Drugs in Babylon and Assyria

Drug Histories
Drug Histories
Drugs in Babylon and Assyria
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In this episode we look at drugs in the Assyrian and Babylonian eras, roughly spanning 1,900 B.C. to 539 B.C.[1] Here are some excepts from the episode:

… As might be expected from a knowledge of history, what is known about drugs and medicines from this period is gleaned from clay tablets on which were written letters and information about various conditions and their treatments.

… “Our knowledge of the medicine of the Babylonians and Assyrians is derived almost exclusively from the great library of clay tablets gathered in his palace by King Ashurbanapal of Assyria, who ruled from 668 to 626 B.C., and which was discovered by Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1849 in the course of his excavations … in … Nineveh, which was the capital of the later Assyrian Empire.” “About 30,000 fragments of the clay tablets of the collection, which may well have numbered over 100,000 when complete, have found their way into the British Museum.” 

… Incantations were based on the belief that disease is due to demoniac possession or influence; a belief which, in Babylonia and Assyria, extended to all the mishaps and accidents of life. Some cures, therefore, involved driving the demon out of the body, either forcing or coaxing him out. Incantations as a means of bringing this about are therefore to be viewed as the antitoxins of primitive medicine, acting primarily on the demons, and merely as a resultant incident bringing about the cure of the patient. Babylonian-Assyrian medicine never cut loose from this close association with incantations. Combined with incantations, moreover, certain ceremonies were enacted, to symbolize the manner in which the relief of the patient from the grasp of the demons was to be expected. These rites lead to the actual introduction of medical remedies.

… Overall, it appears that over three hundred substances used as drugs are mentioned in the Babylonian and Assyrian texts. The largest share is taken by plants and shrubs, and among those that may with greater or less certainty be identified are mint, liquorice, rape or colewort, coriander, cummin, carraway, cassia, onions, leek, radish, mustard, lily, jasmine, nard, mushroom, colocynth, portulaca, anise, rocket, Star of Bethlehem (ornithogallum) and cyno- glosson; and a large variety of reeds and thorny plants.

Patrons can head over to our Patreon page for a full-text version of this podcast, complete with the reference sources used in its preparation. You can also subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify in order not to miss future episodes. The links are immediately under the audio player above.


[1] https://kids.britannica.com/kids/article/Babylonia-and-Assyria/352812

Drugs and Ancient China

Drug Histories
Drug Histories
Drugs and Ancient China
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It is said that until the time of the European renaissance (14th to 16th century AD), the medicine of Asia was the world’s most advanced. The main branches — Chinese, Indian (Ayurveda), Arabic (Unani) and Persian — gave rise to a large share of the medical learning that formed the foundation of modern European medicine. Chinese medical concepts had a profound influence on its near and far neighbours: Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia and Persia (thereby penetrating also into the Arab World). Reciprocal influences occurred also between China and India.[1]

China has therefore made significant contributions to the world growth of the medical sciences[2] in the fields of pharmacology, physiology (such as endocrinology), clinical medicine, public health, medical colleges (including medical education and examination systems), the registration of physicians, acupuncture, moxibustion, and many others.[3]

In this episode we get a quick overview of drugs in the context of Chinese society and culture. We start off with an overview of the significance of Chinese Medicine; then trace its development through history as outlined in various reference sources. We outline the role of drug therapy, obtained from different natural sources, in traditional Chinese medicine. We also look at some key resources and conclude with some recent examples of drug-related challenges within Chinese society.

Patron can head over to our Patreon page for a full-text, 4-page PDF version of this podcast, complete with the reference sources used in its preparation. You can also subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify in order not to miss future episodes. The links are immediately under the audio player above.


[1] https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/suppl/10.1142/3152/suppl_file/3152_chap01.pdf

[2] A Brief History of Chinese Medicine and Its Influence, 2nd Edition, https://doi.org/10.1142/3152 | April 1997, P Y Ho (The Needham Research Institute, UK) and F P Lisowski (University of Tasmania, Australia)

[3] https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/3152

Drugs and Magic

Drug Histories
Drug Histories
Drugs and Magic
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There is a well-known scene in the 1999 movie, “The Matrix,” in which the protagonist, Neo, is given a choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill holds the promise of a higher revelation, in which he begins to see things as they truly are; whereas the blue pill keeps him in a state of stupor in which he continues to believe “whatever he wants to believe.” Spoiler alert: He chooses the red pill.

In this episode, … we look at the question of mystery and magic in drug treatment.  

There are four important considerations that the scene depicted in the film, “The Matrix,” raises. They relate firstly, to the balance of power in drug therapy and the implications that follow from that. The second consideration is in relation to the amount and quality of information given to the “patient.” The third factor relates to the determination of dose. Finally, we consider the question of informed patient choice. 

You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts or Spotify in order not to miss future episodes. Patreons get a full script of the podcast as well as links to any external resources referenced in the podcast.

What is a Drug?

Drug Histories
Drug Histories
What is a Drug?
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In this episode we lay the foundation for subsequent podcasts by considering the question, “What is a Drug?”

We acknowledge the negative connotations associated with the word, discuss some official definitions and come up with a comprehensive, all-encompassing definition. We take note of sociocultural, medical, legal and political factors behind understanding issues around drug use and conclude with guidelines on how we will approach the term in future podcasts.