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A Little Bit of History: Cannabis Use

The widespread recognition and approval of marijuana as a medical treatment option for many conditions and illnesses is certainly a landmark event, and one that should be celebrated. However, did you know that despite its prevailing reputation as a recreational drug, the medicinal usage of cannabis isn’t a new discovery at all? On the contrary, the concept and practice of it dates as far back as 500 BC, many years before this current legalization.

If you’d like to learn more about this, then read on as we take a little history trip on how cannabis usage came to be.

Asian Beginnings

Cannabis is a plant discovered to be indigenous to the Central Asia region, spreading not long after to nearby countries like China and India. The ancient cultures that rose up in those regions, while recognizing the psychotropic benefits of marijuana, did not cultivate cannabis as mainly for that reason alone. More than that, it was grown mainly for its hemp fibers, which could be harvested and used for making cloth, rope, and other textiles. Besides this, cannabis seeds were also used for food and oil.

This doesn’t mean that these cultures did not take the plant’s mind-altering properties into consideration. Evidence in the form of burned cannabis seeds found in the graves of identified religious healers and leaders of these cultures suggests that marijuana was possibly used for healing purposes, although not in the way we’re used to hearing about.

“Medical” Marijuana

Religious healers and leaders, especially in ancient civilizations, share one more commonly-known term: shamans. These shamans would perform rituals that they believe could help cure diseases or bring fortune to their communities. Some of these rituals involved them trying to contact otherworldly beings such as spirits or deities, and to do that they have to put themselves in religious trances or stupors. It’s more than likely that they used marijuana to do so, taking advantage of its psychotropic effects in order to “commune” with the spirits.

Was this the only known “medicinal” use of marijuana? More evidence found in ancient Egypt and Greece say otherwise. Medical text found in those civilizations describes cannabis as a medicinal herb valued for its ability to combat nausea and other gastric-related issues. So we can safely say that marijuana’s therapeutic properties were also held in practical regard even then.

Consume Cannabis As Part Of A Healthy Lifestyle

Ancient Recreational Drug

What about marijuana being used recreationally, as in strictly for pleasure rather than anything else? The earliest known mention of cannabis being used in such a capacity was found in the texts authored by a famous Greek historian known as Herodotus. This puts the recreational use of cannabis to have taken place as early as 484 to 425 BC. In his texts, Herodotus described how a Eurasian people known as the Scythians inhaled the smoke coming from cannabis seeds and flowers that were thrown onto heated rocks.

Besides this, recreational cannabis use was also found in the Middle East and South Asia at 800 AD. This is believed to be due to Islam, where its practitioners are strictly forbidden from drinking alcohol and other mind-altering substances. This is dictated clearly in the Islamic holy book, the Koran. However, due to the fact that the Koran does not explicitly mention cannabis, early Muslims took it as a sign that using cannabis was permitted. Their way of consuming marijuana was unique, in that they turned it into a concentrated substance known as hashish. This had a stronger psychoactive effect than just regular cannabis.

American Druggist Standby

Fast forward to the 1800s, where marijuana would make its way into the civilized world as medicine. It would be in the 1830s where an Irish doctor in India would discover that cannabis extracts could alleviate the vomiting symptoms of cholera patients, allowing them to survive for longer than those who did not take the extract. This discovery would spread far and wide, and cannabis extracts would be sold by American druggists as a cure for many gastric ailments by the late 1800s.

The fact that cannabis was so effective in treating gastric conditions encouraged those selling it to also advertise it as a cure-all for many types of health conditions, from labor pains and rheumatism to even diabetes and gonorrhea. It soon gained the reputation of being useless snake oil despite still being included in patented medicines as an herbal ingredient. 

Widespread Recreational Use in America

It would be in 1920s where marijuana would catch on in America as a recreational drug. In this, many historical experts point to Prohibition as a main element in its rise in popularity, being used only by jazz musicians at first and then spreading to their audience soon after. Marijuana speakeasies, called “tea pads”, sprang up in every major city in the country. As marijuana was not yet illegal during this time, with its users generally well-behaved and didn’t partake in disruptive behavior, the authorities generally allowed them to run. By and large, marijuana was not considered a social threat.

Ten years later, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics would run a campaign portraying marijuana as a powerful and addictive gateway drug to harder, more toxic narcotics. Of course this met resistance from those who regularly enjoyed the herb, with college students and “hippies” of the time holding up marijuana as a symbol of rebellion against authority.

It would be nearly half a century later, in 1970, where it would be officially classified as a Controlled Substance, along with heroin and LSD. This would make the usage and possession of cannabis a punishable offense by law. Many political figures such as those in the Reagan and Bush administrations would make moves to try and completely eradicate marijuana as well as pressure other countries to combat its growth and spread.

Try as they might though, cannabis survived, and it is now enjoyed today both as a recreational substance and as a valid medical treatment option by millions of Americans all over the country. Some states still outlaw marijuana use, but with its medicinal effects being formally recognized by the medical and scientific communities, it will only be a matter of time until they accept it as the miraculous cure that it is.

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There we have it, the brief history of cannabis usage, from its very first known usage to the present day. We hope you’ve learned something new about this wonderful medicinal herb. If you’re one of the many using it to manage your medical condition, then we also hope that you continue to use it according to your doctor’s instructions.