The oldest known written record of cannabis comes from a Chinese emperor in 2727 BC while it has been found in Siberian burial mounds dating back to 3000 BC. Ancient Greeks and Romans then also started using it and it eventually spread west to Spain and the Americas.
Cannabis has had an extremely widespread reach throughout history, used as a medicinal healer, pain killer and for spirituality, making it even more bizarre that it has managed to stay illegal for the majority of the 20th century. The idea that cannabis is an evil is a very recent addition to its long history.
It has been documented for it’s use with pain relief during childbirth and toothache through medieval German and Viking times. In ancient India cannabis was regarded as a gift of the gods used excessively in folk medicine. It was believed to quicken the mind, prolong life, improve judgement, lower fevers, induce sleep and cure dysentery.
Drawing of Cannabis sativa from Vienna Dioscurides, 512 AD. (Public Domain)
Hemp was one of the first fibre plants to be used before the widespread use of cotton. Typically used throughout the world for rope, clothing and paper. Nowadays hemp fibres are more commonly found in clothing and jewellery. The Mona Lisa is in fact painted on a hemp canvas, Christopher Columbus sailed the world on ships, each carrying 80 tons of hemp rigging, and hemp canvas sails. The first model T ford had a hemp fire interior and ran on hemp fuel. You could even pay tax with hemp at one point in time, it is an extremely versatile plant.
During the 1800s, cannabis and its extracts made up over 50% of medicine across the USA and Europe. Cannabis Indica was primarily used for medical purposes as it was known also for its relaxing and calming effect. Moving into the 1900s and cannabis was the third leading active ingredient behind alcohol and opiates as patent medicines for sale in America. It was a common ingredient in medicines, found in almost every pharmacy and medical clinic until 1937 when the plant was outlawed by the Marijuana tax Act despite later objections from the American Medical Association. It all started with a smear campaign by the paper industry led by William Randal Hurst which was supported by the pharmaceutical industry that eventually led to its demise as a health food, medicine and textile. The derogatory word marijuana was used instead of cannabis, a devil plant from mexico that was making the American population crazy and high. This lead to the ban of ‘marijuana’ which managed to fly under the radar of the medical profession who never appealed the ban as they didn’t realise it was actually cannabis that was being made illegal.
Cannabis was continually suppressed as it threatened the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry. The doctors did not know what marijuana was so it was never applied until it was too late and the laws had passed. This made it unavailable to the public while pharmaceutical drugs were subsidised. By 1942 it was completely removed as a medicine.
When the war on drugs was in full force during the 1970s cannabis was placed in what was decided as the most harmful category of drugs, schedule 1. Schedule 1 substances are defined to have no known medical uses and only have the possibility to be abused.
Jack Herer, American cannabis rights activist and the author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes
After the ban on cannabis and its removal as a medicine, it slowly died out as it became harder and harder to trade. Farmers couldn’t farm it anymore and growing and selling wasn’t worth it. This lead to the evolution of the plant from a health food, to a means of getting high. After the 1970s cannabis was selectively grown for the highest THC level possible, as the high became sought after. Average THC levels rose from less than 1% in the mid 1970s to well over 8% by 2008 as the medical benefits were forgotten and the illegal trade grew.
Strains of cannabis were bred to have higher levels of THC and lower CBD as the CBD reduces the effect of the high. Therefore CBD strains were bred out for recreational use which aided the negative stigma as it was making people high and the benefits of CBD were not being utilised.
It is important to note that not all strains of cannabis are intoxicating, yet even the non-intoxicating hemp was slammed and demonised which is only now just starting to recover as more people realise the health and industrial benefits of the plant.
Some progress is being made however. In 2013 the chief of health from CNN, Sanjay Gupta publicly apologised for the misleading media about cannabis which helped open up public opinion about the plant. The recent boom of the cannabis industry over the last decade has come from the bottom up. Rather than governments and large corporations making the rules, the people have demanded change and it is slowly happening.
There are many misconceptions about cannabis that have been spread by governments to supress it’s amazing healing abilities for their own financial gain which are slowing it’s adaption and re-entry into everyday life.
It starts with addressing the name marijuana which comes with the negative stigma. We support the whole cannabis plant and its synergistic health benefits, especially all the cannabinoids working together. Reverting back to cannabis and hemp is a good start.
Consuming raw cannabis as a superfood in a smoothie or juicing the plant will not make you high. The THC in the plant only becomes psychoactive when heated and like CBD is one of the key cannabinoids with a vast range of health benefits. Even when consuming cannabis for medicinal purposes whether it be smoking or preferably vaporising the oil, the high on medicinal oil is generally very minor. Medicinal cannabis is not grown purely to create the highest levels of THC possible like what is associated with marijuana. Rather the medical stuff is grown with a more optimal ratio of high CBD and moderate levels of THC where the CBD oil actually helps reduce the effect of the high. So not only are you consuming less THC but the CBD is bringing down effects of the high.
Unlike so many harmful pharmaceutical drugs, cannabis has no known level of toxicity as our body has built in systems to dispose of any excess through our endocannabinoid system. It can be used for pain relief without harmful side effects and additive tendencies that are associated with so many pain killing drugs.
Synthetic pharmaceutical cannabinoids are far inferior to real plant extracts that work synergistically together. Not only are they structurally different, but they are produced individually and don’t come with the benefits of the hundreds of other compounds present in the plant. For example CBD oil can benefit people who suffer from seizures but when taken with THC works far better.