To get a better understanding of the history of cannabis, we have to go back, way back, several thousand years ago, in fact, to tell a whole story of this misunderstood plant.
Cannabis has been on a roller coaster journey over the years, although many think this journey only started a few decades ago with the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s.
The story of this amazing plant is intertwined with humanity’s development, and for most of those years it was not only legal, but it was also considered to be one of the most important crops in many cultures for medicinal, spiritual and commercial value.
To understand the history of cannabis, we start where it all began.
The Origins and the Early History of Cannabis
Dating bat to the year 2737 B.C., cannabis was being used by the Chinese for medicinal purposes and for achieving euphoria. In writings from Emperor Shen Nung, he talked about how the cannabis had powers to heal malaria, gout, rheumatism, and absent-mindedness.
Although there was mention of the intoxicating properties, the main focus was the medicinal value. From China, the cannabis spread to North Africa, Europe, and India by 500 A.D.
Once it arrived in India, it was clearly being used for recreational purposes, where Muslims introduced hashish that popularly spread throughout the 12th century in Persia and then North America.
The History of Cannabis in America
It wasn’t until the Spanish brought cannabis to the New World in 1545 that the English were officially introduced to the power of the plant.
The earliest known recording of the English being introduced to cannabis was in Jamestown in 1611 where it was being bought and sold as a commercial crop with tobacco and ultimately grown and sold as a source of fiber.
By this time, many were using cannabis to help to relieve pain associated with toothaches and childbirth. For most of the time that cannabis was in existence, it was not only legal, but it was also becoming effective at helping locals to deal with a number of ailments.
The Changing of the Guard
In the last part of the 1800s, although the hemp was extremely popular for making rope and clothing, cotton took over as the most popular crop in the southern states.
Even though there were many patent medicines that were using cannabis, they were falling by the wayside due to the popularity of cocaine and opium.
As a result, many products that were widely making use of the cannabis were no longer popular, and it appeared for a few decades that cannabis was going to simply fade away into obscurity. But something was about to change the way the world looked at and used cannabis, and it was thanks to the Mexican Revolution.
Two Popular Subspecies of the Plant
Before we continue to tell the history of cannabis, we have to pause and distinguish between the two popular subspecies of the cannabis plant.
Cannabis sativa is commonly referred to as marijuana and has psychoactive properties, where cannabis Sativa L is referred to as hemp and is non-psychoactive and primary used for fuel, cloth, and oils.
Due to the two similar names, those in the power simply decided that when one should be banned, it meant both. So while many people were enjoying the cannabis for clothing and making rope, once the stigma of the cannabis being addictive and bad for you was decided, it stuck.
Cannabis in the United States
Although cannabis was on a wild ride throughout the pre-modern and the modern world, it officially arrived for good at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States from Mexico. Immigrants that were trying to flee their country during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911 arrived with cannabis in tow.
The stigma of negativity associated with cannabis grew as a result of local newspapers who continued to write articles in the day associating murder, rape, and stealing, with Mexicans who were smoking the cannabis.
These thinly veiled racist fears were quite effective by the reactionary newspapers, and the plant was officially outlawed in 1915 by the state of Utah. By 1931 29 other states followed and the plant was officially on the banned list.
The Growing Popularity of Cannabis
Even though newspapers continued to try and squash the growing popularity of cannabis, it was starting to become popular throughout the 1920s. Jazz musicians and many in show business began writing refer songs, and tea pads, marijuana clubs, began to appear in just about every major city.
It did not hurt that Prohibition was occurring, adding more attention and focus to the cannabis. The people who began using marijuana at these social clubs were not considered a social threat by the local authorities, so they were tolerated.
By the time Harry Aslinger took over at the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) the popularity of this plant was spreading. He was, however, the first commissioner to try and make marijuana illegal in all states, and in 1937 was successful at putting cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Marijuana Tax Act.
Modern History of Cannabis
Up until 1942, cannabis was being prescribed for rheumatism, nausea, and labor pains, but the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs decided to portray marijuana as an addicting substance that could lead users to narcotics addiction.
Authorities tried many times to convince the public cannabis was a gateway drug that would lead to more dangerous addictions. Despite those efforts, cannabis became popular with the beat generation of the 1950s, in the 1960s was used by hippies and college student, fast becoming the symbol of rebellion against authority.
During the 1970s, The Controlled Substance Act classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, eliminating any association to medical usage.
In 1980, both Reagan and Bush administrations took a zero-tolerance stance on the drug that would result in the passage of some very strict laws and mandatory jail sentences for possession of marijuana.
Today, the history of cannabis has taken a new upward trend as more states begin to finally loosen those restrictions that were put in place almost a century ago.
Each year medical professionals are discovering more healing properties that have changed the way the country as a whole views cannabis.
It can be used to lower cholesterol, ease muscle and joint pain, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, increase clarity, strengthen hair and fingernail, decrease anxiety and depression, and well as help improve sleeping patterns.
It appears it took the long road, but cannabis is finally once again being recognized for its medicinal properties instead of its hallucinogenic ability.
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