The religious use of mind-altering drugs has a long history going back to the Oracle at Delphi and beyond. The coca leaf was used by the Incas in their religious rituals just as the sacred mushroom has been used by other indigenous peoples in theirs. These substances ushered the users into another dimension inhabited by the “spirits” that empowered and guided them. Because it has been traditionally “sacred” to them, native American Indians have had the right (under the American Indian religious Freedom Act) to take peyote for religious purposes—unless they were on active duty with the armed forces. That restriction has now been removed provided certain guidelines are followed.
By the mid-1800s, the coca lead had become popular in Europe for its alleged medicinal qualities. In 1883 cocaine was advertised by Parke-Davis in the United States as a remedy for alcoholism and morphine addiction. Sigmund Freud used it to treat his recurring depression and prescribed it for some of his patients. Freud’s biographer, Ernest Jones, quoted Freud as saying that cocaine produced a feeling of “exhilaration and lasting euphoria, which in no way differs from the normal euphoria of the healthy person.” He denied that it was addictive and seemingly couldn’t praise it enough. It was not until 1914 that cocaine was identified as a “narcotic” and was subjected to the same controls as morphine and heroin.