Talking about cannabis history, there are numerous versions of the earliest known use of marijuana that is derived from the cannabis plant. According to one archaeological finding, a pottery with hemp cord was found in an urban area of Taiwan, dating back earlier than 8000 BCE. A rope shaped out of hemp fibers that date back to circa 26, 900 BC was found in an ancient site in Czechoslovakia in 1997.
There is concrete historical evidence clearly establishing that oil extracted from the seeds of the cannabis plant was used for cooking in China in 6000 B.C. 2 millenniums later, hemp was used for producing textiles and fabrics. If one goes back in time, cannabis culture can be traced to nothing less than 12,000 years ago when the flowering plant was believed to have been harvested for the first time. A good proportion of historians believe that marijuana may have evolved in Southern Siberia, Mongolia, and other adjacent zones of Central Asia.
It seems hard to believe that cannabis which is mostly used as a recreational drug nowadays for its strong psychedelic and psychoactive effects, was originally used for therapeutic and culinary purposes. Yes, it’s a fact that marijuana which goes by the names of weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane, hashish, and ganja (to name a few) has been in vogue for several millennia.
Physicians during the ancient and Middle Ages, blended the extracts from flowers, seeds, and leaves with other ingredients for formulating medicines in order to treat a wide range of ailments. Fast forward to the present times, and you find USA imposing a federal ban on its use, listing it as a Schedule 1 drug along with LSD and heroine. The incongruence-cannabis’s widespread use without any inhibitions in the past contrasted with its prohibition in the most developed country in the world-seems inexplicable and totally unacceptable.
In order to thoroughly familiarize self with cannabis history, understanding the drug’s evolution, progression, and development down the ages would be imperative. Let us probe into cannabis culture deeply, starting from the prehistoric or ancient times.
Cannabis, as you know, is a flowering plant that has three main cultivars and several breeds. The cannabis plant and the hemp plant, though have different botanical characteristics, belong to the same genus. When the earliest human civilizations began to flourish all over the world, cannabis was cultivated mainly as an agricultural crop or food crop. Different parts of the plant were used for preparing a variety of dishes.
On the other hand, the oil extracted from the seeds, flowers and leaves on the upper part of the hemp plant were used for preparing edibles. The plant fibers came in handy for making clothes. Hemp is a cultivar of the cannabis ‘genus’ whose cannabinoid compounds are not as powerful as their counterparts in marijuana plant.
It took a long time for human civilizations to discover the medicinal properties of the flowering plant. Cannabis’s prophylactic qualities were first determined by the Chinese. Thereafter, word spread all over Asia and Africa. In the ancient ages, cannabis served chiefly to mitigate pain and a few grave health issues as the hoi polloi were unaware of its hallucinogenic effects.
Only the physicians had a faint idea of the psychotropic effect the cured flowers of the plant could induce. A treatise on cannabis-“Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence”-specifies that Shen Neng, the Sung Dynasty emperor in 2737 B.C. was perhaps the first major personality to officially declare tea brewed from cannabis as a panacea for several ailments. India has a more intimate connection to ganja compared to China, Japan or the Western countries.
Cannabis for the ancient Indians bordered on divinity-holy men, saints, and sages prepared bhang by blending a paste of leaves and buds with spices and milk, and quaffed the concoction. On other occasions, the buds were crushed and powdered for putting inside a chillum and thereafter the roll was lighted. Thereafter, they inhaled the smoke emanating from the pipe and became transcendental. Atharvaveda, the 4th Vedic book, heaps encomiums on its curative and spiritual powers.
In the medieval ages, spanning from 100 A.D. to 1000 A.D, the medicinal properties of cannabis was described in tomes dedicated to folk medicine in Europe. It was largely used for treating jaundice, cough, tumors, and chronic pain. However, unlike India, cannabis did not enjoy an exalted status in the continent. In the Middle East, a good proportion of Muslims smoked hashish (which is the Arabic term for marijuana) as the holy Koran forbade them from drinking wine.
The earliest forms of concentrates (hashish is also the collective term used for such concentrates) were prepared by seasoned breeders who rubbed the sticky resinous deposits of trichomes in the palm of their hands. Cannabis was also used for making traditional medicines in the Arabian Peninsula.
However, it is quite interesting to note that medieval herbalists and physicians were aware of its adverse effects if used to excess.
It was the Spanish explorers and conquistadors who introduced South America to cannabis in the 1500s. Nevertheless in North America, hemp was cultivated widely in the beginning largely for producing ropes, paper, bags, and clothes. Its medicinal and psychoactive use started gaining popularity several decades later.
In the 1700s, a few medical journals published reports and articles on how the roots and seeds of hemp could be used for dealing with incontinence and dermal inflammations. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician who served in the British East India Company, became noted far and wide for pioneering ‘intravenous therapy’ (IV) as well as for opening up research on marijuana’s medical use in the Western world.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency was established in 1906, mainly to regulate the use of addictive drugs and opiates. It was around this time that the Mexicans entering the US, brought marijuana along with them, thereby giving a boost to its recreational use. The Harrison Act, passed in 1914, stipulates the use of drugs as illegal.
23 states of US proscribe the use of marijuana for the first time in 1937 and in 1970, the federal government of US lists cannabis as a Schedule 1 (I) drug along with heroin, LSD, ecstasy, peyote, and methaqualone. As of 2018, 46 US states have authorized marijuana use in some form or the other. A proposal for bringing about reforms in the archaic federal laws on cannabis has recently been tabled by both houses of the Congress and awaiting the President’s seal of approval.