Hair found in a cave in Spain shows people used psychedelics 3,000 years ago, according to a study published on April 6 in the journal Scientific Reports. The hair sample was discovered in a cave in Es Càrritx, which was used for rituals and burials during the Bronze Age.
The hair sample contained several alkaloids, including atropine, scopolamine, and ephedrine, which researchers described as “highly psychoactive.” Atropine and scopolamine are “deliriant drugs” which cause “extreme mental confusion, strong and realistic hallucinations, disorientation, alteration of sensorial perception, and behavioral disorganization” as well as “out-of-body experiences,” the researchers said. The effects of ephedrine include “excitement and enhancement of mental alertness and physical activity, reduction of fatigue, improvement of concentration, and suppression of hunger,” the study said.
Researchers could not identify which plants carried the alkaloids and noted that because none of the plants found at the site contained the substances, the individuals must have ingested them, purposely, prior to their death.
“The results presented here indicate that several alkaloid-bearing plants were consumed by Bronze Age people from Menorca (although Solanaceae and Ephedra were not the only ones to have been consumed),” the authors write. “Interestingly, the psychoactive substances detected in this study are not suitable for alleviating the pain involved in severe palaeopathological conditions attested in the population buried in the cave of Es Càrritx, such as periapical abscesses, severe caries and arthropathies. Considering the potential toxicity of the alkaloids found in the hair, their handling, use, and applications represented highly specialized knowledge. This knowledge was typically possessed by shamans, who were capable of controlling the side-effects of the plant drugs through an ecstasy that made diagnosis or divination possible.”
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