From opium in Stone Age caves to crack on our own streets, intoxicants have always played a deeply significant role in society. In this entertaining and provocative look at the uses and abuses of mind-altering drugs through history, Richard Rudgley shows how our attitudes toward these substances have been shaped by cultural values, and how our own use of intoxicants like alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco is an integral part of the age-old worldwide quest for altered states. Essential Substances is a magical tour of the fantastic and often bizarre world of intoxicants peopled by tribesmen and mystics, statesmen and writers, housewives and yuppies. From the traditional mind-altering substances - like magic mushrooms in Siberia, tobacco and peyote in the Americas, qat in Africa, and betel in Southeast Asia - to the psychoactive plants of medieval witchcraft, hallucinogens like LSD and marijuana, and stimulants like coffee, tea, and cocoa, Rudgley cogently shows how the significance of these substances extends beyond simple pleasure to the economic, political, and sexual life of the community. In the process, he challenges our assumptions that deem certain intoxicants socially and legally acceptable, while others remain taboo. Essential Substances is a timely, much-needed reconsideration of the roles intoxicants play in our lives and society. With the "war on drugs" now widely seen to be a failure, this insightful, cross-cultural look at the word of intoxicants will provide a new basis for creative thinking on a perennial problem.