Bulletin on Narcotics

A Century of International Drug Control

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The present issue of the Bulletin on Narcotics contains a historical review of the international drug control system, one of the oldest consensus-based multilateral systems in existence. It is rooted in efforts made a century ago to address the largest substance abuse problem the world had ever faced: the Chinese opium epidemic. With this as a starting point, the article outlines the development of international mechanisms to tackle issues related to illicit drugs.

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The drug situation prior to the establishment of an international drug control system

Psychoactive substances have been used since ancient times, and their use has been well documented as a subject of social history. There are indications that cannabis was used as early as 4000 B.C. in Central Asia and north-western China, with written evidence going back to 2700 B.C. in the pharmacopeia of emperor Chen-Nong. It then gradually spread around the globe, to India (around 1500 B.C., also mentioned in the Altharva Veda, one of four holy books, around 1400 B.C. ([1], pp. 227-233)), the Near and Middle East (around 900 B.C.), Europe (around 800 B.C.), various parts of South-East Asia (second century A.D.), Africa (eleventh century A.D.) the Americas (nineteenth century) and the rest of the world ([2], pp. 9-16).

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