Ancient mummy hair suggests drug use

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Researchers have found evidence of psychoactive drug use in the hair of ancient mummies found in Chile's Azapa Valley. The scientists detected harmine, an ingredient used in the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, in hairs from an adult and baby who lived between 800 and 1200 years ago. From National Geographic:
"These individuals probably ingested harmine in therapeutic or medicinal practices, some maybe related to pregnancy and childbirth," said study co-author Juan Pablo Ogalde, a chemical archaeologist at the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile.

"However, it is possible also that consumption of harmine was involved in religious rituals, said Ogalde, whose research appeared online October 14 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

X-rays showed that the adult male–who was buried with items of social prestige such as panpipes, a four-pointed hat, and a snuffing tray–had damage near the nose, perhaps from sniffing.

As for the baby, Ogalde speculated that the mother had consumed the drug and passed it on to her offspring during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

"The fact this mind-altering substance was found even with a one-year-old shows how much a part of their life it was," said archaeologist Alexei Vranich of the University of California, Los Angeles, who did not participate in the study.
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