Cannabis: A Lost History (FULL DOCUMENTARY)
In 2012, after 75 years of prohibition, Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana, with other states slowly but surely following suit. But long before prohibition, Long before the united states, even, Cannabis had been established as an integral part of human civilization. From it’s depiction in the cave paintings of Japan To it’s usage in burial ceremonies in ancient China, It seems as though our relationship with weed Likely goes back to the advent of our species And if our endocannibinoid system is any indication, Perhaps even before it. But while there is limited information about marijuana’s role in early mammalian development, There is a wealth of evidence across virtually all cultures throughout history Of it’s importance in textiles Medicine And spirituality. This is the forgotten past Of one of the most versatile plants Ever discovered This is cannabis
A lost history The first written reference material we have when it comes to cannabis is in the form of the Chinese materia medica, alleged to be written by Shen Nung in 2800 B.C.E, The earliest surviving copy of this book dates back to around 50 B.C.E. Shen Nung is a legendary figure in Chinese culture, part of a group of three kings called ‘celestial emperors’. Half emperor half deity, He is said to have ruled over China long before written history, inventing irrigation, agriculture, the axe, the hoe, the plow, acupuncture, and traditional Chinese medicine in the process. He is often depicted draped in a garment of leaves, and often chewing on their stems to experiment with their effect on the human body. Shen Nung was, essentially, the first pharmacologist. In compiling The Classic of Herbal Medicine, shen nung discovered the medicinal properties of cannabis, saying it was good for gout, rheumatism, malaria, and absentmindedness, as well as about 100 other things. Prior to this, the plant which the Chinese called “ma” had been used for many centuries for its fiber in producing cloth, paper, rope, and even in the production of pottery. As the Chinese continued to explore cannabis’ benefit, they found it effective in the treatment of other ailments, like vomiting and infections. It is generally believed to have been used in moxibustion practice in acupuncture, being replaced in modern times with mugwort. Around 200 A.D. A physician named Hua Tuo became the first person to use anesthesia in surgery, nearly 1600 years before its discovery in the west. And while Hua Tuo’s formula for anesthesia has not survived into modern times, it’s name Ma Fei San, translates approximately to Cannabis boiling powder” and is widely accepted to have had cannabis as a component, with other candidates such as jimson weed and opium proposed to be either in addition to or instead of marijuana. Cannabis was one of the 50 fundamental herbs in the Traditional Chinese medicine toolkit. In modern times, with the questionable legality of its use, reference to ‘ma’ in recent translations of the Chinese medical textbooks only make reference to non-psychoactive hemp seeds. But in antiquity, the Chinese were not shy about singing cannabis’ praise. Confucius compiled the Book of Odes, and the Cannon of Rites, detailing poetry, song, and the religious ritualistic practices of the Chinese shamanism of his contemporaries and ancestors. Ma is mentioned numerous times throughout each of these collections. But perhaps more interesting is it’s frequent association with the burial ceremony during this time period. Cannabis has been found, both burned and unburned, seed, bud, and everything in between, with Burned seeds having been found in kurgan burial mounds in Siberia and china, dating back to 3,000 B.C, and nearly two pounds of bud being discovered in the grave of what is believed to be a royal shaman in China’s Xin Jiang region. But through a network of trade routes, weed quickly found its way across the ancient world, intersecting with numerous cultures in the process. Coming up, we’ll explore weed’s spread throughout the east, and its importance in the foundation of indian culture. As marijuana’s popularity as a dietary staple, a medicine and the very plant from which clothes are made grew, China came to be known as the land of hemp and mulberry. Mulberries are high in protein, iron, vitamins and minerals, just like cannabis so it is no wonder that the two were both revered in this similar way. But while the earliest recorded history of cannabis comes from China, it is known to have been widely distributed in the fertile soil along the rivers of the ancient world. Along the banks of these great rivers, like the yellow river in china, the tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia,the Indus in India, and perhaps even the nile in Egypt, civilization began to sprout up as well. And while it is unclear how, exactly, this knowledge of cannabis’ medicinal and psychoactive properties spread, some evidence points to nomadic tribes emerging from the steppes of central Asia, such as the Yamnaya, who also may have been responsible for the kurgan burial mounds found throughout the region. Historians believe that these tribal groups of the caucasus region helped to advance trade across Asia and Europe well before the silk road, spreading the wheel, horse domestication, and many other technologies of the times Some subset of these tribes, who called themselves the Aryans, migrated from the north into what is now India, eventually merging with people who had already inhabited the region, developing the prototypical indo-aryan language and culture in the process. From this culture, Indian and Iranian cultures, among others, would ultimately be born. This protoculture was also responsible for the invention of one of the earliest written languages, Sanskrit. Some of the earliest Sanskrit texts, The Vedas, meaning knowledge, are still in existence today. These texts are the basis of our knowledge of ancient indian history, as well as spirituality, being important religious texts for both Zoroastrian and Hindu faiths. Cannabis, or bhang, as it is called in India, is mentioned as one of five sacred plants in the fourth veda The Hindu god Shiva is sometimes referred to as lord of the bhang. There are several legends associating Shiva with Cannabis, from him making it of his own flesh to help purify the amrita, or elixir of life, to it being churned up from a sea of milk, along with the sacred cow and the moon by Shiva himself. One such legend states that Shiva, in the midst of an argument with his family, escaped to the mountains. As he continued to climb, he became tired from his journey, and the suns hot rays. He fell asleep beneath a plant. When he awoke he became aware of the fragrant smell of the plant and decided to taste its leaves. Rejuvenated, Shiva made this Ganja his favorite food, bringing it back to humanity, along with the art of yoga, a sort of instruction manual for the practice of using this sacred herb correctly. As a result, devotees of Shiva still consume bhang, ganja, and charas, 3 traditional preparations of cannabis, to this day. It is most commonly consumed in a drink known as Bhang Lassi, which is similar to the mango lassi popularized in the west, with bhang taking place of mango. This drink is especially used on holidays such as Holi, and Shivrati, the festival of Shiva. Even in regions where it is illegal, an exception is made during these celebrations. The Sadhus, yogic holymen and devotees of Shiva, smoke it in the forms of ganja and charas on a daily basis, saying it brings them closer to shiva. But as we will see, Hinduism isn’t the only indoaryan religious tradition to incorporate cannabis into its culture. Coming up, we’ll explore marijuana’s place in Buddhism, Sikhism, and the Zoroastrian faith The Vedic religious tradition, the proto-religion of the indo-aryan people, served as the origin for both Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, with Hinduism developing in the Indian Subcontinent, and the Zoroastrian faith flourishing in Iran. The Persian prophet, Zoroaster, is believed to be the first to make mention of cannabis as a sacrament. In The Zend-Avesta, a collection of important religious texts in Zoroastrianism, hemp appears first in a list of over 10,000 medicinal plants. It was considered the chief religious sacrament of the priest class, and was generally unavailable to common people. This priestly class would consume Bhang, sometimes referred to as bhanga or mang, mixed with wine after which it is said that their bodies rested while their minds went on a spiritual journey. In fact, many of our modern conceptual imagery of heaven and hell come from Zoroastrian priest Ardak Wiraf, who was known to go on journeys to these realms through the use of bhang. Zoroaster’s wife, dissatisfied by this secondary shamanic experience, prayed to the supreme being that he “give her his good narcotic, Bhanga.” Back in India, a new religion was developing based on the teachings of a sage named Siddhartha Gautama. According to legend, Gautama, the Buddha, subsided on a diet of cannibas (primarily in the form of hemp seeds) for six years before his revelations and his ascent to Buddhahood. As he sat beneath the Bodhi tree for 40 days and 40 nights, he consumed only a single hemp seed per day. And while most sects of Buddhism have largely forgotten or ignored bhang’s important place in the life of th Budha, a spiritual movement called tantra sprung up in the 6th century weaving Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into a new esoteric philosophy in which bhang played a preeminent role. In the mahanirvana tantra, bhang is said to assist in the great liberation. A prayer is contained in this sacred religious text that is supposed to accompany consumption of bhang. When translated, it reads, “may this cannabis be a blessing to my heart.” The mahanirvana also states that, “Bhang is consumed in order to liberate oneself, and that those who do, in dominating their mental faculties and following the yoga, or law of shiva, are to be likened to immortals on earth. By the middle ages, bhang became so popular, in fact, that it was often consumed before battle, much in the way that alcohol was in the west. They believed that consumption of bhang would make ones enemies feel possessed by spirits. A later religious tradition, Sikhism, which finds its roots in tantra, forbids all drugs and alcohol… with bhang being the exception. They call it suknee dhan, meaning giver of peace. And when the sikh’s founder was presented with bhang by the mughul king babur, he was so delighted as to offer his blessing for babur have his kingdom for seven generations. This Sudknee Dhan was especially popular with a group of sikh warriors known as the nihang who consume it to this day. And while colonialism has largely wiped out psychotropic plants the world over, the Sikhs received special permissions from the british imperialists to continue using sudknee dhan. In the late 1800s, when opium and other drugs of concern were made illegal in british colonies, a commission was set up who created a report on the importance of cannabis in Indian culture, it concluded that suppressing the use of bhang would be unjustifiable, due to its ancient religious usage among hindus and the view that it was harmless when used in moderation. When we return, we’ll explore the spread of cannabis into the ancient western world. The Aryan tribes that settled in Iran went on to form the Persian empire, whose rule reached from the borders of India all the way to the land of Egypt by 500 BCE. But some suggest the Egyptians had knowledge of cannabis nearly 1500 years before that. The oldest complete medical text, the eber’s papyrus, as well as other writings of the time contain reference to a plant, shum shum tu, which was created by the sun god rah and used in ceremonies honoring the dead. It is believed by many to be none other than marijuana. Shum Shum Tu, used medicinally, was often combined with honey and used in topical medical preparations for inflammation. Whether this interpretation of Shum Shum Tu identity is correct or not, There is other evidence indicative of ancient Egyptian knowledge of cannabis. For example, the goddess seshat is almost universally depicted with a 7 pointed symbol often resembling the 7 pointed marijuana leaf above her head. Similarly, hemp fibers have been discovered in the tomb of ahkenhaten, with Hemp pollen found inside of the mummy of Rameses II, who died nearly 700 years before the Persian conquest of Egypt. Both of these samples have undergone chemical analyses and confirmed to be weed. There are also numerous hierogylphs showing what appear to be smoking pipes or ceremonial incense burners. And while these have been attributed by some to represent ceremonial use of the blue lotus flower, which itself is psychoactive, most researchers agree that blue lotus was steeped in wine as opposed to being smoked. But while evidence of ancient Egyptian knowledge of marijuana’s psychoactive properties is mostly circumstantial, there is an unmistakable written record by their Greek counterparts. In fact, the word “cannabis” comes from an ancient Greek translation of a Scythian word. It is generally believed that hemp, hanep in Old English, comes from the same Scythian source. But the Grecian relationship with cannabis is not purely etymological. The Greek historian Herodotus was the first person to make any mention of cannabis in western literature. He wrote extensively on the Scythian people, a nomadic tribe he had encountered in his many travels. According to Herodotus, the Scythians used cannabis in the manufacture of their clothes. They also used it in religious ceremony accompanying a funeral. They anoint and wash their heads, and for their bodies, set up three poles leaning together to a point and cover these over with wool mats, then in the space so enclosed to the best of their ability, they make a pit in the center beneath the poles and the mats and throw red-hot stones into it. . . . the Scythians then take this (kannabis) and crawling into the tents, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smoulders and sends forth such fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass it. The Scythians howl in their joy caused by the vapors And while mainstream historians tend to reject the idea that these practices found their way into greek culture, there appears to be evidence to the contrary. For instance, the Scythians, notorious for their warlike nature, made up a large part of the Greek police force. It is highly unlikely, then, that their unique cultural traditions would not be continued during their tenure in Greece. What’s more, Herodotus makes reference of another Nomadic tribe whose use of cannabis was not so sacramental. He said, “They have parties and sit around a fire, they throw some of it into the flames. As it burns, it smokes like incense, and the smell of it makes them drunk, just as wine does. As more fruit is thrown on, they get more and more intoxicated until finally they jump up and start dancing and singing.” Outside of these direct written references, it should also be taken into account that the ancient Greeks had continuing conflict with the Aryan tribes that went on to form the Persian empire. It is very likely that through the Persian invasion, cannabis came to be known in Greece. But regardless of how they first encountered it, ancient Greek physicians used cannabis medicinally to treat a variety of conditions, such as edema and even tumors. It seems impossible, then, that it’s psychoactive properties would go unnoticed by the philosophically minded among the ancient Greeks. While there is little about this in academia, it is more likely because of the taboo nature of entheogenic research and less so because Grecian use of cannabis did not exist. Another possible reason for the limited information on the topic is that the psychospiritual rituals of ancient Greek philosophers were heavily guarded secrets. While generally shrouded in mystery, there are some indications of cannabis’ psychoactive use in ancient Greece. For one, we have ancient greek writings of an incense known as ‘scythian fire’ being used in the cult of Asclepius, the God of medicine. Additionally, the thracians, another nomadic tribe living amongst the greeks, had within them a group known to the Greeks as Kapnobatai, or “Smoke Walkers” These “Smoke Walkers” were dancers and shaman, who used the smoke of hemp to bring about a trancelike state. These Persian, Thracian, and Scythian practices hardly went unnoticed by the greeks. In fact, the ancient Greek word, Cannabeizen, meaning ‘to burn cannabis’ is believed to have taken place in the form of incense burners burning cannabis along with frankincense resin, which is also known to be psychoactive, as well as other fragrant resins such as myrrh and balsam. It is not inconceivable,then, that such an incense may have played a role in some of the numerous divination rituals practiced in ancient Greece by the likes of Socrates and Pythagoras. What is known for sure, though, is that cannabis found its way to Rome via their conquest of Greece and appropriation of Greek Philosophy, science and art including Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, a classic that influenced western medicine well into the middle ages But perhaps some of the most controversial references to cannabis in antiquity come from the Judeochristian bible. In the first half of the 20th century, the Polish anthropologist, Dr. Sula Benet, discovered a glaring error in modern translations of the bible. She noted that the bible’s many mentions of ‘sweet calamus’ only went as far back as the Septuagint, an early Greek translation of the Hebrew bible. The problem with this is that calamus has virtually none of the properties it is purported to in the bible. Benet demonstrated that the original Hebrew script used the term “Kaneh Bosm” which she believed was, without any doubt, cannabis. In fact, Dr. Benet believed that “Kaneh Bosm” may even predate the Scythian term Kannabis. This “kaneh bosm” was referenced multiple times in the old testament. Take, for instance, Exodus chapter 30, in which God instructs Moses to make a holy anointing oil. “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Take for yourself choice spices: Five Hundred shekels (6kg) of pure myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon (3kg) two hundred and fifty shekels of kaneh bosm (3kg) and five hundred shekels of cassia (6kg) and mix these with olive oil (5 quarts)” This holy anointing oil was used to make the temple, the altar, and quote “Burned offerings” most holy, and the bible says that anything that touches these, too, would become holy. This anointing oil, in the old testament and Judaism, was used to baptize the likes of kings and priests, ultimately leading to the Hebrew term “Messiah” meaning “The anointed one, which begs the question, “Did jesus himself use cannabis?” It is well documented in the old testament that a sacred incense, burned offerings, and a holy anointing oil containing kaneh bosm, were an established part of the rituals of ancient Israelites. These ceremonies were conducted in a tabernacle, a temple similar to that of their Scythian counterparts, who have been shown through ancient historical sources to have traded with and occasionally fought against the ancient Jewish people. It is not surprising, then, that the old testament describes kaneh bosm as being an exotic herb from a far away land. But the new testament makes basically no direct references to kaneh bosm itself. So did Jesus know of, or use cannabis? It seems that the answer may very well be yes. Christ is a Greek term meaning, “The anointed one” as opposed to being Jesus’ last name, as some believe. In fact, last names generally did not originate until the middle ages. These terms, “Christ” and “messiah” are indicative of the fact that Jesus was anointed in the holy anointing oil. The very same oil used by Moses and Aaron to initiate the priestly class into their faith centuries earlier. As is well documented in the bible, Jesus was scholarly when it came to his Jewish faith from an early age, teaching the Rabbis in the temple at the age of 13. It is highly likely, then, that he was aware of the formula of the anointing oil In fact, while the new testament doesn’t mention kaneh bosm directly, anointing seems to be a key part of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus anointed the 12 disciples, and then sent them out to anoint others in the holy oil. As put in Mark 6:13 “they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many who were sick, and healing them” There are many references throughout the bible to Jesus anointing and healing those throughout the region. References to casting out demons may, in fact, be referring to epilepsy, which cannabis oil is known to treat. Similarly, Jesus heals leprosy, which has been commonly treated with cannabis in many ancient cultures. He is also said to have healed a blind man. In modern times, we know cannabis to successfully treat glaucoma. But outside of his many healing miracles, Jesus anointed people, namely, to introduce the holy spirit into them. As Stated in The First Epistle of Saint John, “I am writing to you in this way about those who would deceive you, but the Oil you received from him remains within you, and you really need no teaching from anyone;
simply remain in him, for his Oil Teaches you about everything and is true and is no lie– remain in him as his Oil has taught you to do.” This anointing of common people, and, further, gentiles, or ‘non-jews’ is in direct violation of Hebrew law, as God dictated to Moses in Exodus: “Anyone who makes a blend like it or anoints someone other than a priest will be cut off from the community.” Is it possible, then, that this could have played a role in the Hebrew elders’ contention towards Jesus, or their decision to condemn him to death? Whether you believe in the historicity of Jesus or not, it is clear that this holy anointing oil was extremely special to the early Christians. While the Gospels found in the bible appear to confirm Jesus’ anointing oil, they are just a small fraction of the Christian Gospels of antiquity. Before the canon of Jesus’ life was solidified by The Roman Emperor Constantine in the 3rd century, a number of early Christian sects, collectively known as The Gnostics, meaning knowledge, all had their own interpretations of Christianity. In one such work, The Gospel of Phillip, the author says The anointing is superior to baptism. For from the anointing we were called ‘anointed ones’ (Christians), not because of the baptism. And Christ, too, was [so] named because of the anointing, for the Father anointed the son, and the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. [Therefore] he who has been anointed has the All. He has the resurrection, the light. . . the Holy Spirit. . . [If] one receives this unction, this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ.” Similarly, the Gospel of Truth says that Jesus came specifically… “so that he might anoint them with the ointment. The ointment is the mercy of the Father… those whom he has anointed are the ones who have become perfect.” And in The Gospel of Thomas, thought by many to be the earliest Christian text, the anointing oil is praised more specifically as a plant derivative. Holy oil, given us for sanctification… you are the unfolder of the hidden parts… You are the one who shows the hidden treasures. You are the plant of kindness. Let your power come by this [unction]. But when the Romans, the former persecutors of the Christians, who had fed them to lions, decided to make Christianity the official state religion, and decided exactly which version of Christianity would be practiced, all of these early gnostic practices became punishable by death; being conveyed in a symbolic manner before, ultimately, falling by the wayside. Interestingly enough, it is almost as if Jesus saw this coming. As he is quoted as saying in Mark 4:11-12, “To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables: so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand. ” It’s worth noting that Judaism and Christianity aren’t the only monotheistic religions where cannabis played a role. In the 7th century, the Persian Empire, once home to Zoroastrians and Scythians alike, was in decline. A new religion arose, rejecting the pagan tribal religions of the Arabs. This new faith, Islam, had its roots in the Abrahamic, or judeochristian, religious traditions. Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad, was very direct in forbidding intoxicants; but seems to refer specifically to alcohol. Could it be that he, too, used cannabis? Both the hadith and the Qur’an describe a night journey in which Muhammad flew on the back of a winged horse, ultimately visiting heaven to speak with Allah. Some sects of Islam believe this story to refer to an out of body experience, potentially one influenced by an entheogen. And with this region of the world having a long standing tradition, even then, of using cannabis, and particularly hash, it is very possible that, should this journey have required an entheogen to take place, it was most likely cannabis. But while there isn’t much in the way of evidence for Muhammad’s cannabis use, we know for sure the longstanding tradition of cannabis consumption in the middle east did not die with the foundation of Islam. Although some take the prophet’s proclamation that intoxicants are haram, or forbidden, to extend to cannabis as well as alcohol, it is known to have been used as medicinally by some Arab physicians, the world leaders in medicine in the middle ages. That said, its use was not solely medicinal for the Muslims of this time. The Sufis, a mystical sect of Islam, used cannabis to bring themselves to higher states of consciousness and better appreciate the nature of Allah, and the natural beauty of his creation. As the Sufi poet Fuzuli once said, “hashish is the perfect being, sought after by mankind with great eagerness. It may not be the perfect being for everybody, but it most certainly is for the seeker of mystical experience.” But Fuzuli certainly wasn’t the only one singing cannabis’ praise. In fact, many Sufis ate a hash preparation known as ma’joun As an act of worship, believing it to allow the spirit to… “ascend to the highest points in a heavenly ascension of disembodied understanding.” But even though the Qur’an doesn’t refer to the prophet as using cannabis, it does mention a figure known as The Green Prophet, or Al Khadir. Al Khadir is borrowed from earlier Arabic religious traditions. Originally, The Green prophet seemed to symbolize fertility and vegetation, with flowers and plants magically blooming from the ground on which he walked. By medieval times, he came to represent the type of esoteric knowledge that breaks you free from the trance of everyday existence through shock, much like the change in perception one may feel under the influence of entheogens. As a result of his association with schocking realization, he has come to be somewhat of a patron saint of artists working with unbound enthusiasm. But much of cannabis’ use throughout the early centuries of Islam is unrelated to The Qur’an or Hadith. As discussed earlier, hashish was commonly used by the Sufis, and likely came into existence via the earlier charas, popular in India and the Persian empire. But cannabis wasn’t the only substance used by The Sufis to better understand the nature of Allah. They are thought of as having been instrumental in the development of coffeehouses as we now know them. Legend has it that a wandering Sufi once revealed how he had prepared this new and unique drink to a Sunni woman. He prepared the beverage using a hash filled hookah. This preparation could be responsible for the long standing tradition of hookah lounges serving coffee, and even coffeehouses serving cannabis, which they did in the middle east for several centuries, and continue to do in parts of Europe, most notably Amsterdam. But the Sufis weren’t the only branch of Islam to partake in cannabis use. Marco Polo once wrote of a mysterious Old Man of the Mountain who lead a secretive band of Shia warriors in battle against the Sunnis. These warriors, the Nizari of Syria, would use hash to make them more focused on their targets and more in tune with the consequences of every movement, and they were often tasked with taking out high level targets, shrouded in the cover of night. These Nizari came to be referred to as hashishins, for their use of hashish. This word, through time, evolved into the word assassin, which generally refers to hired killers who use similar tactics today. Perhaps because of its association with assassins, there were many attempts to suppress the use of cannabis in the middle east, beginning in about the 14th century in Egypt, where it had grown extremely popular, especially for its ability to enhance music. Cannabis use became a crime whose punishment was to have one’s teeth pulled out. But cannabis users, so attached to their hashish did not stop its use, ultimately, these attempts at suppression failed, only being realized many centuries later by western interference. When we return, How did cannabis use fair in pre-enlightenment Europe, where any aberrations to mainstream Christianity were viciously punished? Knowledge of Cannabis’ medicinal properties spread throughout Europe by way of the Roman Empire. It found its way into the hands of the Germanic tribes that had come to inhabit western Europe, where its seeds had served as a food source for ancient Germans. In the middle ages, These peoples, who had earlier been converted to Christianity at the hands of the Romans, have become infamous in history for their use of torture. But the idea of cannabis as ‘bad’ is a relatively recent construct, and so its use did not seem to be punished in medieval European society. In fact, its psychoactive properties are largely underreported by the Europeans of this time, who seemed to more prominently use psychoactive mushrooms, alcohol, and datura species for inebriation. While it continued to be used as a medicine, much of European society during this time cultivated it for use of its fibers. Up until the late renaissance period, cannabis continued to be thought of as little more than a source for fiber in western europe, but the discovery of America heralded the dawn of a new era in intercontinental trade, and along with it a changing cultural paradigm. Soon, smoking, which had been virtually Unheard of in Western Europe until that point, became vogue across the continent due to a steady influx of American tobacco. Meanwhile, the queen of England instructed every landowner with more than 60 acres to begin growing hemp for industrial use, with Henry the VIII fostering its use by the navy. In time, Spanish and English explorers independently introduced cannabis to the Americas, with the pilgrims bringing the utilitarian crop with them on the mayflower. In fact, the first law regarding cannabis in the new world, actually required farmers to grow it. A far cry from the draconian laws instituted just a few short centuries later. Back in Europe, Dutch explorer Jan Hogan Van Linschoten wrote of his tales to the near east, where he had encountered hashish, a preparation of cannabis leaves, that, like Ancient Greek philosopher Galen had once described, ‘filled the head’ And while cannabis use did not take off in Europe immediately thereafter, an awareness of this powerful plant began to grow, especially among the creative communities. Among it’s users during this time period was famed playwright, William Shakespeare. While unknown until recently, Shakespeare is now believed to have smoked weed, as indicated by the numerous smoking pipes containing cannabis resin discovered on the grounds of his former property. Pipes that date back to the time in which Shakespeare lived. As we have discussed, Shakespeare wasn’t the first writer to utilize this sacred herb. And he certainly wasn’t the last. It is well documented in History textbooks that the founding fathers of America were wealthy farmers. What they farmed, however, is almost never discussed. These men, and many of their countrymen alike, were actually hemp farmers, as hemp was used in the manufacture of rope, clothes, and other goods. Growing Cannabis was so much a part of American culture that weed was even depicted on the back of the $10 bill in the early 1900s, which was also printed on hemp paper. In fact, Thomas Jefferson once said “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country” But rest assured, in those early days of the U.S. cannabis was used for a lot more than simply making textiles. George Washington is known to have used it medicinally for tooth aches, and said “Make the most of the Indian Hemp seed, and sow it everywhere.” James Madison, the father of the constitution, once claimed that hemp gave him the insight to form a new and democratic nation and James Monroe, who took up the habit of smoking cannabis during his tenure as ambassador to the French, smoked it until his death. But the American founders weren’t the only world leaders of this time period who used cannabis. In the 1830s, an Irish physician named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy saw marijuana being used medicinally while on a trip to India. Astonished at its efficacy, O’shaughnessy brought the plant back with him to England, introducing this ‘indian hemp’ to physicians there for use in the treatment of everything from arthritis to epilepsy. Soon, Queen Victoria of England began using medical marijuana for her menstrual cramps, under instruction from her physician. Independent of O’shaughnessy’s reintroduction of medical cannabis, Napoleon’s army brought hash back with them from their excursions in Egypt, and appear to be the true beginnings of widespread hashish consumption in the early modern period in Europe. By the mid 1800s, a group of French Luminaries started the Club De Hashischins, a Parisian club dedicated to the consumption of hash and other drugs. One of the most esteemed writers of this circle Charles Baudelaire wrote “The Poem of Hashish” and “Artificial Paradises” lauding the use of Hashish and opium, insisting that they, theoretically, could aid mankind in reaching an “ideal” world. In America, Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote, “ The Hashish Eater’ about his numerous experiences in eating cannabis. This book became wildly popular, with President Lincoln’s secretary of state John Hay fondly remembering “eating hasheesh and dreaming dreams” during his youth at brown university. When we return, marijuana’s shift in public perception from medicine to menace. As reports of marijuana’s efficacy began to be published, it quickly became mainstream medicine across Europe and the United States, primarily in the form of extracts, which were used for an ever increasing array of conditions. But by the early 1900s, the American Medical Association was established, creating an orthodoxy in medical treatment that some argue demonized herbal healers. This uniformity allowed for heavy licensing fees for physicians, which many traditional practitioners were incapable of paying. The AMA, a private company, soon had a monopoly on the medical industry. Cannabis was banned in California, Massachusetts and a handful of other states shortly thereafter, while many physicians and pharmacists under the new regulations embraced the potential of this wonder drug. During the prohibition era, in which alcohol and other drugs were banned nationwide, a number of other states followed suite in penalizing cannabis use. Interestingly, in states that didn’t ban the herb, cannabis serves as somewhat of a replacement for booze, with shops called ‘tea pads’ opening up that offered cannabis based tea, a legal intoxicant that served as a loophole in a country unaccustomed to its new, inebriant free lifestyle. From there, its popularity only increased, becoming widely used among American jazz musicians, and Ex-Pat writers of what is reffered to as “The Lost Generation” in Paris, one of whom was Gertrude stein. Her lover, Alice B Toklas, is often credited with having invented the pot brownie during this time period. Meanwhile, In America, advancements to a machine called the decorticator allowed hemp fibers to be stripped from the plant at a far more efficient rate, leading to popular mechanics calling cannabis the new billion dollar crop. Hemp had already been superior in that it takes significantly less time to grow than trees. But now, with production simplified by the decorticator, it was really no contest whatsover. This did not sit well with publisher and industrialist, William Randolph Hearst who, aside from owning much of the media of that time, also owned the paper factories on which his newspapers were printed. Soon, he began publishing propaganda pieces insisting that Mexican immigrants who smoked cannabis violently raped women. As society had grown familiar with cannabis and its many benefits, Hearst chose to use the term “marijuana” which had, up until this point, only been used to describe a wild Mexican variety of tobacco completely unrelated to cannabis. Soon, the dangers of this new supposed threat had alarmed American society. A small church group produced a morality tale entitled “Tell Your Children” about this new drug that supposedly made its users turn violent. At this time, a new motion picture code had recently been instituted by the US government which prevented movies from featuring gratuitous violence or sex. An opportunistic film producer, Dwain Esper, purchased “Tell your children”, recutting the film to include such taboo behavior so he could distribute it on the exploitation film circuit that sprung up in response to these new film regulations. He renamed it, “Reefer Madness.” For Esper, like Hearst, it was all about the money. But the American people truly did begin to fear this dangerous drug marijuana, largely due to the steadily growing stream of propaganda. Hearst quickly used his resources to begin lobbying politicians, including Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a precursor to today’s DEA. Up until that point, the FBN was in charge of preventing opiates like heroin from being smuggled into the country. But Anslinger soon made marijuana a priority, drafting the Marihuana tax act of 1937 to greatly diminish the strength of the hemp industry that was beginning to effect both Anslinger’s paper and Du Ponte’s nylon sales. Even the American Medical Association believed that the act went too far. They claimed that the bill, which had quickly been drafted in secret, did not allow adequate time to prepare a legal opposition. Also, with the term “marijuana” used instead of cannabis, the AMA’s legal defense, Dr. William Creighton Woodward argued that “Marijuana is not the correct term… Yet the burden of this bill is placed heavily on the doctors and pharmacists of this country” In spite of this, the new law was passed hastily, facing little opposition. The first string of arrests were made the following day. Part of the new law indicated that tax stamps were supposed to be given to those interested in growing cannabis, but virtually none were issued, and farmers feared that by seeking the government’s approval on the matter, they would be incriminating themselves. One of the main opponents of the law was the mayor of new York city, Fiorello La Guardia, for whom la guardia airport is named. In 1938 he appointed a commission to investigate the new bill, later creating ‘the la guardia committee’ to oppose Anslinger’s draconian campaign against cannabis. The committee was unsuccessful, and in 1942, cannabis was officially removed from medical textbooks. That same year, the US dept. of agriculture and even the army themselves urged farmers to grow hemp, releasing a propaganda film of their own, Hemp for Victory, talking about the importance of the crop. Soon, with World War II in full swing, tax stamps were issued to allow the plant to be grown. But this change of heart was short lived, and cannabis arrests continued, increasing during this period, as did the drug’s popularity. Finally, in 1969, after being arrested for possession, Harvard professor and psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary challenged the Marihuana tax act in court. In “Leary vs. the United States” it was determined by a federal judge that the marihuana tax act was unconstitutional and the law was overruled. In response, congress passed the controlled substances act of 1970 to ensure that cannabis remained illegal, as it was used heavily by the anti-war hippie counter culture, and black Americans fighting for civil rights. The DEA was born. President Nixon hired a team of scientists to prove the dangers of the substance to help justify his decision. When just the opposite was found, and the commission he had appointed called for the decriminalization of marijuana, he threw the study in the trash. Cannabis has been illegal at the federal level ever since. Over the years, numerous states have seen the error of their ways and decriminalized it, with some legalizing it for medical and even recreational purposes. Now, nearly ¾ of the US population supports legalization, but there has been a heavy pushback by the federal government, with lobbyists from the private prison industry and the prison guards union, among others, objecting to any legalization efforts. Thousands remain in prison, largely due to the propaganda and anti-drug sentiment of years past. It is worth noting the racial disparity in these drug arrests, with the majority of non-violent drug offenders being minorities. That’s why it’s now more important than ever for us, as a society, to look at humanity’s long standing history of cannabis consumption, as a dietary staple, a sacrament, a medicine, and even its use as a textile, and to realize the error of our ways. Cannabis users are not the violent rapists they were made out to be in the 1930s, any more than they are the lazy slacker stereotype perpetuated by the media today. While there are certainly people smoking weed in their mom’s basement, other users are doctors, lawyers, religious leaders and, yes, even politicians, along with virtually all other segments of the American public, with cannabis being one of the most widely consumed drugs. Modern studies have concluded that it is hundreds of times safer than alcohol. It’s even safer than Tylenol. The failed laws of yesteryear, the narrow, 2 dimensional stereotypes, the anti-science and anti-intellectual arguments for prohibition need to be revisited, questioned, and challenged. For those fighting against cancer, which more than 100 studies prove cannabis can kill Or people suffering from epilepsy, on which CBD has a profound effect. Or people with autism or Alzheimers
or gout. For those serving time for a couple of grams. For the innovators
The artists seekers of a deeper insight
The writers Prophets
For the betterment of humanity.