This is the story about weed.
We dig deep into the history of cannabis citing only peer-reviewed articles to give people a place of reference they can trust.
World History of Marijuana Use
Throughout the article burial sites are explored, religious cultures investigated, and even a turning over of the underbelly that is the corrupt prohibition of cannabis in the modern day.
All of this comes together to formulate a comprehensive exposé on humanity’s history with the cannabis plant written by a true user and lover of the plant.
Origins of Marijuana: The Ancient World
The Birthplaces of Cannabis: Japan, China, and Taiwan
Though it is supposed that people were farming hemp as far back as 10,000 BCE, the oldest known hard evidence of humans using cannabis is 8000 BCE (Pisanti, 2019). Tiny fossils of both the fruits and seeds impressed upon broken pieces of pottery were found in central Japan when the culture of the Jomon was most prevalent (Okazaki et al., 2011).
However, it must be noted that though this is the oldest hard evidence we have, it is likely that the use of weed can be traced back to central Asia before it was brought to Japan.
In the Yangshao culture, at the Chinese village of Pan-p'o around 4,000 BCE, hemp was likely used for its fibers to create rope and possibly even paper. Andersson (1922) gathered that the many cloth impressions found on the ancient clay pots at this site were from hemp cloth; bone needles found on the site show us that sewing likely existed at the time (Li, 1973). Cannabis was finally confirmed as the plant used for making cloth when pollen deposits in the area composed of marijuana were carbon-dated to this time period (Chou, 1963).
In modern-day Taiwan, at a site called Yuan-Shan, verified hemp cord, dated back to roughly the same period of 4,000 BCE, was discovered pressed into some pottery during the drying stage. It is supposed that this hemp rope was used either for simple decoration, or for labeling the vessel as a container of cannabis oil, cannabis seeds, or something of the like (Chang, 1968).
These are the oldest findings archaeologists have of humans actually using cannabis plant products. Little pots and fabrics like this give us some insight, but not nearly as much insight as the written records that started to pop up in the third millennia BCE.
Cannabis In Ancient China
References to cannabis are found throughout classical Chinese literature featured in works of poetry, medicine, philosophy, and agriculture. Famous characters throughout China’s rich history have made mention of weed in their writings including Shen Nung, Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, and Mozi (Brand, 2017).
Emperor Shen Nung (2700 BCE), deified by Chinese religion, is credited as having brought agriculture to Chinese civilization. It is recorded in an ancient document called the Xia Xiao Zheng that Shen Nung encouraged the cultivation of cereals, but also the cultivation of hemp as a principal crop (Yu, 1987). Those aforementioned discoveries made in Pan-p’o indicate that enough cannabis was being cultivated to impact the local pollen patterns at the time, further bolstering the fact that weed was a principal crop (Chou, 1963). It is surmised that mostly fiber-rich weed, rather than THC-rich stuff, was cultivated for the purpose of creating textiles like rope, paper, and fishing nets during this time (Dai, 1989).
Shen Nung is also known as the father of Chinese medicine. The first written historical evidence of people using cannabis in traditional medicine is printed in Shen Nung Pen Ts’ao Ching which reports all of the traditional remedies that had been handed down orally through the generations since the time of Shen Nung, to about 100 BCE (Jiang et al., 2006). According to the Pen Ts’ao Ching cannabis flowers, or Mafen, can cause yin, or loss, corresponding to the ridding of things like rheumatic pain, and malaria (Li, 1975). Shen Nung may have been a mythological character, but the contributions in the book named after him provided Chinese culture with indispensable information on medicine and culture.
Confucius is a more well-known character who founded the philosophy of Confucianism which emphasizes man as the superior being who can understand things like righteousness, property, and faithfulness (Li, 1974). The philosophy also emphasizes shame which is partly why hemp was mostly used for practical things like making clothes, rather than getting stoned and doing erratic things that may ‘shame the family’ (Eberhand, 1967). Confucianism’s Book of Songs (1000 BCE), one of the five classics of the Confucian canon, mentions a great deal about cannabis. The book includes one poem that compares the marriage custom of a nuptial agreement to the act of planting hemp (Waley, 1996).
Hemp was used so ubiquitously that even the foundation of the Chinese language itself was permanently marked by the presence of pot. Multiple characters in the Chinese alphabet illustrate common knowledge of cannabis, and even go so far as distinguishing the gender of the plant for various practical purposes (Liu, 1999)(Shi Jing; Sun, 2016). In fact, the Chinese were the first people in the world to use paper, rather than rock walls or clay, for recording language, and Li suggests that those very first sheets were made of hemp demonstrating how fundamental cannabis was to the Chinese language and culture (Li, 1973).
Moreover, further into the future of China, we find that the 2nd century CE surgeon Hua Tuo (110-207 CE), sedated his patients for what would have been painful operations using a mixture of cannabis, datura, and wine. This is known to be one of the first recorded uses of anesthetics in human history (Julien, 1894). Vajrayana medicine (300 CE), which is likely informed by Hua Tuo’s work, includes a cannabis-based treatment for the paralysis of the tongue, convulsions, breaking up phlegm, and termination of delirium during fever (Touw, 1981, p. 31-32)
Though there is much evidence that pot was used for textiles and medicine, there is not too much in the ancient Chinese texts referring to the psychoactive effects of weed. One of the few references to psychedelic associations with weed is in the Pen Ts’ao Ching which mentions that the ingestion of cannabis can provoke “visions of demons.” However, this sort of use was likely exclusive to shamans who were eventually forced to migrate to southern Asia because of political persecution (Pisanti, 2019).
Despite the lack of written history on the subject of cannabis as an inebriate in ancient China, archaeologists recently discovered a burial mound that was erected around 500 BC in the Pamir Mountains (western China) including artifacts indicating the burning of cannabis for inhalation. Specifically, there was a small wooden brazier in the tomb that had clearly been used as a sort of censer for inhalation. (see fig.3)
This discovery is groundbreaking because the excavators discovered through phytochemical analysis that the substance being burned on the braziers was extremely high in THC. This provides evidence that people were cultivating and actively selecting cannabis plants with more THC-rich genes (Meng, 2019).
These findings of THC in the Pamir mountains indicate that the vast knowledge and rich culture surrounding cannabis as a psychoactive substance was passed through the channel of the Silk Road (100 BC to 1200 AD) because the region near the Pamirs is recorded as having been a major trading hub into the west (Team, Xingjiang Archaeological, 2015).
China, Japan, and Taiwan are presumed by many to be the birthplaces of human interaction with cannabis. It is the area we can thank for having cultivated the plant enough to become widespread throughout the world’s cultures, and for that, we spark our next joint in honor of their contributions.
Cannabis in India
Much earlier than when the Silk Road connected China with the world, cannabis spread itself more locally. In the south of Asia, weed was rapidly sewn into Indian culture once it got there. Since at least the second millennium BC, Cannabis Indica has been growing in the Himalayan foothills and providing deep-seated significance to the religion of Hinduism based in Nepal and India (Karki, 2022).
Around 1200 BCE, our first piece of historical evidence revealing the use of pot in India came in the Atharva Veda. This holy scripture was written as the final of four books that comprise the Vedas which serve as the primary scriptures that make up the Hindu religion (Madhavi, 2019). The Atharva Veda provides mostly magical invocations and charms but also possesses a great deal of information on medicine, mentioning cannabis on multiple occasions as a sacred and medicinal plant. The hymns in the Atharva Veda contain some of the oldest references to the ritualistic use of cannabis and mention weed as one of the sacred five plants possessing a guardian angel residing over its leaves (Frawley, 2001)(Touw, 1981, p. 25).
Verse 15 from the Atharva Veda is quoted as follows:
“To the five kingdoms of the plants which Soma rules as Lord we speak. Darbha, hemp, barley, mighty power: may these deliver us from woe,” comes from book 11, Hymn 6. Soma is known to be the god of the tonic of eternal life pressed from a psychedelic plant (Robinson, 2014). The ingestion of Soma in Hindu culture during that period was used to connect with the gods and use their powers in order to cure diseases, defeat enemies, and bring prosperity (Frawley, 2001). Though pot was not the only known and utilized psychedelic plant in ancient India, it certainly was well known for its inebriating attributes.
In terms of cannabis as a medicine, book 2 of the Atharva Veda lauds pot as a remedy for rheumatism showing an early tie to humanity’s knowledge of weed’s healing properties (Griffith & Abhimanvu, 1962, p. 46). In later Hindu scriptures called the Sushruta Samhita (600 AD), cannabis derivatives were advocated for as a valuable medicine for phlegmatic issues (Bewley-Taylor, 2005).
The earlier Rig Veda (1500 BCE) mentions bhaang or bhanga, a certain cannabis preparation involving grinding weed leaves into a paste for eating. It is described as a sacred food known to be Indracaya or food of the gods (Chopra, 1957). Mind, it is prepared in a way that activates the THC, so be mindful of how much you drink! As Hindu culture progressed, Shiva was named Lord of Bhaang and gained a more prominent role in Hinduism as part of the new trinity (trimurti) which still serves as a focal point in Hindu philosophy. Because of that, Sadhus, or the followers specifically devoted to Lord Shiva, consume vast amounts of cannabis flower and hash through clay pipes during times of worship, meditation, and yoga (Godlaski, 2012, p. 1068).
Ingesting bhaang is still one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis in Indian culture. Even Hindus who usually look down on inebriating substances like alcohol and opium, consume Bhaang on the Night of Shiva or Shivaratri (Warf, 2014, p.421). During tantric sex acts consecrated to Kali, uttering an incantation over a bowl of bhaang can grant occult power (Abel, 1980). And for people who like to mix tobacco in with their weed, you’re further validated by the Indian Yogis who have long smoked this concoction to enhance meditation, particularly during The Festival of Lights or Diwali which is still majorly celebrated across the world (Warf, 2014, p.421).
Ancient India was deeply influenced by the cannabis plant and still is to this day. Hinduism is proof that cannabis is so essential to the formulation of human culture, that even the most stubborn scientific rationalist might ponder our ancestor’s discovery of cannabis as fated.
The teachings within The Vedas provide us proof that cannabis, and the highs it evokes, has been seen as sacred to many of the learned people throughout our history. It is high time we reasses our perspective on the drug and open our minds to cannabis inebriation as a potentially positive and constructive aspect of human action.
Cannabis in the Middle East
Cannabis’ prehistory is well-marked in Asia by multiple sources. However, there are definite signs that far before the Silk Road, some regions outside of Asia were exposed to pot.
Based on 12,000-year-old hemp pollen found in the Black Sea, it is safe to assume that cannabis has been growing in the northern Iranian mountains since ancient times (Long, 2017). It is supposed that knowledge of its psychedelic effects came to Israel during the 2nd millennium through Zoroastrianism whose scriptures like the Avestan Yasna, which mention cannabis use, closely resemble Hinduism’s Atharva Veda (Bennett, 2020). However, there isn’t much evidence of human use of cannabis in the Middle East after the aforesaid date up until its mention in the writings of the Book of Exodus (600 BCE).
The date of the actual exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt is approximately 1400 BCE. Until recently, it has been pushed that there was no mention of cannabis in those times, nor anywhere else in the Bible. However, In the middle of the 20th century, it was discovered that kaneh (cane) is linked with busma (aromatic) and that kaneh bosm was mistranslated to mean calamus; a mistake made in the Greek translation of the bible written in the 3rd century BCE. Benet (1975) argued that the correct identity of the plant referred to as kaneh bosm is cannabis which is bolstered by her extensive research into the etymology of the word cannabis. In 1980 this was confirmed by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Nemu, 2019).
The Holy Anointing Ointment provided in Exodus 30:23-4 consists of “myrrh, cinnamon, olive oil, and kaneh bosm.” Note that cinnamon and myrrh slow down the metabolization of THC demonstrating ancient knowledge about the synergy between substances, further emphasizing their intention of accentuating the psychospiritual effects of cannabis (Nemu, 2019).
Let that piece of information be a major blow to the church’s denunciation of pot. This truth gives us insight as to how important it is to remain skeptical about what modern religion teaches regarding texts written thousands of years ago and mistranslated through such a plethora of different cultural biases throughout the millenia.
600 years after the writing of the Book of Exodus, Jesus of Nazareth was provided the title of Christ, meaning anointed one, once he was found to have achieved a certain level of holiness. If the people who performed this ceremony of holy anointing on Jesus were following the Old Testament’s instructions for preparing the oil, it could mean that the resurrected one himself may have been in contact with weed.
The story of Israel and cannabis continues on in the 8th century CE when a Judahite shrine at Tel Arad was discovered to have resins definitely consisting of cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBN. These resins having been mixed with animal fats indicates that these concoctions were designed to be vaporized and therefore inhaled (Arie, 2020). This asserts itself as the first piece of hard evidence that Israelites utilized cannabis smoke for its narcotic and psychoactive effects.
There is no doubt that the ancient Israelites interacted with cannabis and most of the evidence points to it as being used during ritual for its psycho-spiritual effects. But still, the most intriguing question remains: Did Jesus of Nazareth get so baked that he was able to definitively accept that he was the son of God?!
Cannabis in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt has always been an intriguing place for seekers of truth. We have all heard through many grapevines that great wise men were gathered within ancient Egypt who had revolutionary knowledge of medicine, psychology, and entheogens.
So, did Pharaohs use cannabis?
Archaeobotanical evidence proves that cannabis was definitely present in ancient Egypt during the time of the pharaohs. Cannabis pollen was found in the tomb of Ramses II dated back to 1300 BCE (Balabanova, 1992). After much debate over the meaning of certain hieroglyphics, scientists can finally rest easy after this discovery and accept that the ancient papyruses do indicate the use of the cannabis plant by this veiled culture.
The oldest texts we have linking Egypt to cannabis are medical references:
- In The Ramesseum III Papyrus (1700 BC), a prescription instructs the mixing of ground cannabis and celery soaked with overnight dew. Then, this mixture is to be applied to the face morning and night to treat glaucoma.
- In Eber’s Papyrus (1600 BC), it is dictated that to help with childbirth, cannabis was mixed with honey and applied to the vagina inducing contractions and decreasing inflammation in the area (Merlin, 2013). Eber’s Papyrus also mentions a mixture including cannabis that will cure infected nails (Attia, 2017).
Regarding religious culture and cannabis in ancient Egypt, the Berlin Papyrus (1300 BCE) dictates a mixture of ingredients including cannabis, as well as things like ‘seed of a dead man,’ which is used for driving away spirits of the dead. While this description is extremely cryptic, it is pointed out as fumigatory meaning that the mixture was meant to be burnt. It is possible that this reference is indicative of cannabis use for its psychedelic effects in ancient Egypt (Russo, 2007). Furthermore, there is a wide belief that one of the Egyptian goddesses, Sefkhet, meaning “female scribe,” is a saint of cannabis. She is often depicted with a leopard’s skin over her robe, and what is believed to be a cannabis leaf on her forehead (Russo, 2007).
After the times of pharaohs, cannabis experienced a lull in the culture of Egypt. However, it was likely reintroduced majorly around 100 CE by several trade lines including one that went through the Israelite territory (Bennett, 2010). In 1250 CE, the famous Garden of Cafour, legendary around the world as a pleasure garden, served as a hashish haven on the outskirts of Cairo to many travelers, scholars, and poets (Abel 1980). Unfortunately, it was burned down by religious zealots and so came a time soon after when the Sultan punished anyone found eating hashish by pulling out their teeth (Khalifa 1975). Of course, this prohibition was ineffective as farmers further away from the city continued to grow and sell cannabis on the black market. A familiar story…
During the mystical and intriguing time of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt, cannabis was surely used. We know some about its medicinal applications, but there is still much to understand about how it was used in rituals and common culture.
Ancient Mediterranean Weed
During the classical period of the ancient Greeks and Romans, there were three prominent men who made multiple references to the cannabis plant and its effects throughout their written works. These three men were Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, and Galen.
Herodotus (450 BCE)
Herodotus records our first piece of evidence that cannabis was known in ancient Greece. In his journals, he tells of the Scythians, a race of people who had mixed in with Greek society on account of trade and labor. In one instance, Herodotus explains that after a king’s burial, the Scythians erected small tents that they covered with woolen blankets to create a seal. People crawled into the structure and threw hemp seeds onto hot red rocks filling the space with thick smoke that “delighted” the participants (Crocq, 2020). The first recorded hot box!
Pliny the Elder (25 CE)
Pliny the Elder, a Roman nobleman, is famous for having written the oldest encyclopedia from the Graeco-Roman world. His Naturalis Historia is an immense compilation of wisdom that was absolutely groundbreaking for the time. In book 19 of the Naturalis Historia, Pliny discusses the cultivation of hemp for making nets and ropes. In book 20, he goes on to describe medicinal uses of cannabis including one specific decoction of the roots in water in order to relieve things like arthritis and gout demonstrating Pliny’s knowledge of cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties (Dunn, 2019). Naturalis Historia goes on to mention other applications of cannabis as a medicine such as:
- Extraction of parasites from the ears
- Relaxing contractions of the joints
- Alleviating headaches
Despite his clearly adept knowledge of cannabis, Pliny the Elder never mentioned the plant’s psychoactive effects in his writings.
Galen (129-199 CE)
Claudius Galen was a respected member of the Roman Empire who wrote about the psychedelic effects of cannabis. In his De Facultatibus Alimentorum, Galen observes that in Italy, small cakes containing pot were often served for dessert. He reports that the seeds create a feeling of warmth, and, if enough is taken, cannabis can affect the head with a warm and toxic vapor, produce sluggishness, and create thirst (Arata, 2004)(Brunner, 1973). If you’ve ever smoked pot, you’ll know that he was talking about ‘cotton mouth.’
The Ancient Greeks did not relay too much information on the subject of the cannabis plant. However, it must be noted that they did in fact indulge in drug use in the Eleusinian mystery schools. Unfortunately, most of the scientific literature indicates that the details of what happened there were shrouded in mystery because participating members were reportedly all sworn to secrecy (Arata, 2004). If records still exist, it’s not unlikely that they are still secret.
The Silk Road and Cannabis
The Silk Road (100 BCE - 1500 CE) was a trade route that united the West with the East in ancient times. People traded silks from China, glass bottles from Egypt, and even religions like Buddhism and Islam. But of course, one of the primary exports from the East was hemp.
Along this trade route, exists many graves and deserted habitations riddled with the history of hemp. In one grave discovered in the Kansu Province, dated around the 1st century BCE, held a group of corpses wrapped in silk and bound by hemp rope showing a literal intertwining of the Silk Road and hemp (Kansu Museum, 1972)(Li, 1974).
As the Silk Road became more well-known and well-traveled, tons of hemp products were shipped out of China into the West. Several findings indicate this definitely happened during the 7th century CE when several graves along the Silk Road were discovered with hemp inside. In one instance, the Analects of Confucius were discovered to have been printed entirely on hemp paper. In the same grave, there were hemp shoes, and a complete cloth sheet of hemp fabric (Li, 1974).
Moving farther forward, we find Middle Eastern cultures along the Silk Road were learning much about cannabis. The Arab world during medieval times was far more advanced in the field of cannabis and its pharmaceutical use than in Europe. Avicenna (980-1037 CE), a Persian polymath and physician thriving during the Islamic Golden Age in Iran, suggests cannabis for headaches, degenerative bone disease, gout, and uterine pain (Mahdizadeh, 2015). Hemp seed oil in particular was used to cure a variety of ailments such as ear infections, worms, fever, and vomiting (Lozano, 2006).
Pertaining to the religious and cultural use of the inebriating effects of cannabis, there were several cultures along the Silk Road that utilized the plant. Between the 4th and 6th centuries, The Zoroastrian priests were known to cultivate pot and use it in rituals. The Sufis, located in Eastern Iran during the 2nd half of the first millennia, consumed hashish casually as a commonly accepted public behavior (Matthee, 2005). Even today Sufis still smoke pot in public and the hash pipes they use are known as the ‘Trumpet of Unity’ (Neligan, 1929).
However, there was a serious diffusion of cannabis coming to the West by way of the Silk Road in large part because of Marco Polo. Marco Polo (1250 CE) wrote about a story he heard during his travels called the “Old Man of the Mountains.” This “Old Man” supposedly recruited men into his armies by promising them everlasting prosperity in the afterlife. He gave these recruits a taste of his promise by dosing them with what Marco Polo thought to be cannabis and bringing them into a pleasure garden where enslaved women and infinite pleasure could be accessed for the day. This story was a major turning point in the culture of cannabis in the West and was later responsible for much Western public opposition to the drug.
The ancient world is deeply intertwined with the cannabis plant. Pot has influenced language, culture, religion, and medicine throughout our history up to this date. Pliny the Elder, the Egyptian Pharaohs, and ancient shamans in the mountains of Asia; all of them are connected through pot. And in the same way, modern stoners are connected to them.
Cannabis in the West: Setting the Stage for Modern Culture
Stoners in Europe
Up until the 1800s, Hemp production was commonplace in Europe for industrial purposes (Schroeder, 2019). In fact, in 1533, it was required by King Henry VIII for every farmer to cultivate hemp as it was needed for rope, canvas, and sails (Coxil, 2023). Cannabis in Europe has surely been used for industry and medicine for centuries, but what makes it so infamous and noteworthy is its recreational use by artists.
We cannot touch on the history of recreational weed in the West without first addressing Shakespeare (1564-1616). In a study conducted in 2015, it was confirmed that at least 8 of Shakespeare’s pipes recovered from his premises had cannabis resin in the bowl (Thackeray, 2015). This means that some of the most impactful plays on Western culture were influenced by the highs of the cannabis plant. How any English teacher can condemn weed when the plays they regard as a foundation for the English language were written by a stoner, is a complex issue beyond the scope of this lesson.
Hashish Eaters in Paris
Later on, it is revealed that many more of the great artists who’ve paved the waves of culture did in fact use pot. In France, a famous psychiatrist named Jacques Moreau developed a great deal on the understanding of psychopharmacology. Moreau’s work with cannabis in 1840 showed him that the plant was useful for increasing appetite and inducing calm in his patients (Moreau, 1973). Soon he moved past therapeutic use and began administering the drug to famous artists in the “Hashish Eaters Club,” located in Paris. Members who signed up for Moreau’s administration of the drug included Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire, and other illustrious artists (Booth, 2005). It seems cannabis is to thank for some of the greatest works of literature in history.
Medical Cannabis in Modern Europe
The modern history of Medical Cannabis in Europe begins in the 19th century with Irish Physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. He reports details of cannabis use by Sanskrit, Persian, and Arab authors and coins the varieties of weed coming from India, Cannabis indica, as opposed to Cannabis sativa which is what was used for fiber in Europe. O’Shaugnessy brought back alcoholic tinctures and performed clinical trials on both humans and animals. He found that the extract was effective for curing rheumatism, seizures, and cholera bringing in the first serious wave of knowledge about cannabis’ medicinal use in Europe. Medieval medical marijuana use became so widely accepted, that Queen Victoria of England in 1890 CE, used Cannabis indica tincture for her menstrual pains as prescribed by her physician (Pisanti, 2019).
The latter half of the 19th century is considered by some to be the ‘golden age of cannabis’ as it was being studied widely by legitimate scientists throughout Europe. The number of publications on the subject were rapidly increasing and different commercial formulations of Cannabis, like tinctures and pills, were released for the compound’s analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antispastic properties. In 1915 CE, English physician Sir William Osier defined cannabis as the best drug for severe headaches inspiring numerous doctors to prescribe it for migraines (Frankhauser, 2002)
For a long time, the West has profited from the introduction of pot into its cultural landscape. Artists, doctors, and kings have utilized weed for inspiration, medicine, and building naval ships. All of these contributions bring rise to a worthy question: Why did weed become illegal?
Weed and Prohibition: The Tumultuous Settling of Pot In Modern Culture
From the early 17th century, hemp was cultivated throughout the American colonies. Famously, it was grown at the Jamestown Colony, as well as on George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s estates (Johnson, 2019). However, rumors about Jefferson smoking pot on his back porch have been deemed by authoritative sources as false. Regardless, hemp was an integral part of America’s founding stages up until more recently.
At the beginning of the 20th century, we started to see a decline in the use of cannabis. This was partly because:
- More people began to use it, so doctors began to understand that the proper amount to be administered varied greatly depending on the patient.
- Easier drugs to work with which didn’t have psychoactive effects, like aspirin, hit the market.
- False word began to spread about the possibility of a cannabis extract being lethal if not properly prepared. (Pisanti, 2019)
These three factors, among other things, began to taint the reputation of pot. So, in 1925 when the International Opium Convention in Geneva, which included the US, Germany, UK, France, Italy, China, Russia, and many other countries, decided to regulate the commerce of opium and cocaine, cannabis was lumped in; let it be noted that we can thank the US, China, and Egypt for pushing to specifically prohibit Cannabis (Pisanti, 2019).
In the US, the industry of cannabis, including the growing of hemp for textiles, suffered greatly during the 20th Century. William Randolph Hearst, a journalism magnate, and Andrew Mellon, an investor in the Dupont Corporation, are likely at the core of not only the legal prohibition of pot in the US, but also the cultural defamation the cannabis plant experienced. Hearst controlled a journalism empire of unprecedented size that dominated the media in the early 1900s and produced an anti-cannabis campaign based on racism, sensationalism, and the social control of racial minorities (Solomon, 2020).
A couple of the headlines demonstrating these traits are as follows:
- 1913, The Salt Lake Tribune posted Evil Mexican Plants that Drive You Insane, proceeding to provide anecdotes about people who became murderers after smoking cannabis.
- 1928, A Hearst Paper reports, “Marijuana was known in India as the ‘murder drug,’ and it was commonplace for a smoker to “catch up a knife and run through the streets, hacking and killing everyone.”
The FBI’s Shameful Part in Prohibiting Pot
In 1930, Henry Anslinger became the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He got the job through his wife’s uncle, the Secretary of Treasury, Andrew Mellon. Anslinger was not ashamed of his prejudice. He once said,
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others,” (Smith, 2018). It’s horrifying to quote such evil words, but the truth is worth knowing.
Anslinger also influenced the change away from the term “cannabis,” and over to “marijuana” to further seed anti-Mexican ideas (Miller, 2017). The abundantly racist and bigoted Anslinger, using his power as head of the FBI, then introduced the Marihuana Tax Act which imposed egregious taxes on all cannabis commerce including within the pharmaceutical space which put an abrupt halt on all the progressing studies on cannabis despite protests from the American Medical Association (Musto, 1972). In 1941, cannabis was officially removed from the US Pharmacopeia.
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Later, reefer met Nixon and things got even worse. When the Marijuana Tax Act was held to be unconstitutional in 1969, Nixon formed a commission to establish the dangers of cannabis. This commission did in fact find that cannabis was not dangerous, but Nixon refused to hear it. The Nixon tapes (Lopez, 2016) later revealed that the underlying goal was to hit African Americans and the Antiwar movement. Erlichman, a senior advisor to Nixon, is quoted saying,
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leader, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” (Lopez, 2016).
These examples provide overwhelming evidence of the corrupt motives behind the prohibition of Cannabis. The downright abhorrent and shameful way that the US has participated in the oppression of people by means of the denunciation of pot must be acknowledged and accepted. Furthermore, The New Jim Crow points out that, more than anyone, black men experienced the worst of these anti-cannabis campaigns by experiencing massive arrests (Alexander, 2010). It is widely agreed that Nixon’s War on Drugs, held up by the following administrations, was extremely costly to the American people and was based on a conscious avoidance of evidence-based research that cannabis was not dangerous (Coyne, 2019).
We are still attempting to recover from these horrid campaigns. For example, federally funded universities are scared to conduct studies on pot solely because they fear losing funding. People like Attorney General Jeff Sessions remarking that “good people don’t smoke pot” keeps the public from having a true and rational discussion that helps young people understand the whole truth.
Weed Legalized: Finally
After so much tumult and suffering, marijuana was finally made legal in the state of California in 1996 when it passed its Medical Marijuana Laws (Procon, 2023). Many states followed suit for legalization of both recreational and medical use purposes ushering in the new era of legal pot in the US. To date, 33 states have laws that permit the use of medical and/or recreational cannabis and 23 states allow people to actually grow their own (Yu, 2020). Though Europe has been a bit less unified on the subject, it seems that there is a global feeling of acceptance surrounding pot use.
Now that multiple major countries have legalized the cultivation of hemp, including China, the world market of industrial hemp is estimated to be 4.13 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow 16% in between 2022 and 2030 (Grand View, 2022).
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Nearly every Eurasian culture throughout the history of humanity was exposed to cannabis. Its myriad effects have affected human culture greatly, but its ability to alter our consciousness is arguably the most important. Cannabis was certainly used by many religious figures and has given ground for humanity’s communion with the spiritual world influencing many major religious scriptures throughout time which still remain some of the most read and coveted texts in the world to this day.
We’ve been given something whether it be from the earth’s intuition, ours, or something higher in the sky. For some reason, this naturally occurring plant triggers chemical releases in our brain that make us feel high. Cannabis is a special gift we must learn to accept as something humans will always incorporate into our cultures. Despite wars and violence, or millennia of passing time, we find weed has stayed with us and grown along the way. I believe if we can not only legalize cannabis but put our efforts into making the best of its use, it has a chance at enhancing our species and bringing us forward into a sunnier, gigglier light.
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