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Journal published by the Hellenic
Psychiatric Association


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Drugs with psychedelic, hypnotic, narcotic, analgesic, suppressive, euphoric and stimulating effects were used in various ways during the ancient times. We can classify drug use in ancient times into two main categories. On the one hand, ancient physicians prescribed drugs based on their pharmaceutical-therapeutic actions. On the other hand, people not pertaining to medicine and not relating to its accurate implementation often abused drugs to achieve an euphoric state of mind, either for personal gratification or as an indispensable element of religion and mythology. Ancient Greek medical literature contains ample prescriptions and recipes indicating that plants were the essential components of drugs. Pedanius Dioscorides dedicated his lifetime’s work to the synthesis of ancient drugs. One can find a plethora of information concerning the production methods and the plants used in drugs for the treatment of psychiatric diseases. These were herbs like black and white hellebore, mandrake, hyoscyamus (henbane), Papaver somniferum (also known as opium poppy), Strychnos, Frankincense-tree and dorycnium. The preparation of narcotics included the addition of other elements, mainly wine, to the opus of plants or to their extracts. Drugs were produced via methods of dehumidification/desiccation, grinding, squeezing or boiling of the plants’ roots with a formation of a juice, oil or mush extract. In addition, drugs could also be inhaled if burnt. Many physicians of antiquity, such as Hippocrates, Galen, Ctesias and Aretaeus of Cappadocia, all refer to many of these aforementioned drugs analyzing the different symptoms which they could address, and the risks accompanying their use. Physicians of antiquity used drugs for the treatment of somatic, as well as psychiatric disorders. Most of these drugs affected the central nervous system. Taking advantage of their analgesic properties, physicians used them for the management of severe and chronic painful conditions. The hypnotic effects of some drugs were desirable in order to be used as anesthetics for surgical operations and cauterization. Drug use was also established in the initial treatment of epilepsy and seizures, regardless of their cause. Public rituals and mythology were the two main contexts in which drug use flourished, outside the realms of medicine. The psychotropic and especially the hallucinatory effects of drugs caused the person under their influence to lose control, rendering him incapable of governing his actions and thoughts. These consciousness-altering medications were frequently the central focus of mythology. In this case, one would dictate and give orders to another person, which under any other circumstances would not be carried out. This led to the formation of the concept of the magic potion. Theophrastus frequently referred to magic potions.

Key words: Mental illnesses, ancient greek medicine, drugs, mandrake, hyoscyamus, strychnos.

K. Laios, P. Lytsikas-Sarlis, K. Manes, M.-I. Kontaxaki, M. Karamanou, G. Androutsos (page 58)

 

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