Research Paper: Cannabis in Ancient History

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[. . .] In India, "entire systems of medicine were being built up around" the use of cannabis preparations (Turner). Because the herb had psychoactive properties, it was valued and respected in India. Cannabis was "prescribed for a variety of ailments, including dandruff, headaches, mania, insomnia, venereal disease, leprosy, whooping cough and tuberculosis," (Turner, 1998).

Moreover, by the time cannabis cultivation and use spread to India, it was being increasingly often used for religious and psychedelic functions. Undoubtedly it required courage to explore the often intense and nearly hallucinogenic states that the cannabis drug might induce. "It wasn't until India came upon cannabis that it became a widespread religious and medicinal intoxicant," (Gumbiner 1). The most important Indian texts, the Vedas, mention cannabis as a religious sacrament. The Atharva-Veda, which is one of the four ancient Hindu Vedas, refers to hemp as a "sacred herb" in Book XI, 6:15-16 (cited by Head 1). The term "ganja," now a common colloquial name for cannabis, is a Sanskrit word (Head). Preparations of ganja known as bhang continue to be commonplace in India, where cannabis is used both for medicinal and psychoactive uses. Cannabis was still being used for standard medical needs, but was also being used as a religious sacrament and psychoactive substance used by shamans (Head). "Most cultures viewed Marijuana as a gift, or treasure, from the Divine Sprit, to be used during ceremonials, at which time it was either burned as incense, ingested for deep meditative and heighten awareness," ("Marijuana Since the Beginning of Time" 1). Explorations of the mind require spiritual courage.

Throughout the world, cannabis has been and remains both a wild weed as well as a cultivated crop (Mercuri, Accorsi, and Mazzanti). Cannabis was spread to Europe most likely by the Caucasian tribe the Scythians, of which Greek historian Herodotus wrote. "The Greeks and the Romans cultivated hemp mainly for medicinal use, although there are a few references to its use as a social lubricant at banquets to promote hilarity and enjoyment," (Turner 1). Pliny the Elder wrote about cannabis, especially the use of hemp for clothing and other pragmatic functions (Mercuri, Accorsi, and Mazzanti). Cannabis was certainly cultivated in a conscientious and relatively widespread manner throughout the Roman Empire (Mercuri, Accorsi and Mazzanti). Even then, no conflict or greed interfered with cannabis cultivation.

Cannabis and hemp were both being used, mainly for clothing and fiber, in the Middle East, throughout the Jewish and Arabian world as well as ancient and medieval Persia. The Talmud mentions cannabis by 500 CE ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Arabian and Persian cultures developed the resin preparation of cannabis known as hashish, and by 900 CE, the "pros and cons of eating hashish" were already being debated by scholars as the popularity of the drug spread ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). The earliest recorded use of cannabis as a recreational drug was around the 12th century CE in Arabian and Persian cultures, and the plant is mentioned in literary classics like 1001 Nights ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). The original assassins used hashish, whole monographs were penned about it, and Marco Polo also wrote about the psychoactive properties and social functions of cannabis ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Via Arabian cultures, cannabis spread to Western Europe and throughout Africa and Central Asia. This did not require courage, and it did not entail conflict yet, either. However, greed would soon enter the picture.

During the 16th century, hemp became a valuable crop especially during the burgeoning stages of globalization and exploration. This could be the beginning of the use of cannabis in a greedy cash crop fashion. In 1533, King Henry VIII went on record fining farmers if they did not raise hemp for industrial use ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Colonial governments likewise mandated the cultivation of cannabis in the colonies, as in Brazil as well as in North America. Although most recorded uses of hemp were for fiber, it was also being used for its psychoactive and medicinal properties. For instance, a book called the Anatomy of Melancholy mentions cannabis as a treatment for depression in 1621, and in 1764 The New English Dispensatory suggested the use of cannabis roots to the skin as a treatment for inflammation ("Marijuana Since the Beginning of Time"). It was during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century that scientific nomenclatures and classification systems emerged in earnest, leading to the documentation of cannabis as cannabis sativa by Linnaeus.

Conflicts surrounding cannabis began with Napoleon, who issued one of the first known prohibitions on marijuana, after French soldiers started smoking hashish after a military campaign in Egypt ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Thus, European hegemony was in part to blame for the stigmatization of cannabis. A hundred years after Napoleon, a ban on hashish was issued almost simultaneously in both Greece and Turkey. Generally, though, throughout the world there were no strict taboos on using cannabis. In fact, cannabis was mentioned in most major medical texts in Europe, the Middle East, and Far East, and the New World. The Queen of England's own physician prescribed cannabis to her in 1898 ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). It was dispensed in the same pharmacies that issued other drugs, and offered to treat a wide variety of ailments, as it is today. Yet soon it would require great courage to start medical marijuana dispensaries, after the greed-based conflicts that characterized the use of the drug in the 20th century.

Hashish smoking for recreational purposes was popular, too, especially in the Middle East. Smoking cannabis recreationally had also become commonplace among field workers and slaves in the New World. Mexican farmers smoked cannabis recreationally, which is how its use entered American popular culture soon after the Mexican Revolution ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Thus began the conflict-ridden and greed-driven campaign against cannabis in the United States. Largely as a method of social and political control, the American government passed the Harrison Act, which criminalized cannabis and several other medicinal substances. The criminalization of marijuana in the early 20th century has had grave repercussions on American society, and these ill effects have reverberated throughout the world. Anti-drug propaganda altered political and public policies, impacting trade and diplomacy in the Americas but also throughout the globe. Within just twenty years, anti-drug propaganda had become normative. Most nations around the world banned cannabis, with no logical reason other than to promote a specific political agenda. Conflict and greed qualified much of the discourse surrounding marijuana in the 20th century, and it is taking tremendous courage for individuals and organizations to overcome corporate control of cannabis. The war on drugs has fomented a major black market economy with attendant violence, social conflict, and political conflict.

After the criminalization of cannabis, hemp production was gradually phased out in favor of cash crops like cotton that were far less efficient for the same functions in fiber and clothing ("10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World"). Thus, a greed-based capitalist economy characterized the modern history of marijuana. Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry was able to redirect consumers to drugs it had manufactured for profit. Cannabis was a free plant, which grows readily in the wild; pharmaceutical companies banked on drug criminalization to sell patented medicines instead. Propaganda related to cannabis seeped into the public consciousness, leading to a faulty association between marijuana and moral degeneracy. The cannabis plant, which had been cultivated for 10,000 years for medicinal purposes, had suddenly become one of the most ironically taboo materials on the planet. In the United States, a "war on drugs" political campaign starting with President Nixon in the 1970s and still ongoing as determined drug policy. Only within the past few years has common sense began to prevail, with the gradual dismantling of prohibition on a state-by-state and country-by-country basis. Some areas have completely decriminalized cannabis, and others have allowed for its use medicinally. The courage to re-educate the public entails the elimination of disinformation, which will eventually result in the de-escalation of conflict, and the easing of a greed-based approach to cannabis cultivation.

References

"10,000-year History of Marijuana use in the World." Advanced Holistic Health. Retrieved online: http://www.advancedholistichealth.org/history.html

Gumbiner, Jann. "History of Cannabis in Ancient China." Psychology Today. May 10, 2011. Retrieved online: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-teenage-mind/201105/history-cannabis-in-ancient-china

Head, Tom. "Marijuana in Ancient History." About.com. Retrieved online: http://civilliberty.about.com/od/drugpolicy/tp/Ancient-History-of-Marijuana.htm

"Marijuana Since the Beginning of Time." Marijuana Today. Retrieved online: http://marijuanatoday.com/marijuanahistory.php

Mercuri, Anna Maria, Accorsi, Carla Alberta and Mazzanti, Marta Bandini. "The Long History of Cannabis and its Cultivation by the Romans." Veget Hist Archaeobot 2002, No. 11, pp. 263-276.

Turner, E.J. Cannabis in history. 1998. Retrieved online: http://www.ephidrina.org/cannabis/history.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cannabis in Ancient History.  (2014, April 25).  Retrieved April 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cannabis-ancient-history/3204760

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"Cannabis in Ancient History."  Essaytown.com.  April 25, 2014.  Accessed April 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cannabis-ancient-history/3204760.