Humans have been addicted to tobacco for at least 12,000 years

human tobacco use

Archaeological finds indicate that humans smoked or chewed tobacco at least 12,300 years ago, or 9,000 before the time estimated so far. A different question thus arises: for what purposes?

Tobacco is certainly the most widely consumed psychotropic substance in the world. And undoubtedly, its impact on humanity is considerable: it is estimated that it is the cause of some 6 million deaths each year, while the diseases associated with it are multiple, including cancer.

Ornamental plant then medicine

Today, in the overwhelming majority of cases, it comes in the form of a manufactured product (cigarette, cigar, roll-your-own or chewing tobacco, etc.) made from the dried leaves of common tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum). 

Tobacco was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus, who discovered it in 1492 during his expedition to America. Used mainly as an ornamental plant, it was not until several decades later that the doctor of the royal court of Spain d using it as medicine. 

In 1560, the French ambassador to Portugal sent tobacco powder, with healing properties, to the French court. His name was Jean Nicot, and his name will inspire that of nicotine. The rest is a rapid expansion across Europe.

Charred seeds of coyote tobacco

But humans used tobacco long before that. So far, the earliest evidence of its use dates back 3,300 years, based on nicotine residue found in a pipe in Alabama. But in a recent study, American archaeologists and anthropologists (Far Western Anthropological Research Group) discovered charred seeds of coyote tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata), a species of wild tobacco that grows in many habitats in the western United States.

These residues were identified in an outbreak (fire) located in the arid Wishbone region, near Salt Lake City (Utah). Analyzes have determined that this settlement site dates back almost 12,300 years when the climate was much colder and the area was covered with marshes. According to specialists, there is no doubt that coyote tobacco was used at that time for its psychotropic effects, smoked or chewed.

For what purposes? This remains to be determined: festive, therapeutic, ceremonial, sacred use…? Or a bit of everything? In conclusion, even if we do not yet know when tobacco began to be cultivated, we understand that humans became addicted a long time ago.

Read more: Why smoking during pregnancy is so bad for the baby

Shakes Gilles

Shakes covers stories ranging from science to health, to technology, to astronomy, etc... On a typical weekend, you'll find him enjoying a picnic at a local park or playing soccer with friends.