A Brief History
This is a very very brief history of Cannabis to give you a glimpse into just how old and wonderful it really is. Learning about Cannabis is definitely a journey and not something we can cover in a few blogs and podcasts. So please forgive me if they are a little slow burning for now.
I’ve always wanted to learn as much as I could about Cannabis, so as well as reading anything I came across I also purchased an online course 18 months ago from The Centre of Excellence. I found this brief history of Cannabis so fascinating, I had to share it with you.
Here is the excerpt I read form The Centre of Excellence Medicinal Cannabis & CBD Oil Diploma course:
The hypothesis of cannabis emerging from hops 27 million years ago is pinpointed to the Tibetan Plateau in Central Asia. Here, forty thousand-year-old human remains have been discovered, suggesting that we humans were at least living in close proximity to that plant at this time.
Our first concrete evidence of human interaction with cannabis dates back over ten thousand years. Cannabis seeds were found in a jar dating back this far during excavations on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The use of the plant here is further evidenced in Neolithic paintings featuring the leaves of the plant found in caves on the same island.
It’s widely believed that hemp was one of the first plants to be purposefully cultivated – and that makes sense given its wide variety of uses. Evidence suggests it was cultivated in Japan from the pre-Neolithic era.
During the 5th millennium BC, the Chinese were using hemp and possibly cannabis to make fibres for their paper, clothes and shoes. In 2727 BC, the Chinese Emperor Shennong wrote about cannabis – the first written mention of the plant.
Around 2000 BC, Chinese coastal farmers took cannabis plants over to Korea where the Koreans embraced the crop and all its uses.
We know that the Aryans (the Indic people from the Indian Vedic period) taught the ancient Assyrians about the psychotropic uses of cannabis. They used it in religious ceremonies, calling it qunubu (the word which is potentially the origin of the word cannabis). They also taught the secrets of the cannabis plant to the Scythians from central Eurasia. (who the ancient Greek historian Herodotus witnessed sitting in tents full of cannabis smoke to experience euphoria.) The Dacians and the Thracians from Eastern and South-eastern Eurasia.
It’s thought that cannabis spread across Eurasia around five thousand years ago. In part thanks to the trade route known as the Bronze Road. As we now know, the multiple uses of the cannabis plants made it a useful commodity, and commodities back then were useful for trading.
At around this period, we find Chinese writings bestowing the virtues of cannabis as a medicinal plant. It was used to treat the likes of malaria, rheumatism and constipation. It was used medicinally across the Mediterranean and in India and Egypt from 1500 to 200 BC. The ancient Persians considered cannabis to be their most prized medicinal plant. Interestingly, ancient Islamic medicine agrees with the medicinal uses of cannabis, but also highlights it as a poison.
Viking ships from the mid 9th century were found to contain cannabis seeds, but it’s thought that cannabis came to the UK during the 5th century during the Anglo-Saxon invasions.
Cannabis appears to have made its way to South America (and then to the USA in the hands of the fleeing Mexican migrants) by way of South Africa from around 1600 AD onwards.
In the UK, it’s interesting to note that little was recorded of the plant until the 17th century, although we know it was here before then. Around this time, academics and herbalists wrote of the use of hemp seeds for melancholy and to treat inflammation. These uses actually tell us a great deal about the variety of cannabis being used at this time. To achieve such results the plant would have had to be high in CBD, but low in THC.
In 1838, Irish doctor William O’Shaughnessy, after working in India brought back Cannabis indica. He had seen in India how this plant was consumed as bhang (powdered cannabis) and bhang lassi (a milk drink containing cannabis and spices) and so he brought this knowledge back with him. It is on the back of his work that cannabis was then used medicinally in the British Empire and across Europe for the next half a century. We even see Queen Victoria’s physician using the plant to treat pain, as discussed in one of his Lancet articles.
In the 1890s, Thomas Hill Easterfield, Thomas Barlow Wood and Thomas Newton Spivey studied the active constituents within cannabis resin and though they thought they’d extracted cannabinol, it was actually a mixture of cannabinoids. Cannabinol was finally successfully isolated around 1938. By this time cannabis had become prohibited in many countries, including the UK (which banned it in 1928).
The prohibition of cannabis demonstrates an extreme turnaround on the views of this plant. Within recent history, the Queen’s physician had bestowed its virtues, but suddenly it was viewed as a dangerous substance. Until the 1930s, Cannabis sativa had an entry in the United States Pharmacopoeia, listed as, amongst other things, a sedative. However, in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, prohibiting the cultivation, sale and use of the plant.
From around the 1920s, there was a growing fear surrounding the use of the plant as a psychotropic recreational drug. There was a growing concern among the public that the plant’s use would lead to deviancy and posed a threat to the wider public’s safety. It’s fair to say that a look back to the headlines of the era point firmly to deeply unsettling racist views – with the first cannabis bans being directed at racial minorities. Fear mongering and propaganda appear to have played their part in the changing views of this plant.
However, the act did little to quash the recreational use of cannabis in the USA (nor did the ban of the plant in the UK), with its popularity rising through the decades, peaking in the 70s – as we all know! During this period, we witnessed cannabis collecting across the globe by ‘hippies’ who wanted to continue their use of the plant.
By 1980, eleven states in the USA had decriminalised ‘possession’ of cannabis, but later the law clamped down again. In the UK, echoing the pattern seen in America, by the 1970s, the use of the plant was peaking. It has moved in and out of drug classes in the UK, from a class C in 2004, back to a class B in 2009, where it had been previously since 1971. Famously, the Dutch have ‘enjoyed’ legal use of the plant since 1976, with use remaining pretty stable since then.
Bans had occurred prior to this. In 1830, it became illegal to bring cannabis into Rio de Janeiro after the African slaves brought to the city by the Portuguese used the plant recreationally (becoming familiar with it in their own country). In 1870, its use was banned in British Singapore, again due to the recreational use of the plant by labourers. By the late 1800s, Islamic countries had also banned cannabis. By the 1920s, most other countries had followed suit.
The Rest of the World
But there has been a change recently and in some countries, we have seen cannabis move back into medical use. In the District of Columbia, in 33 USA States, in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Israel, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Italy, Germany, Finland, Cypress and Canada, cannabis can now be used medically. In the UK, medical use of cannabis was legalised in 2018 following a highly publicised case of two children whose epilepsy was helped by cannabis use. CBD oil is legal (without prescription) in the UK. Non-medical, recreational cannabis remains illegal in the UK.
Excerpt is owned by The Centre of Excellence. Pictures found on google & credited where possible.
I hope you found this as interesting as I did!
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Blog post written by Jess Gelling, Founder of The UK Potcast
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