Cannabis has a long and interesting history, and it’s worth considering the origins and journey of cannabis through time.
Cannabis has a long and interesting history, and it’s worth considering the origins and journey of cannabis through time. It is believed that cannabis plants evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, in the regions which are now Mongolia and southern Siberia. Imagine the dump sites of prehistoric hunters, with all of the nutrients, and how cannabis may have flourished there up to 12,000 years ago.
It is suspected by expert historians that it was even cultivated as far back in time as this, making it one of the oldest of humanity’s cultivated crops. So why is there still so much controversy and why so many differences of opinion today? Many people are taught that it is simply a drug which is illegal and therefore to be avoided, but there are those who argue it is simply a natural plant with active ingredients and should be respected just like tea or coffee. Furthermore, many health benefits have been noted throughout history, and we cannot ignore the reports which people have given around the world from those who fully believe in the medicinal and stress-relieving benefits of cannabis.
With the reports and studies we have, there can be little doubt it has been a positive part of peoples’ lives in every part of the world for many thousands of years. So let us put aside our current thoughts and associations and delve a little deeper into some cold hard facts about what cannabis is, how it has moved around the planet over time, and how it has been used throughout history.
The Ancient Use of Cannabis
In ancient China, both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were widely used. The ancient Chinese used almost every part of the Cannabis plant: the root for medicine; the stem for textiles, rope and paper making; the leaves and flowers for recreation and medicine; and the seeds for food and oil. Cannabis seeds were also one of the grains of early China and ancient tombs of China had sacrificial vessels filled with hemp for the afterlife. Medicinal use was recorded in 4000 B.C.
One of the uses at this time was as an anaesthetic during surgery, and it was also documented by Emperor Shen Nung as being effective for treating the pains of rheumatism and gout. About 2000 B.C. cannabis was brought to Korea by coastal farmers, and between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C. it also became widely used in India. It is mentioned in one of the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems as being one of “five kingdoms of herbs which release us from anxiety”.
Medical use of the plant in the middle east is recorded in 700 B.C. in the Venidad, an ancient Persian religious text which is said to have been written by Zoroaster. The Scythians brought Cannabis to Europe from the Altai Mountains to Germany, and the Greeks have recorded it as a remedy for earache, edema, and inflammation in 200 B.C. Cannabis then went to Britain during the 5th century Anglo-Saxon invasions.
Illustrations in the ‘Grandes Heures’ of Anne of Bretagne (1505-1508) gives us probably the most ancient botanic depiction of the cannabis plant in the western world. The Spanish brought marijuana to the Americas in the mid-1500s and the English introduced it at Jamestown in 1611, where it became a popular commercial crop together with tobacco. In 1799, Napoleon brought marijuana back to France from Egypt where it gained popularity for its pain relieving and sedative qualities. Cannabis also travelled through Africa and reached South America during the 19th century.
Cannabis in the United States
By 1850, marijuana had made its way into the United States Pharmacopeia (an official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the counter medicines), which listed marijuana as treatment for numerous afflictions including: neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, and uterine bleeding, among others. However, when cannabis finally arrived in the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century, brought by Mexican immigrants during the Mexican revolution of 1910-1911, it was viewed with suspicion.
Americans laws never recognized the difference between Cannabis sativa L. and Cannabis sativa. The plant was first outlawed in Utah in 1915, and by 1931 it was illegal in 29 states, according to the report. In 1930, Harry Aslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and undertook multiple efforts to make marijuana illegal in all states. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act put cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, criminalizing possession of the plant throughout the United States. Laws were also created in other countries, amid fears of social degeneration and potential addiction issues with cannabis. It is interesting to see how a few individuals can strongly alter laws and perceptions of cannabis after 5000 years of recreational and medical use around the world!
Cannabis Use in Modern UK history
People at all levels of society have used cannabis throughout history. Even Queen Victoria was given cannabis by her doctor in the 19th century to relieve period pain. It was the invention of the syringe towards the end of the 19th century that marked an end to its widespread medicinal use. Cannabis cannot be dissolved in water, so therefore cannot be injected. The arrival of other drugs, such as aspirin, also contributed to the reduction in the drug’s use.
Cannabis was made illegal in the UK in 1928 following an international drugs conference in Geneva when an Egyptian delegate convinced everybody that it was a threat to society and as dangerous as opium. That did not stop the recreational use of cannabis which was big during the fifties when migrants from the Caribbean arrived in the UK. White jazz musicians playing in Soho clubs in London were among the first to use it, and the first drugs bust was in 1952 at the Number 11 Club in Soho.
During the flower power years of the sixties it also soared in popularity, despite remaining completely illegal. Numerous references to cannabis use can be found throughout music, art and literature and it has been illicitly traded to this day. Of course there are many groups of people within society who are pushing for legalization, including high profile names and politicians, and there are regular meetings, political debates and news stories around the issue.
Cannabis Use Today
In recent years, support for marijuana use has increased on a national level in the U.S. with the legalization of medical marijuana in 32 states. Some nations, such as the Netherlands have decriminalized marijuana possession in coffee shops. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to officially abolish criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana. Many strong laws remain in place, particularly for the cultivation, distribution and selling of cannabis in all its forms.
Punishments in some countries range from cautions to fines and even jail sentences in some cases. The arguments continue, but there is now no denying that plenty of scientific research has emerged providing evidence for the medicinal benefits of consuming cannabis, confirming what ancient civilizations already knew thousands of years ago!