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Article Summary

History Of Marijuana

Marijuana is also known as weed, tea, reefer, pot, marihuana, and grass. In crude form, the drug is composed of the flowers and leaves of various plants in the Cannabis genus. As such, the term cannabis is sometimes used interchangeably with marijuana - although the former specifically refers to its plant genus that comprises of C. sativa, C. Indica, and C. Ruderalis.

In terms of use, people usually dry and crush marijuana before forming it into joints (or cigarettes) or putting it in pipes for smoking. The drug is also added to beverages and foods to form marijuana edibles.

That said, marijuana tends to vary greatly in terms of potency. This often depends on the strain/variety, as well as how and where it is grown, stored, and prepared for use. Either way, its active ingredient is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is present in every part of both the female and male plants.

However, the greatest concentration of THC is found in the cannabin (or resin) at the flowering top of female plants. Another powerful form of marijuana is hashish. It is made from a collection of dry resin and is close to 8 times as strong as most of the weed that is smoked in the US.

That said, marijuana is mostly used for its pleasure giving effects. The plant can grow to about 16 feet or 5 meters tall although most of the strains that are grown for their intoxicating effects are usually short stemmed and highly branched.

Understanding Marijuana

Pot has one of the longest histories of use by human beings. However, most ancient cultures did not grow marijuana for its intoxicating effects. Rather, they would use it as herbal medicine - a trend that might have started around 500 BC in Asia.

In America, the history of marijuana cultivation dates as far back as the early colonialists, who would grow hemp for rope and textiles. In the 20th century, however, racial and political factors came into play, leading to the criminalization of the drug in the country - a trend that has been changing with the legalization of marijuana in some states.

It is believed the origins of the hemp or cannabis plant evolved in Central Asia from where people introduced it to Europe, Africa, and (eventually) the Americas. At the time, hemp fiber had commercial applications in the manufacture of rope, sails, paper, and clothing, while people took its seeds as food.

Since hemp tends to grow fast and easy to cultivate (and because it has so many uses), it was grown widely throughout colonial America as well as in most of the Spanish colonies of the Southwest. In fact, farmers in the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia colonies were legally required to grow it at the time.

The early hemp plants, however, had low levels of THC - the chemical that is responsible for the mind-altering effects of marijuana. However, there is evidence showing that some ancient cultures understood the psychoactive effects of the plant.

Among these cultures were those that might have cultivated several varieties of cannabis to ensure that they would produce higher THC levels. These plants would later be used in healing practices and religious ceremonies. In fact, burned marijuana seeds have been unearthed in some graves of shamans in Siberia and China dating as far back as 500 BC.

Medical Marijuana

Sir Willian Brooke O'Shaughnessy - an Irish doctor who was studying in India - discovered in the 1830s that extracts of cannabis were useful in lessening vomiting and stomach pain in cholera patients. After that, other doctors started using the drug for this purpose, and experimenting on it.

By the turn of the century, many doctors' offices and pharmacies in the US and Europe sold cannabis extracts for the treatment of a variety of ailments, including but not limited to stomach and digestion problems.

Later, scientists discovered that the THC in marijuana was the source of its medicinal properties. Since THC is a psychoactive compound that comes with mind-altering effects, it was also found to interact with the areas of the brain that can promote hunger and lessen nausea.

Today, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved two drugs that contain this compound, which are now prescribed as Syndros and Marinol pills for the treatment of nausea arising from chemotherapy as well as the loss of appetite experienced by AIDS patients.

Recreational Marijuana

One of the earliest recordings of the recreational use of marijuana was by Herodotus, a historian in ancient Greece. He recorded and described an incidence involving a group of Iranian nomads from Central Asia - the Scythians - where they were inhaling smoke from the smoldering flowers and seeds of the cannabis plant.

Apart from the above, the purified form of the drug that is typically smoked through a pipe - hashish - was used widely in parts of Asia and the Middle East by around 800 AD.

The rise in popularity of marijuana corresponded with the widely spreading Islamic religion in the region. This could be because the Quran specifically prohibits the use of intoxicating substances like alcohol but does not mention cannabis.

In the US, the recreational use of marijuana did not come about until the early years of the 20th Century. The common belief is that the recreational practice of smoking weed could have been introduced by the Mexicans that immigrated to the country during and after the Mexican Revolution. Eventually, the practice found its way into mainstream American culture.

However, the social unrest and massive rates of unemployment of the Great Depression were to stoke American resentment of the Mexican inhabitants. It also fueled public fear that weed was an evil substance. As a direct result, and in keeping with the Prohibition era which viewed all intoxicants in a bad light, 29 states outlawed the drug by 1931.

The Marijuana Tax Act

In 1937, the federal government passed its first law to criminalize cannabis around the country. Otherwise known as the Marijuana Tax Act, this law imposed stringent excise taxes on the sale, transfer, and possession of every hemp product. By so doing, it effectively criminalized every use of the plant, apart from its industrial applications.

The first person to be prosecuted under this Act was Samuel Caldwell, a 58-year-old farmer who was arrested and charged for selling cannabis a day after the Act was passed. He was eventually sentenced to 4 years of hard labor.

Despite this, people continued growing industrial hemp throughout the Second World War. Eventually, its domestic cultivation was widely encouraged especially after the Philippines - one of the major sources of hemp fiber - was taken over by Japanese forces. However, the last hemp fields in the US were planted in Wisconsin in 1957.

The Legalization Of Marijuana

In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law as part of the nationwide War on Drug. This Act effectively repealed the earlier Marijuana Tax Act. Instead, it classified cannabis as a Schedule I substance - alongside ecstasy, LSD, and heroin. This classification meant that marijuana came with a high potential for addiction and abuse and that it had no medical uses.

In 1972, the Shafer Commission (or the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse) wrote a report recommending the partial prohibition of the drug, as well as lowering the penalties for people found in possession of small marijuana amounts. However, the findings of the report were largely ignored by President Nixon and the establishment at the time.

In 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act. By so doing, it effectively became the first US state to officially legalize the medicinal use of marijuana by people with chronic or severe illnesses. Today, 29 states, Washington DC, and the US territories of Puerto Rico and Guam allow the limited medical use of cannabis.

As of January 2018, Washington DC and 9 other states have legalized the recreational use of the drug. This was after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize this form of use in 2012. Due to these laws, adults above the age of 21 can now use marijuana without a medical prescription in Oregon, Vermont, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, California, and Alaska.

However, US federal law still views marijuana as an illegal substance. As a direct result, the evolving legal status of the drug has been the subject of ongoing news and controversy both in the country and around the globe.

The Effects Of Marijuana

The checkered legal status of marijuana is mostly as a result of the effects of marijuana, both physical and mental. The short term effects of the drug may include mood changes, increased appetite, heightened sensory perception, and euphoria.

Although some people experience a happy and pleasant high after they use marijuana, others can experience panic, fear, and anxiety. These negative effects tend to be more common for people who use marijuana in excess or if the batch they are using is unexpectedly potent.

In recent decades, the amount of THC in cannabis has dramatically increased. For instance, the average content of THC in marijuana confiscated in the 1990s was 4%. It grew to about 12% by 2014, with some strains of the drug containing levels of THC that were as high as 37%.

The Origins Of Marijuana

The earliest written record of marijuana use is from 2727 BC from Shen Nung, a Chinese emperor. Additionally, Ancient Romans and Greeks were also familiar with the drug.

In the Middle East, the use of cannabis spread all through the Islamic regions stretching to North Africa. Eventually, in 1545, it found its way to the Western Hemisphere. At the time, the Spaniards imported the cannabis plant to Chile where it would be used to create fiber.

Hemp, a form of cannabis, was also grown on many North American plantations for use in manufacturing paper, clothing, and rope during the colonial period.

Forms Of Marijuana

The legalization of marijuana - especially for medical uses - is a controversial subject. This is mostly because the therapeutic properties of the drug are still being questioned and scrutinized.

a) Hashish

Also referred to as hash, hashish is the most potent and concentrated form of marijuana. It contains very high levels of the chemical THC, and is made by drying the resins of the cannabis plant before compressing them into various forms, such as sticks, cakes, and balls.

Today, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Africa, and the Middle East produce the largest volumes of hashish. People use the drug by breaking pieces of hash before placing them in pipes for smoking.

b) Hash Oil

This is a refined oily extract from the cannabis plant. The oil varies greatly in color depending on the technique used for refinement - ranging from dark brown to amber. The average content of THC in hash oil is around 15%, and people usually mix the oil with marijuana and tobacco for smoking.

c) Hemp

Hemp was one of the very first fiber plants to be commercially grown and used - way before the widespread application of cotton. Historically, it might have originated in Central Asia.

In India and the Middle East, hemp was mostly used for religious purposes and in natural medicine. Later, it found its way to Europe where people used it as fiber. Eventually, the plant got to the Americas where it became popular as a raw material for paper, clothing, and rope.

The Spread Of Marijuana Around The Globe

The cannabis plant has been used across the globe for many years, as shown by evidence derived from the regions where prehistoric man lived to Viking Ships and China.

In a recent report, Barney Ward describes the origins of marijuana use as starting in Asia thousands of years ago before finding its way to other regions of the globe - including the United States and the Americas.

In the pre-modern period, marijuana was widely used spiritually and medicinally. For instance, medieval Germans and the Vikings would use the drug for toothaches and as a pain relief medication during childbirth.

While studying the history of marijuana, it is vital that you distinguish between the main subspecies of cannabis. Cannabis Sativa, in particular, comes with psychoactive properties. On the other hand, hemp (or Cannabis Sativa L, named after Carl Linnaeus, a famed botanist) does not have any psychoactive properties and was historically used to manufacture products like fuel, clothing, and oil.

Another psychoactive species is Cannabis Indica. It was first identified by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist. The most uncommon species was named Cannabis Ruderalis by D.E. Janischevisky - a Russian botanist - in 1924.

It is now believed that the cannabis plant evolved in the Central Asian steppes, particularly in the regions that now comprise Southern Siberia and Mongolia. However, its use dates back more than 12,000 years ago - effectively placing the plant among the oldest cultivated crops on the face of the Earth. It is highly likely that the cannabis plant flourished in the largely nutrient-rich dumping sites used by prehistoric man.

Burned seeds of the plant have additionally been found in the Kurgan burial sites of Siberia, which date back to around 3000 BC as well as some of the tombs of nobles buried in the Xinjiang regions of Siberia and China dating to around 2500 BC, which included relatively large quantities of psychoactive marijuana that was mummified.

As such, it is highly likely that both psychoactive marijuana and hemp were widely used in Ancient China. However, the first recording of the medicinal use of the drug dates to about 4000 BC noting that the herb was largely used as a surgical anesthetic. Stories also say that one Chinese emperor - Shen Nung - used the drug in 2737 BC.

The drug might have found its way from China when coastal farmers took it to Korea around 2000 BC (or even early). This is according to Archeology in Korea, a book detailing findings of the plant in the area.

From 2000 BC to 1000 BC, the plant found its way to the South Asia subcontinent after Aryans invaded the region. The Aryans were a warrior group with an archaic Indian-European language.

With time, the drug was used widely in India, where people celebrated it as one of the 5 kingdoms of herbs that get rid of anxiety. It was also described in an ancient Sanskrit Vedic poem titled the Science of Charms.

European Origins

The cannabis plant might have found its way to the Middle East anywhere between 2000 BC and 1400 BC. The Scythians, an Indo-European nomadic group, were recorded using the drug. They may have carried it into Ukraine and southeast Russia because they occupied these territories for many years.

Germanic tribes, on the other hand, brought marijuana into Germany from where it spread to Britain over the 5th Century as a result of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the time.

Some cannabis seeds have additionally been found in Viking ships remains that date back to the mid-9th century. In the next centuries, the drug migrated to other regions of the globe - traveling all through Africa and getting to South America around the 19th century. Afterwards, it was carried north and eventually reached North America.

American Origins

After its relatively long trip all through both the pre-modern and the modern worlds, the cannabis plant eventually got to the United States around the turn of the 20th Century. The plant arrived from Mexico in the Southwest US where it was carried by Mexican immigrants escaping the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1911.

Most of the early prejudices against the drug were largely racist fears of the Mexicans who smoked marijuana, an idea that was promulgated in some of the reactionary newspapers of the time. Mexicans were often blamed for smoking the drug, and eventually seducing children and engaging in property crimes and murderous sprees.

Interestingly, American law did not recognize the differences between Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Sativa L. Instead, Utah became the first state to outlaw the plant in 1915. By 1931, marijuana was illegalized in 29 states.

When Harry Aslinger was appointed as the first commissioner of the FBN - the Federal Bureau of Narcotics - in 1930, he took up the fight against marijuana and tried to make it illegal in every American state. As a result of his efforts - among those of others - the Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937. It effectively put marijuana under the DEA's (Drug Enforcement Agency) regulation and criminalized the possession of the drug all through the country.

Today, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule II controlled drug by the federal government - alongside LSD and heroin. This indicates that it has a high potential for addiction and abuse, and that there are no acceptable medical uses for the drug. The classification also asserts that there is no safe level of marijuana use.

Historical Uses And Applications

Mentioned in a Chinese herbal record that dates back to 2700 BCE, cannabis has long been considered to be valuable as a sedative, an antibiotic, an antidepressant, an anesthetic, and an analgesic.

Almost most people used to take it externally - through smoking or as a balm - others would administer the tips of the cannabis plant (particularly during the 19th Century) internally for the treatment of angina pectoris and gonorrhea.

That said, the effects of marijuana vary greatly, mostly depending on the amount and the strength consumed, the setting you take it in, and the particular experiences of the users.

However, its psychological effects predominate its physical effects, and many users experience mild euphoria after taking marijuana. The drug also leads to alterations in judgement and vision, which can result in distortions of space and time.

Acute intoxication, on the other hand, occasionally tends to induce psychosis, paranoid reactions, extreme mood changes, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations. These adverse effects can last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.

The physical effects of the drug include dryness of the throat and mouth, red eyes, a moderate increase in heartbeat, tightness in the chest (if you smoke the drug), muscular incoordination, unsteadiness, and drowsiness.

Chronic use may or may not lead to physical dependence and is of controversy. Many people claim to experience extreme discomfort when withdrawing from marijuana as well as extreme emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms. However, it is evident that the drug is psychologically habituating and may lead to dependence and addiction.

Around the world, the use of hashish and marijuana as intoxicants has raised many social and medical questions - some of which are still under scientific investigation. The drug was first studied in the mid-1960s after THC was synthetically isolated and produced. At the time, most researchers focused on identifying the long- and short- term physical effects of the drug.

During the last years of the 20th century and in the early 21st century, research showed that marijuana (and THC) has various therapeutic effects. Scientists also showed that these drugs were useful in helping glaucoma patients lower their internal eye pressure. It was also found to be useful in alleviating vomiting and nausea as caused by the drugs used in chemotherapy treatments for cancer and AIDS. Today, marijuana is medically certified as useful for reducing muscle pain as a result of multiple sclerosis, as well as in preventing epileptic seizures.

In the 1980s, scientists and researchers also discovered that certain mammals - including humans - has a receptor for THC (and THC-related chemicals) inside the brain. This finding showed that the brain can naturally produce a substance very similar to THC for performing a couple of functions that are similar to those of THC. The substance was eventually found and called anandamide - from the Sanskrit word ?nanda for bliss.

The international trade in hashish and marijuana was officially controlled in 1925 following the International Opium Convention. By the 1960s, most countries had officially enforced strict restrictions on the use and trafficking of these two drugs and imposed severe penalties for the illegal supply, sale, and possession of marijuana.

Starting in the 70s, some jurisdictions and countries started reducing the penalties for possessing small quantities of the drug. One such example is The Netherlands, where the government tolerates the sale of relatively small amounts of weed. Around the same time, other European countries started debating the decriminalization of soft drugs, including but not limited to marijuana.

In the US, some states passed laws in the late 70s and early 80s to legalize or fund research on the medical uses of marijuana. However, some of the statutes eventually lapsed or were later repealed.

In the 1990s, renewed decriminalization efforts led to marijuana being legalized for medical uses in several states, including Washington DC, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, California, Arizona, and Alaska.

However, the US Supreme Court ruled in 2001 against the use of medical marijuana. Later the same year, Canada also passed a law that eased the previous restrictions on the drug. These new regulations by Canada allowed the licensing of marijuana farmers to allow them to produce the drug for use by individuals with chronic diseases and terminal illnesses.

In 2009 Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, issued new guidelines for use by federal prosecutors in the states where medical marijuana had been legalized. This shift in policy stipulated that federal resources were to be primarily focused on the prosecution of the illegal trafficking and use of marijuana.

It effectively rendered the cases of medical application - in which people who were in possession of marijuana are in compliance with the laws of various states - less prone to legal investigation.

Apart from the legalization of medicinal marijuana, many states passed different decriminalization laws during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These laws imposed some penalties - apart from jail time - for possessing small amounts of the drug. As a direct result, most offenders found guilty had to pay civil fines as punishment.

Washington DC and Colorado officially became the first US states to legalize the recreational use of the drug. This was after citizens largely voted in favor of such legislation in 2012.

Conclusion: Short Historical Timeline Of Marijuana

  • 2900 BC: Marijuana is referenced as a popular medicine by the Chinese emperor Fu Hsi
  • 2700 BC: It is said that Shen Nung, another Chinese empower, has discovered marijuana's healing properties
  • 1500 BC: The earliest written record referring to the medical use of marijuana (Chinese Pharmacopeia)
  • 1450 BC: The Book of Exodus refers to holy anointing oil derived from cannabis
  • 1213 BC: Cannabis is used in Ancient Egypt for enemas, inflammation, and glaucoma
  • 1000 BC: Indians made a drink of milk and cannabis (referred to as Bhang) for use as an anesthetic
  • 700 BC: The Venidad records the medical use of the drug in the Middle East
  • 600 BC: Sushruta Samhita, an Indian medical treatise, cites the use of marijuana for curing leprosy
  • 200 BC: The first recording of marijuana use in Ancient Greece as a remedy for inflammation, edema, and earache
  • 1 AD: Pen Ts'ao Ching, an ancient Chinese text, recommends the use of marijuana for over 100 different ailments
  • 70: Pedanius Dioscorides, a Roman medical text, cites the use of cannabis for suppressing sexual longing and treating earaches
  • 79: Pliny the Elder records some medical properties of the cannabis plant
  • 200 Hua T'o, a Chinese surgeon, records the use of cannabis wine and resin as anesthetics
  • 800-900: In the Arabic World, cannabis is used widely as medicine while others label it as lethal poison
  • 1500: Muslim doctors use the drug for reducing sexuality
  • 1538: Hemp is used widely during the Middle Ages
  • 1578: Bencao Gangmu Materia Medica, a Chinese medical text, describes the medical uses of marijuana
  • 1611-1762: Colonial settlers in Jamestown bring cannabis - in the form of hemp - to North America
  • 1621: A popular English book on mental health (The Anatomy of Melancholy), written by Robert Burton, recommends the use of cannabis for treating depression
  • 1652: Nicholas Culpeper, a British herbalist writes The English Physitian, which describes some of hemp's medical uses
  • 1745-1775: President George Washington actively grows hemp at his Mount Vernon plantation, with a particular interest in marijuana's medicinal uses
  • 1799: Napoleonic forces carry cannabis from Egypt to France
  • 1840: William O'Shaughnessy bring medical marijuana to the United Kingdom; Queen Victoria allegedly uses it to ease menstrual cramps
  • 1840s: Marijuana becomes famous as mainstream medication in the West
  • 1850: Cannabis is added to the US Pharmacopeia
  • 1893-1894: The Indian Hemp Commission suggests that cannabis has several medicinal uses
  • 1900: Marijuana is used to treat loss of appetite, bronchitis, and asthma in South Asia
  • 1906: The Pure Foods and Drugs Act officially requires that medicine is labeled, including marijuana
  • 1911: Cannabis is outlawed for the first time by the state of Massachusetts
  • 1915-1927: More states follow suit and pass cannabis prohibition laws
  • 1930s: The use of marijuana to describe cannabis increases in the United States
  • 1994: The Federal Government refuses to reschedule marijuana, effectively keeping it in Schedule I
  • 1996: California legalizes the use of medical marijuana

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