History of Cannabis – When was it first used

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Today as a recreational user, you could easily search for and find a cannabis dispensary near me as long as you have an internet connection and a phone. This wasn’t always the case. Here in the US, it was frowned upon to be identified or even associated as a cannabis enthusiast; as a matter of fact its use was pretty much illegal. To get access to cannabis, you had to deal with some very suspicious individuals and I guess that bit didn’t help the case for cannabis either. There have been leaps and bounds that have been achieved to get to where we are right now as a society in relation to cannabis use. If you’ve always wondered how it all came to be, today might just be your lucky day as we dive deep into the historical depths of cannabis and appreciate the journey that has been.

Ancient Societies and Marijuana

Historically, ancient Taiwan is recorded as the region in which cultivation and use of cannabis was first realized, the time is estimated to be around 8000 BCE. In the northern part of China where civilization in that region began, the locals grew cannabis primarily for its fiber. It was used to make cloth for the masses as its fibers were believed to be strong and could withstand harsh weather conditions. In addition to this invaluable benefit, it also doubled up as an important food plant source and was considered as one of the major grains.

It is in its consumption as a food source that it was also discovered to contain medicinal properties. In 2700 BCE, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung realized that it could assist in the attainment of healthy joints and offer relief for women when they experienced discomfort during their menses. Through this discovery, he became the patron of all herbalists. Inevitably in this region, cannabis became highly regarded for its overall effectiveness in attaining general wellness, health and vitality.

It was discovered later on that people had also found out about its psychoactive properties and that they took advantage of it, but this practice had been a well-kept secret confined only to the wealthiest in the society. Scientific studies now show that there is evidence of a significant amount of preserved cannabis discovered in the tombs of noble people, the burial sites are estimated to have existed as from 5000 BCE. It is believed that cannabis was burnt in these enclosed tombs so that mourners could inhale the smoke and experience a sense of euphoria that helped to achieve calmness during that mourning period which was considered a difficult time.

This in a nutshell covers China as the genesis, the origin of the discovery of cannabis, giving us an understanding of the point from which it all started spreading to other parts of the world.

From China, the farmers who were based on the coastal parts having experienced its benefits, transported cannabis to Korea where it became equally important as well. In Korea, it had a deity that was named so as to protect the harvest. Unsurprisingly, the deity’s first name was coined after the cannabis plant and since it was female, the second name was girl. The names were derived from Chinese words, and thus the end result was cannabis girl. Koreans also utilized it for its fiber provision properties as well as medicinal benefits. Years later, there was an invasion on the Korean region by the Aryans from India and this attack made itself a useful conduit in the advancement of cannabis into India.

In 2000 BCE present India, the presence of cannabis quickly became associated with strong religious undertones. The deity Shiva was believed to have stirred the oceans in heaven and when a single drop fell on earth, it is believed that was when the first cannabis plant in India sprouted. Because of these ingrained beliefs, the spiritual significance of the cannabis plant was revered in the community and within a short period of time, it was regarded as an essential ingredient in keeping away and fighting demons. As these beliefs evolved, cannabis began to take the center stage as a herb that was seen as having the capability to prolong life and it started being considered equally important for its medicinal properties as it was for its spiritual significance.

It is said that it is India that the value of cannabis as an alternative source of medicine really reached its peak. There were herbalists that had studied, examined and specialized in its properties that were consulted by the locals. It was used to achieve restful sleep, enhance moods, improve attention and focus and to strengthen memory. It was deemed to be so efficient that there was a drink that was made through combining milk, cannabis and a few other ingredients that was regularly consumed by the locals so as to attain general body wellness.  Researchers have made claims that this drink is still in use in India till date.

It is at this time that India had been declared a protectorate of the British Empire who also had protectorates in Africa, and this is how cannabis found its way to East Africa. It is from this point that the herb was dispersed widely through the African region. Different African societies used it for different reasons, mostly borrowing from the practices of how the Asians used it. Egyptians for instance discovered that it had anti-inflammation properties and was thus highly regarded for the benefits that it provided in this regard.

In the mid-1500s, there was a shortage of sailcloth and rope, which were both heavily reliant on the cultivation of hemp. This led to an increase in the exploration and colonization of the Americas by the British Empire resulting in increased slave trade. It was at this time that African slaves were being shipped off to South America to work on plantations. It was also at this juncture that cannabis was in high demand and thus all the ruling states were doing all that they could strategically to significantly increase the supply of it. This is how cannabis arrived in the Americas. Through migration and revolutions that occurred in this period in the Americas, cannabis finally found its way to the United States. Also grown for its fiber and this only came to halt when steam ships began replacing sailing ships.

This brief narrative of the movement of the cannabis plant through different continents showcases how beneficial this plant had become to native societies that they were willing to carry it along as they migrated to new places. Its entry into the United States takes us into an equally interesting timeline of high and low events that have led to the current status quo. It is truly remarkable to have an understanding of how things are the way they are as it enables you to appreciate the strides that have been made.

The history of cannabis in USA

Based on history, the timeline places the entry of cannabis into the USA to be around the 1600s when cultivation was important so as to have raw material for making sailing cloth. The rest of the outlined events highlight the notable series of actions that happened since then till date.

Discovered diary entries belonging to George Washington, indicate that for approximately 30 years, from 1745-1775, he grew cannabis at his plantation in mount Vernon with his interest mostly in its medicinal properties. The entries confirm that the cannabis that he grew was high in THC and that he was conducting experiments on the plants to come up with a logical conclusion to his hypothesis. In another discovered diary, belonging to Thomas Jefferson, the entries made indicate that he also cultivated cannabis from 1774-1824 indulging himself in similar experiments as George Washington.

In 1839, Irish physician WB O’Shaughnessy, using a combination of his expertise and native recipes, conducted clinical trials using cannabis on some of his patients and got outstanding positive results. He publishes this in English medical journals and physicians both in England and America embrace his discovery and incorporate it into the treatment of a variety of illnesses given the state of the prevailing medical conditions in that era. Afterwards, many more articles are published recognizing the benefits derived from cannabis as an alternative mode of medicine.

In 1850, cannabis was officially published into the United States Pharmacopeia (an official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the counter medicines). Among a myriad of health issues that it was credited to solve, some of the listed were, reduction of pain, improvement in healthy eating and appetite and relief from stomach discomfort.

In 1910, the Mexican revolution took place and many of the immigrants migrated into the United States bringing with them the culture of using cannabis recreationally. This changes the dynamic and introduces a new status quo. Cannabis stops being regarded as the medicinal herb and immediately becomes associated with the new immigrants and inevitably, it picks up on the negative connotation that is carried along with the fear and prejudice that had been allocated to the new settlers. All crimes committed by the immigrants are attributed to cannabis, and the bad reputation starts to stick.

In 1930, Harry J. Anslinger was appointed Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He fought to achieve national prohibition of cannabis by saying that it caused insanity and promoted criminal acts. In 1937, the Congress enacted the Marijuana Tax Act which imposed registration and reporting requirements and a tax on the growers, sellers, and buyers of marijuana. Its effects, though implied, were likened to the actual prohibition of cannabis.

It was also in this same period running from 1936-1950 that there were a number of propaganda films vouching for prohibition of cannabis produced in Hollywood. The films were known as the Reefer Madness, and it was later uncovered that they had been a project funded by a religious organization with the intention of instilling fear so as to ensure all parents stay vigilant with regards to access to cannabis by their children. This period also witnessed the removal of cannabis from the Pharmacopeia with several claims from doctors stating that it had no medicinal value whatsoever.

In 1952, another act known as the Boggs Act was passed, and it created strict mandatory punishments for offenses that involved cannabis and other drugs.

1960 saw a change in the air as enthusiasts spoke up and labeled cannabis as harmless. They were supported by the then President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who went ahead and commissioned reports that found that cannabis did not as a fact induce any criminal act. This however did not change the tide as it were and cannabis related arrests rose up by at least 10 times.

The 1970s was a pretty confusing time as Congress went ahead to pass the Controlled Substances Act that labeled cannabis as a harmful drug right along with the likes of heroin. Despite this move, states such as Oregon, Maine, and Alaska decriminalized marijuana.

All through 1980’s and 90’s, there were extensive campaigns against cannabis. Millions were used on televised campaigns on prime tv shows to highlight its negative effects. Fast forward to the 21st century and even though cannabis remains illegal under the federal law, there are more than 20 states that promote the medicinal use of cannabis. Public opinion has changed and people are becoming pro-legalization and this may eventually be the case allowing for more research to be conducted on it so as to gain more knowledge on it.

As of 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, with Washington, California, Alaska, Massachusetts and Nevada following suit. This paints a picture of new ways of thinking and as has already been shown by the booming industry, it seems that there may be much more in store in this particular space.

History allows us to see that it’s only recently that cannabis got a bad rep and that sometimes you need to dig deeper to really understand. I have quite enjoyed the trip and I hope that as you walk into Seattle dispensaries analyzing the different collections available, that you’ll be able to appreciate the highs and lows that have occurred to make your reality ever so pleasant.

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