christian thoughts, and thus to infer that these edicts broadly banned the selling of drugs.

So taking into account that not so many hallucinogenic substances would have been accessible to medieval Frenchmen anyway, it seems that selling them, at the very least, would have been prohibited.

UPDATE:

Piqued by Lennart Regebro's critique, I provide evidence that hallucinogenic substances were prohibited in France during the middle ages. Though there are a few references to cannabaceae (for instance in the books of Hildegarde von Bingen) and opiates (mostly through arabic sources 3) in western middle ages pharmacy, the hallucinogenic substances (outside alcohol) most commonly referenced in middle ages sources derive from the alkaloids naturally present in plants of the solanaceae or apiaceae families. A handful of those were common enough so as to warrant a place of choice in the iconography of western middle ages: belladonna, mandrake, Hyoscyamus and hemlock. The first two in particular can induce narcose and hallucinations and all of them were widely used in middle age pharmacy 3. Many of the edicts mentioned above explicitly restrict the manipulation of mandrake and belladonna to licensed apothecary and their administration to licensed doctors. Hyoscyamus and hemlock were among the most common poisons in the middle ages so obviously fell under the scope of the edicts.

Incidentally, I found in searching for evidence of cannabic use in the middle ages that L.Lewin claims in 4 (chapter Indian Hamp) that cannabis use was prohibited by Emir Sheikouni in 1378, but I was utterly unable to find any outside confirmation of this much repeated factoid (nor in fact to identify this emir).

Sources:

Society d'Histoire de la Pharmacie

Histoire des poisons: Moyen Age (strangely, the English version is very poor in comparison)

References to Bamberg's medical compendium

Phantastica Narcotic and Stimulating Drugs, By Louis Lewin 1924

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"I think it is reasonable to surmise that hallucinogenic substances would have been considered harmful" - Or not. This is just your assumption. –  Lennart Regebro Nov 18 '13 at 12:45
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I think you're on to something; I don't have sources at hand, but I seem to recall that the definition of "poison" was broader. There may not have been prohibitions against specific substances, but against harmful substances. –  Mark C. Wallace Nov 18 '13 at 13:08
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Considering that people were exorcized, lynched, or subject to other mob mentality for 'acting possessed' or being taken with lunacy' – I presume that hallucinogenic substances would have been considered some-form-of-dangerous –  New Alexandria Nov 18 '13 at 13:51
    
@LennartRegebro Not entirely my assumption: as I wrote, hallucinations were regarded as diabolical by western medieval theology. It would be a strange thing if symptom X was considered extremely grave but substance Y inducing symptom X not harmful at all. Also, what NewAlexandria said. That said, it is true that I don't know of a specific medieval condemnation of hallucinogenic substances, something which I would attribute to their rarity myself. –  Olivier Nov 18 '13 at 13:53
    
@MarkC.Wallace Yes,the prohibition is (typically) against any substance that can cause harm. –  Olivier Nov 18 '13 at 13:54

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