Cannabis has been used for medicinal, spiritual, and recreational purposes for several thousands of years. While it is currently outlawed in many countries around the world, this is really only a recent move. Debate currently wages around whether the drug should be made legal and it looks likely that Washington and Colorado were only the first of many states to pass laws that allow the sale and consumption of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Ancient China – 2737BC
The earliest dated reference to marijuana was made in Chinese literature. In 2900BC Emperor Fu wrote that “ma” (the Chinese word for cannabis) was a medicinal drug that contained both Yin and Yang. In 2737 BC emperor Shen Nung was said to have discovered the healing properties that the plant had to offer. The Chinese Pharmacopeia of 1500BC listed cannabis as a healing plant.
Use As An Anaesthetic In India – 1000BC
It was in India that the use of cannabis really spread. In 1000BC they mixed a drink called Bhang, combining milk and cannabis, and used this for its anaesthetic properties. It had anti-phlegmatic properties and was used in the country to treat a large number of ailments, illnesses, and maladies. The Venidad, one volume of an ancient religious text, listed Bhang as an essential medicine and cannabis as the most important medicinal plant. In 600BC it was even believed to offer a cure for leprosy.
Jesus’ Anointing Oil – 30AD
As well as being listed as a means of helping cure more than 100 ailments in China, it was used in ancient Greece. It is also alleged that Jesus used an anointing oil that was made from a combination of olive oil, herbs and spices, and 9lb of flowering cannabis tops. Not only did he use this anointing oil to cure others but it is argued that he used this oil to help see spiritual visions.
Hemp Used Heavily During Middle Ages – 1500AD
By the Middle Ages, hemp had become a staple part of a healer’s medicine cabinet. The New Herball, published in 1538 by renowned botanist William Turner, praised the plant for its healing properties.
Settlers Bring Cannabis To US – 1611AD
In the 17th Century, cannabis made its first journey into the USA. Jamestown settlers brought the hemp plant in 1611 and not only were people encouraged to grow it but were fined if they did not produce the plant. Its use continued to spread in England where it was recommended to treat everything from depression to gout.
George Washington Grows Hemp – 1750AD
George Washington was one of the plant’s greatest protagonists and he grew the plant over the course of about 30 years at his Mount Vernon plantation. He was intrigued by the plant’s medicinal properties and it is believed that he concentrated his efforts on the production of plants with a high THC content. Thomas Jefferson is also believed to have grown hemp although it is not clear whether he consumed it personally. In England, Queen Victoria was prescribed and regularly used cannabis to help combat menstrual cramps.
Massachusetts First State To Outlaw Cannabis – 1911AD
The prohibition era began in the USA in earnest in 1910 and as well as banning alcohol, cannabis began to be outlawed in many states. Massachusetts was the first to take the step in 1911 and various states followed shortly after. The move was made in order to prevent future use and misuse of the drug rather than because of existing widespread use. Further states followed the same pattern into the 1920s. In 1928 it was added to the UK’s dangerous drugs list.
Marihuana Tax Act – 1937AD
The 1930s were a bad decade for marijuana and its users. The introduction of drugs like aspirin meant that it was becoming less commonly used in medicine and all 48 states had passed laws restricting the use of the drug. Furthermore, campaigns led by Commissioner Harry Anslinger and newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst had urged further investigation into the societal effects of the use of the drug. In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act was passed despite competition from pharmaceutical companies and this saw a major decline in marijuana prescriptions.
Boggs Act – 1951AD
New laws, passed in 1951 and commonly to as the Boggs Act saw harsh mandatory sentences imposed for possession as well as for trafficking. First time offenders faced between two and five years in prison. In 1956 the drug was added to the Narcotics Control Act which meant that mandatory minimum sentences were increased to between two and ten years,
California Legalises Medicinal Use – 1996AD
The 1990s saw the marijuana debate reignited, although it had never fully blown over. Scientists discovered the cannabinoid receptors in the brain in 1990 and in 1996 California legalised the medicinal use of marijuana. Oregon followed suit two years later in 1998 along with Alaska and Washington. Further legalisation for medical use would continue with Massachusetts becoming the 18th and most recent state in which the medical use of cannabis is legalised.
It is still against federal law to grow and consume cannabis but a number of state laws declare that medical marijuana strains are acceptable. The debate will continue for years to come and with opposition on both sides.