Was there prevalent drug abuse in the Holy Land at the time Jesus lived? If so, what drug would that be?

By "abuse" I mean use of large quantities of the drug over time which may have had mind altering effects.

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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? What did you find? Have you looked at Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, for example? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. Jan 8, 2019 at 0:55
  • Many thanks for your comment! I am not a historian, so I have not done research into this topic. You suggest Dioscorides' De Materia Medica, and i will have a look
    – Sapiens
    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:02
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    Strongly relevant question and answer: history.stackexchange.com/questions/48990/…
    – Mark
    Jan 8, 2019 at 1:30
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    You should really define what you understand "abuse" to be. As is this is a fighting word of prohibitionists. If you just think of "use" of psychoactive substances (anything other than alcohol, obviously), then please use "use". If you think of problems arising from that, use something like "overdoing it"? Looking forward to your edit. Jan 8, 2019 at 9:23
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    @LangLangC: Yes, humans have USED psychoactive substances pretty much as long as they've been human, if not before, and still do. (I write this as I go for my morning's second cup of psychoactive substance :-))
    – jamesqf
    Jan 8, 2019 at 19:30

2 Answers 2


Mainly wine or fortified wines and beer. Other drugs did exist, but nowhere near what we have today. Distillation wasn't invented yet, so strong alcoholic beverages didn't exist. Fortified wines did, but that doesn't involve distillation.

It's possible some (read: very few) people used herbs, mushrooms or even hemp, but not in great quantities. It wasn't mainstream then. I doubt very much if people smoked hemp, smoking wasn't discovered as yet.

Opium did exist (poppies), but not as processed opium. It was used at least by the Greeks and Romans for medical purposes. Perhaps some people used it for recreational purposes. As a natural unprocessed product the effects are far less than using the processed product.

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    'Opium did exist (poppies), but not as processed opium'. In fact, Dioscorides - writing in the first century CE - describes harvesting opium using essentially the same method as is used today. Jan 8, 2019 at 3:04
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    "Fortified wines did, but that doesn't involve distillation." Fortified wines are created by adding distilled alcohol to wine. Do you have a source for another way of making them? Jan 8, 2019 at 8:39
  • @John Dallman Maybe frozen distillation, but it is only suspected. Jan 8, 2019 at 9:01
  • @JohnDallman I know fortified wines existed. Sulla drank it, I read somewhere. How they made it, I don't know.
    – Jos
    Jan 8, 2019 at 9:14
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    @AlbertoYagos: The climate of the Holy Land is not very suitable for freeze-distillation. It isn't impossible, but it's unlikely to be a regular process. Jan 8, 2019 at 9:20

Was there prevalent drug abuse in the Holy Land at the time Jesus lived? If so, what drug would that be?


Matthew 27:34,
There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.

During Jesus's crucifixion, Matthew and Mark report the offer of doped wine by the Roman guards who had a container of the drink. Matthew calls it wine mixed with Gall. This was not actual gall, but the drink was so called because of its bitter taste. Mark 15:23, reports that the drink was wine mixed with myrrh. Myrrh was added to the wine in order to give it more potency. This was likely done to weaken the victim and make the execution go faster. Crucifixion was a long slow death where the victim eventually suffocates over many hours as his chest muscles eventually exhaust themselves supporting the victim's weight. The wine was probable offered by the guards, to shorten their watch and speed up the ordeal. If one weren't being crucified the mixture would be recreational and enhance the stupefying effect of the alcohol.

The old testament also talks of "water of gall" which I found references to as water of poppy the plant opium is refined from; but those don't appear in the new testament.

  • Deuteronomy 29:18
  • Jeremiah 9:15; 8:14 ; 23:15
  • Lamentations 3:19


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