Tobacco is psychoactive in its wild…

[Tobacco is psychoactive in the wild, Central/South American species (Nicotiana rustica). It was used by shamans. That isn’t quite the same tobacco smoked today, which is Nicotiana tabacum. That is thought to be a hybrid of several other species of Nicotiana.]

Nicotiana rustica is often used for entheogenic purposes by South American shamans. It contains up to nine times more nicotine than common species of Nicotiana such as Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco). Other reasons for its shamanic use are the comparatively high levels of beta-carbolines, including the harmala alkaloids harman and norharman. Most commonly, in South American ethnobotanical preparations, it is allowed to soak or be infused in water, and the water is then insufflated into the stomach in a preparation known as singado or singa; it is also smoked in cigars, used as an enema, made into a lickable product known as ambil, and made into a snuff with the bark of a species of Theobroma, creating nu-nu. In the southeast part of Turkey, people use this herb and ashes of some tree bodies to make a moist snuff called maraş otu. They use this by putting the mixture under their lips like Swedish snus or Afghan naswar. It is also a common admixture of Ayahuasca in some parts of the Amazon.”
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In the mid 16th century “cultivated” tobacco, Nicotiana tabacum, the tobacco we are familiar with, was imported and grown in Europe, largely as a medicinal, then progressively it became more popular for smoking.

It was already somewhat known in England when Sir Walter Raleigh helped develop a fashion for smoking among the higher classes. Raleigh was an acquaintance of both Christopher Marlowe, the playwright who wrote England’s Doctor Faustus, and John Dee, the mathematician and Hermetic philosopher known as “Elizabeth’s conjurer,” and possibly an inspiration for Marlowe’s Faustus.

Cultivated tobacco is of course, not psychoactive in palatable amounts. Its addictive qualities were recognised immediately – that’s why sailors were carrying it back from the Americas – they were already addicted. By 1610 Francis Bacon was complaining about how hard it was to quit:

“The use of tobacco has immensely increased in our time. It affects men with a kind of secret pleasure, so that persons once accustomed to it can scarce leave it off: It tends no doubt to relieve the body, and remove weariness; and its virtue is commonly thought to lie in this, that it opens the passages and draws off the humours. But it may be more properly referred to the condensation of the spirits; for it is a kind of henbane, and manifestly affects the head, as all opiates do.”
Francis Bacon, Historia vitae et mortis (1623). Pasted from <>

In the next few centuries tobacco’s harmful nature became obvious to physicians. Francis Bacon already has his suspicions:

“It hath been observed that the diet of women with child doth work much upon the infant; as, if the mother eat quinces much, and coriander seed, the nature of both which is to repress and stay vapours that ascend to the brain, it will make the child ingenious; and on the contrary side, if the mother eat much onions or beans, or such vaporous food; or drink wine, or strong drink immoderately; or fast much; or be given to much musing; all which send or draw vapours to the head; it endangereth the child to become lunatic or of imperfect memory: and I make the same judgment of tobacco often taken by the mother.” The Works of Francis Bacon: Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, and Lord High Chancellor of England, Volume 2. Pasted from <>

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