The history of cannabis is rich and crosses many cultural and national borders. Cannabis has been used as a medicine for thousands of years by Afghanis, Africans, Arabs, Bedouin, Chinese, Hindus, and Persians.
The exact history of cannabis during ancient times is sketchy, to say the least. With that being said, we have done our best to chronologically list some of the most important events, or cultural trends, in the world of cannabis.
Many of these events have influenced cannabis culture today and the individuals who read this may be surprised at how early some of these cannabis rituals or cultural attachments were implemented.
Learn more about the history of cannabis below; this article will cover the years 2,700 B.C – 1910.
2,700 B.C – Shen Nung, one of the fathers of Chinese medicine, discusses cannabis extensively in his medical writings. This is the first known record of medical cannabis.
550 B.C – Persian prophet Zoroaster releases a text of medicinal plants known as the Zend-Avesta. This text categorizes hemp plants within the medicinal plants available at the time.
450 B.C – A Greek historian, Herodotus, describes, in detail, the practice of placing hemp/cannabis plants onto hot stones and inhaling the resulting smoke and creating a relaxing incense. The Scythians of Central Asia were well known for this practice.
100 B.C – China begins mass production of paper, made from hemp.
45 A.D – Cannabis is officially classified as a sacrament by the Ethiopian Coptic Church although the practice of consuming cannabis had been long passed down through many generations.
70 A.D – Dioscorides, a surgeon to the Roman Emperor Nero, routinely praises cannabis as a material to construct strong medical-grade slings, rope, and other valuable materials.
400 A.D – At Old Buckingham Mare, cannabis is cultivated in the United Kingdom for the very first time.
500 A.D – Constaninopilitanus, a biological reference, contains one of the first mass-produced drawings of the cannabis plant.
600 A.D – Germany, France, and the Vikings are some of the first in Europe to have produced industrial quantities of paper made from cannabis plants.
800 A.D – Within the Islamic religion, the Prophet Mohammed allows cannabis use, but, prohibits alcohol completely.
1000 – Many Muslim and Hindu societies begin to produce hash for religious, social, and medical usage. English language dictionaries add the word “Hempe”.
1150 – The first paper mill in Europe is constructed by Muslims. Over the next 850 years, the majority of worldwide paper products are made from cannabis.
1484 – Catholic Pope at the time, Innocent VIII, claims that cannabis is an ‘unholy’ sacrament of the satanic masses.
1494 – England begins industrial-scale paper production from hemp plants.
1500s – Tobacco is introduced to many nations across the world. This has a profound effect on cannabis consumption as smoking hash, rather than eating it, becomes a popular method of consumption, especially in Arab nations.
1545 – The powerful Spanish Empire transports large amounts of cannabis plants to Chile in order to start a cultivation operation.
1554 – The Spanish Empire begins to spread cannabis across South America (to Peru specifically) after a successful cultivation operation in Chile.
1563 – Queen Elizabeth I issues a royal decree: landowners with 60 acres (or more), must grow cannabis/hemp on their land. If the landowners disobey, they will face a 5-pound fine.
1564 – After hearing of the royal decree in England, Spain’s King Philip follows Queen Elizabeth’s lead and orders large-scale landowners to grow cannabis throughout the entire Spanish Empire. At this point in time, the Spanish Empire stretched from Argentina to Oregon.
1606 – The Royal British Navy begins transporting cannabis plants, mainly for Navy use, to Canada.
1611 – Cannabis finally reaches the United States. The British Empire begins mass cultivation of cannabis/hemp in the U.S state of Virginia.
1619 – Virginia, at the time a British colony, implements various laws that ensures mandatory cannabis/hemp cultivation for those who own large sections of land. Several other British colonies in the U.S follow Virginia and enact these same laws.
1631 – Cannabis/hemp is used as a common currency in bartering across North America.
1632 – Cannabis/hemp seeds and plants are transported by Pilgrims to the colony of New England in the U.S.
1632 – 1750 – Across the British colonies of North America, the cannabis economy is booming. As mentioned, cannabis is widely accepted as a means of currency.
1753 – Cannabis was officially classified in the Western hemisphere by Carolus Linnaeus as Cannabis Sativa. Linnaeus is well-known as the “father of taxonomy” by many and his system of classification placed plants and other organisms within a hierarchical structure within nature.
1785 – Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed that there were, in fact, two separate classifications of cannabis. This is where we get our two main strain classifications from today. In 1785, there were only the original “landrace” strains of cannabis which made this classification incredibly easy.
1791 – President of the United States of America, George Washington sets small taxes on cannabis/hemp products in order to create economic incentives. Thomas Jefferson even encouraged farmers to grow cannabis/hemp instead of tobacco in order to stimulate the local and national economy.
1807 – The Treaty of Tilsit, signed between Czar Alexander of Russia and Napoleon Bonaparte, cuts the British Empire off from trading with the Russians. Americans begin to smuggle Russian hemp/cannabis into the British Empire.
1808 – Czar Alexander of Russia ignores the trade of Russian cannabis to the British by the Americans. This causes major political tensions between Russia and France with Napoleon Bonaparte placing troops inside Russia to ensure the blockade of England is achieved.
1812 – This year was very important historically because of two major wars; On the 19th of June 1812, the U.S declares war on the British Empire. On the 24th of June, Napoleon Bonaparte declares war on Russia by invading. The French troops try to cripple the supply of cannabis/hemp that the British were importing behind their backs. By the winter of 1812, the majority of the invading force was destroyed.
1839 – An early homeopathic journal, The American Provers’ Union, publishes the first of many reports concerning the effect of cannabis on the human body.
1841 – Brooke O’Shaughnessy, the Irish physician, travels to Bengal and observes various cannabis rituals and customs. He writes about these experiences in his medical writings. British interest in cannabis was starting to flourish across the country.
1845 – Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a French physician, travels to Muslim societies within North Africa and the Middle East. His writings extensively record the psychological effects of cannabis within these societies.
1857 – Classic cannabis literature, The Hashish Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow, is published. The Smith Brothers of Edinburgh begin to market a cannabis tincture, used as a base for many different medicines at the time.
1860 – The first government-sanctioned study of cannabis and health takes place in the United States. The Ohio State Medical Society publishes its findings in a widely available report.
1870 – The United States Pharmacopoeia adds cannabis as a medicine with a wide variety of uses.
1876 – During the American Centennial Celebrations, hashish is used as a celebratory substance for party-goers.
1890 – The Queen’s Royal Doctor, Sir Russel Reynolds, prescribes cannabis to Queen Victoria for menstrual cramps and pain management and also claimed that cannabis is one of the most valuable medicines available.
1895 –The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission releases a report that states, “the moderate use (of cannabis) practically produces no ill effects”. The followers of Pancho Villa in Mexico gain a worldwide reputation as a ‘marijuana smoking army”.
1910 – Jazz clubs, located in New Orleans, reported cannabis use among musicians of African-American descent. Mexican immigrants to the United States are also known to smoke cannabis.
1910 is an important year within cannabis history because it is arguably the start of the demonization of cannabis, as well as some countries starting to prohibit the use and cultivation of cannabis.
1910 is an incredibly interesting year in the history of cannabis. During 1910, several countries began to take the steps to prohibit cannabis production and usage among their populations. Conversely, the medical cannabis industry was also thriving in the United Kingdom and the United States.
From 1910 onward, cannabis was demonized in the media and looked down upon by some members of societies across the world. Ingrained racism/xenophobia, recently freed slaves, an influx of immigrants, and conflicting social ideologies between old and new all combined to create a melting-pot society in the United States.
All of these factors contributed greatly to the prohibition of cannabis. Seen as a way to ‘control’ the new immigrants and races descending on the United States, cannabis was made illegal in many U.S states during the following two decades.
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