prehistoric EuropeansUncovering the Dark Secrets: Prehistoric Europeans and their Use of Unpleasant Drugs

Uncovering the Dark Secrets: Prehistoric Europeans and their Use of Unpleasant Drugs ,Bronze Age people 3,000 years ago got high on hallucinogenic plant alkaloids so powerful and dangerous that even psychedelic users today shun them, according to a new study. People may have had out-of-body experiences or thought they were growing fur or feathers as a result of consuming the anticholinergic substances atropine or scopolamine.

Symptoms would start off milder with dilated pupils, dry skin and a racing heart. As the trip begins, the user would experience complete delirium, or an inability to distinguish between hallucinations and reality.

Menorca Strands

Researchers found the chemicals, along with the stimulant ephedrine, in strands of hair buried deep in a cave on the Spanish island of Menorca, not far from an earlier burial site. One or more people buried the hair in a special wooden box decorated with concentric circles, which may signify “inner vision” associated with drug-induced states of consciousness. The capsule makers had dyed the strands of hair red with ochre, wild madder or Balearic box and sealed them in the containers with string.

Read more: Psychedelics may be the future of psychotherapy

Made of olive wood, the box had three chambers and was buried next to five similar boxes, four containers made from deer antlers, a bronze blade and hairpin, and numerous other artifacts.

What was the purpose of this cache? Researchers hypothesize that it is a kind of time capsule designed to preserve older, more established customs originally performed by shamans. About 2,800 years ago, the people of Menorca and the surrounding islands began to increase in numbers and abandon the old burial sites, such as the cave of Es Càrritx, where about 200 people were buried.

From around 4,000 years ago, the people of Menorca treated death in a spectacular way, building dolmens, megaliths, cairns and rock tombs, the study said, before using the local caves.

Powerful chemicals

Because the study performed a chemical analysis rather than a genetic analysis of the hairs (partly due to the absence of hair bulbs), we now know more about people’s drug use in the past than about who they were. The researchers cut the hair into cross-sections and found that the people had used the drug repeatedly over a period of about a year before their death.

Today, psychedelics such as atropine and scopolamine are often avoided by psychedelic users because of the unpredictable, nightmarish experiences they can cause at high doses, not to mention intense anxiety and dysphoria. But during the Bronze Age, European shamans had to use the plants that were available to them, the study found, including nightshades such as mandrake, hen’s wort, prickly pear and common pine.

The researchers say the study provides “the first direct evidence of ancient drug use in Europe,” and it follows paper who found opium alkaloids in Bronze Age vessels from the Eastern Mediterranean, a form of circumstantial evidence.

In sufficient doses, both atropine and scopolamine can kill the user, but still retain their medicinal uses. Doctors use atropine to reduce saliva during surgery and speed up the heart rate when needed, and scopolamine prevents postoperative nausea and vomiting.

Read more: Psychedelic effects on the brain

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