What Kind Of Drug Was In Ancient Rome

Drugs have been ubiquitous throughout human history, with advanced civilizations crafting medicines centuries ago. Ancient Rome was no exception, with a variety of different drugs in use. Ancient Rome may be remembered for its grand cities and battles, but it also had a surprisingly vast pharmacopeia of medications and drugs, substances which were released in many creative and sometimes shocking ways. This article delves into the different drugs used, how they were administered, and how they were sourced.

The most common type of drug in ancient Rome was the painkiller. From opium and belladonna to cannabis and hemlock, the Romans had access to many powerful analgesics. Records from the time show an understanding of the medicinal value of these drugs, as the Roman Empire had an acute healthcare system comprised of doctors, surgeons, and chemists. For instance, a mixture of opium and hemlock was used to ease the pain and anxiety of dying patients, while sedatives were regularly administered.

Roman pharmacists were highly skilled and could prepare complex compounds quickly and efficiently. A combination of wild herbs as well as purified compounds, many drugs had a unique flavor and smell, with some concoctions being extremely bitter. While opium and hemlock were commonly prescribed for medical purposes, other substances such as marijuana and alcohol were used more freely. In fact, alcohol was a popular drink among the citizens of Rome, with many considering it an essential part of life.

The Romans also had access to more advanced drugs, such as the antiseptic turpentine and advanced antibiotics such as garlic. Some believe that the Romans even used arsenic to reduce fevers and treat skin diseases, although this is highly controversial. These drugs were administered by a variety of means, from eating and drinking to inhaling fumes and applying topical lotions. Roman pharmacists were highly innovative and could concoct powerful mixtures from plants and minerals.

Drugs were mostly sourced from wild plants, although some were imported from countries such as India and China. Many drugs were even transported from other parts of the Roman Empire, such as Greece and Persia, making them widely available to the Roman populace. In some cases, the Romans even developed their own versions of certain drugs, such as the mandrake root which was commonly found in ancient Rome.

It is clear that drugs had an important place in the Roman world. Whether they were used to treat injuries, reduce stress and anxiety, or simply as an escape from reality, drugs have left a huge mark on the history of the Roman Empire. It remains fascinating to consider the ways in which the ancient Romans were able to make use of different types of drugs in their everyday lives.

Popularization of Drug Use

Considering the use of drugs in the ancient world, it is not surprising that drug usage was highly popularized in Roman culture. The most popular drug? Wine. Among the other most popular substances were opium, hemlock, and cannabis, while other drugs such as mandrake and turpentine were also consumed. With such a huge variety of drugs available, it is clear that this was a popular pastime.

Drug usage was not only limited to recreational use; it was also a major part of the medical industry. Records found show that some physicians would prescribe certain drugs as part of medical treatments, with opium and hemlock being particularly popular for use in treating pain. However, it wasn’t just the doctor’s orders that made it popular: people were also still free to purchase and consume drugs, or to experiment with different types and doses on their own initiative.

Given the wide variety of drugs available, it would be reasonable to assume that drug use was widespread in ancient Rome, as it could be easily accessed by different classes of society. However, this was not the case. Roman writers and historians of the time view drug use as something mostly limited to the working class, or those with few morals. Many articles warn of the dangers and addictive nature of drugs, thus depicting drug use as a vice only indulged in by disreputable people.

Despite this view, drug use was a part of Roman life, and it is clear that various classes of society partook in recreational drug use. In fact, it was even considered hip among certain circles. Thus, although there was definitely a certain stigma against drug users, it was not shared by all.

Myths and Rituals

Drug use in Rome was not just limited to its medicinal and recreational uses. Drugs were often seen as a way to interact with the supernatural, and drug use was even associated with certain rituals. One example is the use of opium, which was often believed to induce prophetic visions by allowing one to communicate with the gods.

Additionally, there were several myths and superstitions associated with drugs in Rome. One of the most famous is the Athenian goddess Demeter, who is often pictured with opium in her hands. It was believed to offer spiritual enlightenment and wisdom. Other famous drugs in Roman mythology include hemlock, belladonna, and even its own version of the mythical Soma.

It is clear that Rome had its own unique set of beliefs and superstitions surrounding the use of drugs, many of which were tied to religion and mythology. Although there is some evidence to suggest that these beliefs were more than simple superstition, drug use remains an enigma even today.


Drug usage in Rome was subject to certain regulations, as the authorities attempted to limit its recreational use. Opium was subject to a ban in 54 AD, although it is unclear if this was actually enforced. Additionally, it was common to punish those caught selling drugs illegally. This was done in order to protect citizens from harm and to prevent addiction.

It wasn’t just illegal drugs that the Romans had laws against. Even legal drugs were subject to certain regulations, such as restrictions on those deemed to be under the influence and limits on how much could be taken. For example, opium was only allowed to be taken in small doses and was viewed as a medicine, not a recreational drug.

Although drug laws were in place to protect citizens, it is likely that excessive drug use was still a problem in Rome, regardless of legal action. It is clear that drug use was a popular pastime and that those who indulged often felt the effects. With such easy access to various drugs, it is certain that there were cases of addiction, as well as overdoses and other health complications.

The Impact of Drugs in Rome

Although drugs were commonplace in ancient Rome, their actual impact is difficult to measure. It is clear, however, that drugs had far-reaching effects both culturally and medically. They were a major part of Roman life, and the effect of drug use is even still visible in modern times.

On the one hand, drugs were seen as a way to escape from reality, to explore new realms of experience, and to open up opportunities for creativity and spiritual enlightenment. On the other hand, drug use could also be damaging and, if not used responsibly, could lead to addiction, serious health complications, and even death.

It is clear that drugs have left a strong legacy in Rome and have significantly influenced the modern world. By looking at ancient Rome and its relationship to drugs, we can gain valuable insight as to how drugs can both enhance and sometimes hurt our lives.

Modern Drug Usage

Although drugs remained popular in Rome for centuries, the use of drugs declined dramatically after the fall of the Roman Empire. It would be hundreds of years before drug use would become popular again and, today, drug use is the most common form of recreational drug use in the world.

The modern era has seen an explosion in the use of drugs, with a huge variety of substances available for recreational or medicinal use. Legislation and regulation have also changed with the times, meaning that, although drugs can still be dangerous, they are more accessible than ever before. As a result, drug use has become firmly entrenched in our culture, with both positive and negative effects.

It is clear that the use of drugs has been present throughout human history, with many different cultures embracing their medicinal, spiritual, and recreational value. By looking at the history of drug use in ancient Rome, we can gain an insight into drug use across the ages and an understanding of how we can use them responsibly today.

Health Challenges

With the rise in drug usage over the ages, it follows that health problems related to drug use should also increase. This is especially true in modern times, where drugs can be easily obtained and used with little regulation. Addiction is a major concern, and many drugs can cause serious health complications such as respiratory and heart issues.

In addition to physical health issues, mental health problems are also a major concern. Studies have shown that substance use can lead to depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. This means that those who use drugs should be aware of the potential risks and investigate the safety of drug use before taking part.

Although drugs can be beneficial if used responsibly, it is clear that there are many health risks associated with their use. It is important to understand these risks and to make sure that any use is done in moderation, with a full understanding of the potential health implications.

Laws and Regulations

As mentioned previously, drug use has been subject to both laws and regulations over the years. In modern times, this is still the case, with many countries having strict laws and regulations governing the use of certain drugs. These can range from restrictions on sale and distribution to outright bans.

Additionally, many countries have implemented harm-reduction strategies, such as needle exchange programs and supervised drug-consumption sites, in an attempt to reduce the harms associated with drug use. These measures are aimed at reducing the health implications of drug use, as well as increasing access to necessary medical treatment and support.

It is clear that laws and regulations have a major role in shaping drug use and its consequences. By understanding the laws and regulations in place and making sure to obey them, we can help to ensure that drug use is as safe and responsible as possible.


Drug use has been a part of life in many societies throughout history, including ancient Rome. By looking at the different drugs used, how they were sourced, and how they were utilised, it is clear that drugs had an important place in Roman society. Although drug use was associated with certain myths, rituals, and superstitions, it was largely seen as a vice, and users were looked down upon. Furthermore, legal restrictions, such as bans and limitations on use, were in place to limit the recreational use of drugs.

Drug use in modern times is widely different from ancient Rome and is subject to stricter laws and regulations. Addiction and health complications are also more widely understood, and many countries have implemented harm reduction strategies. In conclusion, drugs have been a major part of human history and society, and the use of drugs in ancient Rome is a testament to this.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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