The History of Cannabis and Hemp
The recorded human use of cannabis and hemp goes back thousands of years. From the use of hemp pottery in Taiwan over 10,000 years ago, to the modern era of recreational and medical cannabis use. Cannabis and hemp have potentially always been an integral part of human society, even when society has outlawed it.
Below is a timeline of the recorded uses of cannabis and hemp:
Researchers found the use of hemp cord in pottery identified at an ancient village site dating back over 10,000 years, located in the area of modern day Taiwan. Finding hemp use and cultivation in this date range puts it as one of the first and oldest known human agriculture crops. As explained by Richard Hamilton in the 2009 Scientific American article on sustainable agriculture “Modern humans emerged some 250,000 years ago, yet agriculture is a fairly recent invention, only about 10,000 years old … Agriculture is not natural; it is a human invention. It is also the basis of modern civilization.” This point was also touched on by Carl Sagan in 1977 when he proposed the possibility that marijuana may have actually been world’s first agricultural crop, leading to the development of civilization itself (see 1977, below).
Cannabis seeds and oil were used for food in China.
Textiles made of hemp used in China and Turkestan.
First recorded use of cannabis as medicine by Emperor Shen Neng of China.
Bhang (dried cannabis leaves, seeds and stems) is mentioned in the Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”, one of the five sacred plants of India. It is used by medicinally and ritually as an offering to Shiva.
Cannabis cultivated in China for food and fiber. Scythians cultivate cannabis and use it to weave fine hemp cloth.
The Zoroastrian Zendavesta, an ancient Persian religious text of several hundred volumes refers to bhang as the “good narcotic.”
Hemp rope appears in southern Russia.
Scythian tribes leave Cannabis seeds as offerings in royal tombs.
Scythian couple die and are buried with two small tents covering containers for burning incense. Attached to one tent stick was a decorated leather pouch containing wild Cannabis seeds. This closely matches the stories told by Herodotus. The gravesite, discovered in the late 1940s, was in Pazryk, northwest of the Tien Shan Mountains in modern-day Khazakstan. Hemp is introduced into Northern Europe by the Scythians. An urn containing leaves and seeds of the Cannabis plant, unearthed near Berlin, is found and dated to about this time. Use of hemp products spread throughout northern Europe.
Herodotus reports on both ritual and recreation use of Cannabis by the Scythians (Herodotus The Histories 430 B.C. trans. G. Rawlinson).
Hemp rope appears in Greece. Chinese Book of Rites mentions hemp fabric.
First evidence of hemp paper, invented in China.
The psychotropic properties of Cannabis are mentioned in the newly compiled herbal Pen Ts’ao Ching.
Construction of Samaritan gold and glass paste stash box for storing hashish, coriander, or salt, buried in Siberian tomb.
Pliny the Elder’s The Natural History mentions hemp rope and marijuana’s analgesic effects.
Plutarch mentions Thracians using cannabis as an intoxicant.
Dioscorides, a physician in Nero’s army, lists medical marijuana in his Pharmacopoeia.
Imported hemp rope appears in England.
Legend suggests that Ts’ai Lun invents hemp paper in China, 200 years after its actual appearance (see 100 BCE above).
Greek physician Galen prescribes medical marijuana.
First pharmacopoeia of the East lists medical marijuana. Chinese surgeon Hua T’o uses marijuana as an anesthetic.
A young woman in Jerusalem receives medical marijuana during childbirth.
The French queen Arnegunde is buried with hemp cloth.
The Jewish Talmud mentions the euphoriant properties of Cannabis.
Vikings take hemp rope and seeds to Iceland.
Arabs learn techniques for making hemp paper.
Scholars debate the pros and cons of eating hashish. Use spreads throughout Arabia.
Hemp ropes appear on Italian ships. Arabic physician Ibn Wahshiyah’s On Poisons warns of marijuana’s potential dangers.
In Khorasan, Persia, Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, recruits followers to commit assassinations…legends develop around their supposed use of hashish. These legends are some of the earliest written tales of the discovery of the inebriating powers of Cannabis and the use of Hashish by a paramilitary organization as a hypnotic (see U.S. military use, 1942 below). Early 12th Century Hashish smoking becomes very popular throughout the Middle East.
Persian legend of the Sufi master Sheik Haydar’s personal discovery of Cannabis and his own alleged invention of hashish with it’s subsequent spread to Iraq, Bahrain, Egypt and Syria. Another of the ealiest written narratives of the use of Cannabis as an inebriant.
During the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt, Cannabis is introduced by mystic devotees from Syria.
1,001 Nights, an Arabian collection of tales, describes hashish’s intoxicating and aphrodisiac properties.
The oldest monograph on hashish, Zahr al-‘arish fi tahrim al-hashish, was written. It has since been lost. Ibn al-Baytar of Spain provides a description of the psychoactive nature of Cannabis. Arab traders bring Cannabis to the Mozambique coast of Africa.
Journeys of Marco Polo in which he gives second-hand reports of the story of Hasan ibn al-Sabbah and his “assassins” using hashish. First time reports of Cannabis have been brought to the attention of Europe.
Ethiopian pipes containing marijuana suggest the herb has spread from Egypt to the rest of Africa.
Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni issues one of the first edicts against the eating of hashish.
Babur Nama, first emperor and founder of Mughal Empire learned of hashish in Afghanistan.
French physician Rabelais’s gargantua and Pantagruel mentions marijuana’s medicinal effects.
King Henry VIII fines farmers if they do not raise hemp for industrial use.
Angolan slaves brought cannabis with them to the sugar plantations of northeastern Brazil. They were permitted to plant their cannabis between rows of cane, and to smoke it between harvests.
The epic poem, Benk u Bode, by the poet Mohammed Ebn Soleiman Foruli of Baghdad, deals allegorically with a dialectical battle between wine and hashish.
Portuguese physician Garcia da Orta reports on marijuana’s medicinal effects.
China’s Li Shih-Chen writes of the antibiotic and antiemetic effects of marijuana.
England begins to import hemp from Russia.
French and British cultivate Cannabis for hemp at their colonies in Port Royal (1606), Virginia (1611), and Plymouth (1632).
Jamestown settlers began growing the hemp plant for its unusually strong fiber and used it to make rope, sails, and clothing.
Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy suggests marijuana may treat depression.
Use of hashish, alcohol, and opium spreads among the population of occupied Constantinople. Hashish becomes a major trade item between Central Asia and South Asia.
Linnaeus classifies Cannabis sativa.
Medical marijuana appears in The New England Dispensatory.
Kentucky begins growing hemp.
Medical marijuana appears in The Edinburgh New Dispensary.
Napoleon discovers that much of the Egyptian lower class habitually uses hashish. Soldiers returning to France bring the tradition with them, and he declares a total prohibition.
Marijuana plantations flourished in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, New York, and Kentucky. Also during this period, smoking hashish was popular throughout France and to a lesser degree in the US. Hashish production expands from Russian Turkestan into Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan.
Antoine Sylvestre de Sacy, a leading Arabist, suggests a base etymology between the words “assassin” and “hashishin” — subsequent linguest study disproves his theory.
In America, medicinal preparations with a Cannabis base are available. Hashish is available in Persian pharmacies.
Irish physician O’Shaughnessy publishes cannabis research in English medical journals.
French author Gautier publishes The Hashish Club.
French physician Moreau publishes Hashish and Mental Illness
Cannabis is added to The U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
Marijuana was widely used throughout United States as a medicinal drug and could easily be purchased in pharmacies and general stores.
Whittier writes the first American work to mention cannabis as an intoxicant.
British tax “ganja” and “charas” trade in India.
American writer Ludlow publishes The Hasheesh Eater.
French poet Baudelaire publishes On the Artificial Ideal.
First reports of hashish smoking on the Greek mainland.
Greek Department of Interior prohibits importance, cultivation and use of hashish. Hashish is made illegal in Turkey. Sir J.R. Reynolds, chief physician to Queen Victoria, prescribes medical marijuana to her.
The India Hemp Drugs Commission Report is issued. 70,000 to 80,000 kg per year of hashish is legally imported into India from Central Asia.
In the U.S. the Pure Food and Drug Act is passed, regulating the labeling of products containing Alcohol, Opiates, Cocaine, and Cannabis, among others.
Early 20th Century
Hashish smoking remains very popular throughout the Middle East.
The Mexican Revolution caused an influx of Mexican immigrants who introduced the habit of recreational use (instead of it’s generally medicinal use) into American society.
The Harrison Act in the U.S. defined use of Marijuana (among other drugs) as a crime.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) chief scientists Jason L. Merrill and Lyster H. Dewey created paper made from hemp pulp, which they concluded was “favorable in comparison with those used with pulp wood” in USDA Bulletin No. 404. From the book “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer the USDA Bulletin N. 404 reported that one acre of hemp, in annual rotation over a 20-year period, would produce as much pulp for paper as 4.1 acres (17,000 m2) of trees being cut down over the same 20-year period. This process would use only 1/7 to 1/4 as much polluting sulfur-based acid chemicals to break down the glue-like lignin that binds the fibers of the pulp, or even none at all using soda ash. The problem of dioxin contamination of rivers is avoided in the hemp paper making process, which does not need to use chlorine bleach (as the wood pulp paper making process requires) but instead safely substitutes hydrogen peroxide in the bleaching process. … If the new (1916) hemp pulp paper process were legal today, it would soon replace about 70% of all wood pulp paper, including computer printout paper, corrugated boxes and paper bags. However, mass production of cheap news print from hemp had not developed in any country, and hemp was a relatively easy target because factories already had made large investments in equipment to handle cotton, wool, and linen, but there were relatively small investments in hemp production.
In the U.S. cannabis begins to be prohibited for nonmedical use. Prohibition first begins in California (1915), followed by Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924), and New York (1927).
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol and positioned marijuana as an attractive alternative leading to an increase in use of the substance.
Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas cracks down on hashish smoking. Hashish smuggled into Egypt from Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Central Asia.
Russian botanists classify another major strain of the plant, Cannabis ruderalis.
Lebanese hashish production is prohibited.
Recreational use of Cannabis is banned in Britain.
The Yarkand region of Chinese Turkestan exports 91,471 kg of hashish legally into the Northwest Frontier and Punjab regions of India. Legal taxed imports of hashish continue into India from Central Asia.
The U.S. congress repealed the 21st Amendment, ending alcohol prohibition; 4 years later the prohibition of marijuana will be in full effect.
Chinese government moves to end all Cannabis cultivation in Yarkand and charas traffic from Yarkand. Hashish production become illegal in Chinese Turkestan.
The American propaganda film Reefer Madness was made to scare American youth away from using Cannabis.
U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which criminalized the drug. In response Dr. William C. Woodward, testifying on behalf of the AMA, told Congress that, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug” and warned that a prohibition “loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis.” His comments were ignored by Congress. A part of the testimony for Congress to pass the 1937 act derived from articles in newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst, who had significant financial interests in the timber industry, which manufactured his newsprint paper.
Supply of hashish from Chinese Turkestan nearly ceases. The U.S. company DuPont patented the processes for creating plastics from coal and oil and a new process for creating paper from wood pulp.
Greek hashish smoking tradition fades.
Cannabis is removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and it’s medicinal use is no longer recognized in America. The same year the Indian government considers cultivation in Kashmir to fill void of hashish from Chinese Turkestan. Hand-rubbed charas from Nepal is choicest hashish in India during World War II.
U.S. scientists working at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s wartime predecessor, began to develop a chemical substance that could break down the psychological defenses of enemy spies and POWs. After testing several compounds, the OSS scientists selected a potent extract of marijuana as the best available “truth serum.” The cannabis concoction was given the code name TD, meaning Truth Drug. When injected into food or tobacco cigarettes, TD helped loosen the reserve of recalcitrant interrogation subjects.
Legal hashish consumption continues in India. Hashish use in Greece flourishes again.
The Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act in the U.S. increases all drug penalties and laid down mandatory sentences.
Czech researchers confirm the antibiotic and analgesic effects of cannabis.
First reports of the strain Cannibis afghanica and was used for hashish production in northern Afghanistan.
“Smash”, the first hashish oil appears. Red Lebanese reaches California.
Huge fields of Cannabis are cultivated for hashish production in Afghanistan. Afghani hashish varieties introduced to North America for sinsemilla production. Westerners bring metal sieve cloths to Afghanistan. Law enforcement efforts against hashish begin in Afghanistan.
The US National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) forms. That same year the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act repealed mandatory penalties for drug offenses and marijuana was categorized separately from other narcotics.
First evidence suggesting marijuana may help glaucoma patients.
The Nixon-appointed Shafer Commission urged use of cannabis be re-legalized, but their recommendation was ignored. U.S. Medical research picks up pace. Proposition 19 in California to legalize marijuana use is rejected by a voter margin of 66-33%.
Nepal bans the Cannabis shops and charas (hand-rolled hash) export. Afghan government makes hashish production and sales illegal. Afghani harvest is pitifully small.
Nabilone, a cannabinoid-based medication appears.
The U.S. federal government created the Investigational New Drug (IND) Compassionate Use research program to allow patients to receive up to nine pounds of cannabis from the government each year. Today, five surviving patients still receive medical cannabis from the federal government, paid for by federal tax dollars. At the same time the U.S. FDA continues to list marijuana as Schedule I meaning: “A high potential for abuse with no accepted medical value.”
Carl Sagan proposes that marijuana may have been the world’s first agricultural crop, leading to the development of civilization itself: “It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.” Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, Speculations on the Origin of Human Intelligence p 191 footnote.
U.S. President Carter, including his assistant for drug policy, Dr. Peter Bourne, pushed for decriminalization of marijuana, with the president himself asking Congress to abolish federal criminal penalties for those caught with less than one ounce of marijuana.
Morocco becomes one of, if not the largest, hashish producing and exporting nations. “Border hashish” is produced in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan border to avoid Soviet-Afghan war.
Hashish is still produced by Muslims of Kashgar and Yarkland in Northwest China. In the U.S. the FDA approves dronabinol, a synthetic THC, for cancer patients.
President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, reinstating mandatory minimums and raising federal penalties for possession and distribution and officially begins the U.S. international “war on drugs.”
Moroccan government cracks down upon Cannabis cultivation in lower elevations of the Rif Mountains.
U.S. DEA administrative law Judge Francis Young finds, after thorough hearings, that marijuana has a clearly established medical use and should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug. His recommendation is ignored.
In reaction to a surge of requests from AIDS patients for medical marijuana, the U.S. government closes the Compassionate Use program. That same year the pharmaceutical medication dronabinol is approved for AIDS-wasting syndrome.
Cannabis eradication efforts resume in Morocco.
Border hashish still produced in Pakistan. Heavy fighting between rival Muslim clans continues to upset hashish trade in Afghanistan.
Introduction of hashish-making equipment and appearance of locally produced hashish in Amsterdam coffee shops.
California (the first U.S. state to ban marijuana use, see 1915) became the first U.S. State to then re-legalize medical marijuana use for people suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other serious illnesses. A similar bill was passed in Arizona the same year. This was followed by the passage of similar initiatives in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The American Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a comprehensive study of the medical efficacy of cannabis therapeutics. The IOM concluded that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine, patients should have access, and the government should expand avenues for research and drug development. The federal government completely ignored its findings and refused to act on its recommendations.
In direct contradiction to the IOM recomendations, President Clinton, continuing the Regan and Bush “war on drugs” era, began a campaign to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients and their providers in California and elsewhere.
Hawaii and North Dakota unsuccessfully attempt to legalize hemp farming. The U.S. DEA reclassifies dronabinol as a schedule III drug, making the medication easier to prescribe while marijuana itself continues to be listed Schedule I as having “no accepted medical use.”
Legalization initiative in Alaska fails.
Britain’s Home Secretary, David Blunkett, proposes relaxing the classification of cannabis from a class B to class C. Canada adopts federal laws in support of medical marijuana, and by 2003 Canada becomes the first country in the world to approve medical marijuana nation-wide.
Under President G.W. Bush the U.S. federal government intensified its “war on drugs” targeting both patients and doctors across the state of California.
Marc Emery, a Canadian citizen and the largest distributor of marijuana seeds into the United States from approximately 1995 through July 2005 was on the FBI #1 wanted drug list for years and was eventually indicted by the U.S. DEA. He was extradited from Canada for trial in the U.S. in May 2010.
President Obama made steps toward ending the very unsuccessful 20-year “war on drugs” initiated during the Regan administration by stating that individual drug use is really a public health issue, and should be treated as such. Under his guidance, the U.S. Justice Department announced that federal prosecutors will no longer pursue medical marijuana users and distributors who comply with state laws.
Marc Emery of Vancouver, BC, Canada, was sentenced on September 10 in a U.S. District Court in Seattle to five years in prison and four years of supervised release for “conspiracy to manufacture marijuana” (eg. selling marijuana seeds).
Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana in California is placed back on the ballet (named The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010). Current voter poles suggest that the proposition has about 50% population support and will likely win or loose by a margin of only 2%.
Just weeks before the November 02 California election on Prop. 19 Attorney General Eric Holder said federal authorities would continue to enforce U.S. laws that declare the drug is illegal, even if voters approve the initiative, stating “we will vigorously enforce the (Controlled Substances Act) against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use.”
California Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, was narrowly defeated by 53.6% of the vote. This would have legalized various marijuana-related activities in California, allowing local governments to regulate these activities, permitting local governments to impose and collect marijuana-related fees and taxes, and authorizing various criminal and civil penalties.
The States of Colorado and Washington legalize marijuana / cannabis for recreational use; promises are made to the people that these new initiatives will have no impact on medical marijuana in those states. The country of Uruguay legalizes marijuana / cannabis for recreational use. The US District of Columbia decriminalizes personal use and possession of marijuana / cannabis.
July 07, 2014
Cannabis City becomes Seattle’s very first legal marijuana shop for over-the-counter purchase & recreational use. This generated world-wide media attention and a serious discussion over the legalization of marijuana and a possible end to the American “drug war.” The first purchase, by Deb Green a 65-year old marathon-running grandmother from Ballard, is part of the collection of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, Washington.
The States of Alaska and Oregon legalize marijuana / cannabis for recreational use.
Five states vote on initiatives that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis, while four states vote on medical cannabis measures.