How Human's Have Lived with Cannabis Throughout History

In 1930, the United States of America began its valiant crusade against the violent, paranoia and psychosis inducing devil substance, cannabis. This change occurred after the alcohol prohibition was lifted and Henry Anslinger found himself in charge of a large and powerful government department (Department of Prohibition) with nothing much to do.

Until this point in time, Anslinger stated that cannabis was not an issue. It isn't a danger, he explained, and "there is no more absurd fallacy" than the thought that it could prompt aggression. However, with the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Anslinger at its helm, a new narrative arose. A narrative interlaced with deep seated racism, powerful industrial complexes and a few old men excited to make a pretty penny.

Henry Anslinger

This article isn't going to focus on our most recent history with cannabis. The last 80 or so years of cannabis prohibition have been regressive to say the least, and the war on drugs resulted in us entering what may be dubbed as the 'cannabis dark ages'.

So instead, we're going to focus on the rich, colourful and fascinating history of our predecessors relationship cannabis and hemp.

Cut to 8,000+ BCE: Hemp cord and pottery found at a 10,000 year old village site in what is now know as modern day Taiwan. This discovery indicates that the cultivation of hemp was one of human-kind's first foray into large scale agriculture. As explained by historian Richard Hamilton, "Modern humans emerged some 250,000 years ago, yet agriculture is a fairly recent invention, only about 10,000 years old ... Agriculture is not natural; it is a human invention. It is also the basis of modern civilisation."

6,000 BCE: Cannabis seeds and oil used as food in China.

4,000 BCE: Textiles made of hemp are used widely in China and Turkestan.

2,737 BCE: First documented use of cannabis as medicine by Emperor Shen Neng of China.

2,000 - 800 BCE: Hinduism's sacred text Atharvaveda refers to Bhang (dried cannabis leaves, seeds and stems) as "Sacred Grass", one of five sacred plants of India. It was used medicinally, as food, and as a ritualistic offering to Shiva.

1,500 BCE: Cannabis cultivation increases in China for food and textile purposes. Scythians harvest it and use it to weave fine hemp cloth.

700 - 600 BCE: The ancient Persian religious text Zendavesta, comprised of several hundred volumes, refers to bhang as the "good narcotic".

600 BCE: Hemp rope appears in southern Russia.

200 BCE: Hemp rope appears in Greece.

100 BCE: First known evidence of hemp paper documented in China.

100 - 0 BCE: Psychotropic and medicinal properties mentioned in the newly compiled Pen Ts'ao Ching.

0 - 100 CE: Siberian tomb containing gold and glass stash boxes storing hashish, coriander and salt.

70: A physician in Nero's army, Dioscorides, lists medical cannabis in his Pharmacopoeia.

100: Hemp rope is imported to what is now England.

130-200: Greek physicians begin prescribing medical cannabis.

200: Medical cannabis listed in the first pharmacopoeia of the East. Chinese surgeon Hua T'o prescribes cannabis as an anaesthetic.

300: Medical cannabis used to manage pain for women undergoing childbirth.

570: The French Queen Arnegunde is buried with hemp cloth.

500-600: Talmud, a sacred Jewish text, mentions euphoriant properties of cannabis.

850: Vikings take hemp rope and seeds to Iceland.

900: Arabs begin sharing widely sharing techniques for making hemp paper.

1000: Italian ships regularly outfitted with hemp ropes.

1090 - 1124: In Persia, Hasan Ibn Al-Sabbah recruits followers to commit assassinations. Legends develop around their apparent use of hashish, with tales written of the discovery of sense-elevating powers of cannabis. Early 12th Century hashish smoking becomes popular throughout the Middle East.

1171 - 1341: Mystic devotees from Syria introduce cannabis to the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt.

1200: An Arabian collection of tales, 1,001 Nights, describes hashish's intoxicating and aphrodisiac properties.

1271 - 1295: Marco Polo describes stories of Hasan Ibn Al-Sabbah and his "assassins" using hashish.

1300's: Ibn Al-Baytar of Spain describes the psychoactive nature of cannabis. Arab traders bring cannabis to the Mozambique coasts of Africa. Ethiopian pipes containing cannabis suggests that use of the herb has spread out of Egypt to the rest of Africa.

1378: Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni issues warning of powerful effects of eating hashish.

1533: King Henry VIII fines farmer if they do not cultivate hemp for industrial use.

1549: Angolan slaves bring with them cannabis to sugar plantations of northeastern Brazil. They were allowed to plant cannabis in between rows of sugar cane, and to smoke it while not harvesting.

1563: Garcia Da Orta, a Portuguese physician, dictates medicinal uses for cannabis.

1578: Li Shih-Chen, a Chinese physician, writes of the antiemetic and antibiotic effects of cannabis.

1600: England begins mass importation of hemp from Russia.

1616: Jamestown settlers cultivate hemp due to its uniquely strong fibre, and incorporate it into rope, sails and clothing.

1621: Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton, indicates cannabis may treat depression.

1600-1700: Hashish grows into a major trade between Central and South Asia.

1764: Medicinal cannabis is listed in The New England Dispensatory.

1776: Kentucky begins cultivating hemp on mass scale.

1800: Cannabis and hemp become flourishing industries in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, New York, and Kentucky. Hashish cultivation spreads from Russian Turkestan into Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan.

1840: In the USA, medicinal tinctures prepared with a cannabis base become widely used. Persian pharmacies begin to stock hashish.

1850: Cannabis is listed in The U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

1850-1915: Cannabis is widely used throughout the United States, and could be purchased with ease from general stores and pharmacies.

1890: Queen Victoria is prescribed medical cannabis to ease menstrual pains.

1910: Mexican Revolution spurs an influx of Mexican immigrants into the U.S., with a culture of recreational cannabis use (instead of America's medicinal use) being brought into American society.

1915-1927: Cannabis begins to be prohibited for non-medical use in the U.S.

1919: The 18th Amendment to the U.S. constitution bans manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, positioning cannabis as an attractive alternative and leading to an increase in its use.

1928: Britain bans the recreational use of cannabis.

1933: The United States repeals 21st Amendment, putting the nail in the coffin of alcohol prohibition. 4 years later, prohibition of cannabis comes in to full effect.

1934 - 1935: Cannabis cultivation and hashish production becomes illegal in China.

1936: Reefer Madness filmed as a propaganda film to scare American youth away from the use of cannabis.

1951: The Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act in the United States increases penalties for all drug use and possession, and implements mandatory sentences.

1977-1981: U.S. President Carter pushes for decriminalisation of cannabis, asking Congress to abolish federal criminal penalties for those caught with less than one ounce of marijuana.

1986: President Reagan abolishes President Carter's push for decriminalisation, and instead reinstates mandatory minimum sentences and federal penalties for possession and distribution of cannabis. This begins the United States' international "war on drugs".

1997: California becomes the first U.S. State to re-legalise medical marijuana.

2012: The States of Colorado and Washington legalise cannabis for recreational use. Alaska and Oregon follow; California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Massachusetts all begin to draft legislation for legalisation.

Adapted from the following sources:

Understanding Marijuana, a New Look at the Scientific Evidence by Mitch Earleywine

The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer

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