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Hemp History: Setting the Record Straight

Indian Palace
Disclosure 7

Cannabis Has Been With Us—
From Ancient Civilizations
To The Present

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Ancient History

Despite the vilification of cannabis throughout the last century, the rich history of cannabis as food, medicine, fiber, and fun is ubiquitous throughout both ancient and near history. The grassroots movement spreading throughout the US is bringing us full circle. We can call upon our shared world history as a support and confirmation of our goals.

Let’s take a look to see the journey from ancient civilizations to today.

Great Wall of China

China

Our understanding of cannabis history starts in China. This may or may not be the beginning of its use, but it is the first evidence of cannabis use that archaeologists and historians have found so far. Hemp textile and cordage imprints on broken Chinese pottery were found dating between 3000 to 5000 BC. In addition, Shu-Ching, an ancient Chinese historical text, refers to the cultivation of hemp for both fiber and seeds. China was the first known civilization to make paper from hemp, and used the fibers for war. They discovered that hemp fibers used for bow strings were stronger than the bamboo strings they had previously used, giving them an advantage over their adversaries.

Archeological Evidence

We have a great deal of both archaeological and written evidence for the use and cultivation of hemp in China for food, clothing, cordage, and medicine. In fact, some of their writings are very detailed on cultivation techniques, including the cover crops used between plantings and fertilization by burning harvested fields.

Emperor Shen Nung (c. 2700 BC) is known as the father of Chinese medicine, his writings and those of other practitioners over the course of time, found hundreds of medicinal uses for cannabis.

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Other Civilizations

There is some suggestion that cannabis was used even earlier than the Chinese history above. Some have speculated from archeological evidence that it was used in Taiwan, Korea, and Japan as early as eight to ten thousand years ago.

India

In India cannabis (called Ganja) was in use as early as 2000 BC. The psychoactive properties were recognized as well as many medicinal uses. Bhang, a drink consisting of a mixture of cannabis and milk was used for both religious rituals and medicine. It is still in use today in certain parts of India and is a central element in their annual Holi Festival.

pottery cup with bhang

Egypt

In ancient Egypt cannabis was used for eye problems, just as today’s scientists have discovered its use for glaucoma. They were also the first to use cannabis to treat cancer. Their prescriptions were put into writing in the Ebers Papyrus.

Iran

Between 500-300 BC a group of Iranian nomads referred to as the Scythians brought cannabis use to Northern Europe. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of their use of cannabis both for recreation and medicine.

Others

In Norway also, recent evidence has been found of cannabis cultivation by the Vikings.

The Arab world used cannabis for medicine as did the Romans. De Materia Medica, a Roman medical book put together by the Greek physician Dioscorides was written in approximately 70 AD. It may have been the most important medical authority for the next 1500 years and contained detailed information about cannabis.

Ship at sea

Colonial Era

As the European competition for new lands increased, hemp cordage, frames, and cloth for sails became an important commodity in colonial Europe. Because sails made from flax would begin rotting from sea salt spray after about three months, hemp sails enabled vessels to travel much farther. In England, both King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I required land owners to grow hemp.

The Virginia Assembly in America passed a law in 1619 that required farmers to grow hemp. George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon for thirty years. Several diaries suggest he was growing cannabis with a high THC content to serve his medicinal interests. Thomas Jefferson also grew hemp at Monticello for many years.

Europe

As a result of Napoleon’s actions in Egypt, cannabis was introduced in France and its medicinal properties examined and put into use, bringing the use of cannabis into the modern era. William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician and army surgeon who served in India during the Victorian reign, brought cannabis to Great Britain and furthered the medical research on cannabis and introduced it into clinical trials. In 1842 O’Shaughnessy published his findings in medical journals and it was widely used throughout the United Kingdom for many ailments.

US Pharmacopoeia 1850 Book

In 1850, The US Pharmacopeia was published listing cannabis as a remedy for a multitude of afflictions including: neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, and uterine bleeding, among others.

The Turn of the Century

Despite all of the many medicinal uses of cannabis, some citizens were suspicious of it and the Pure Food and Drug Act was signed into law in 1906. This legislation required labeling of any OTC remedies that contained cannabis.

Surprisingly, the Mexican Revolution of 1910 played an interesting part on the path to denigrate cannabis. Immigrants were resettling in the United States to escape the ravages of war, and with them they brought the recreational use of cannabis. These new immigrants called their favorite intoxicant—marijuana. Up until this time, and in the rest of the world, it was called cannabis.

Opposition

The early 1900s was also a time when social movements against alcohol were becoming stronger and in 1920 alcohol prohibition was signed into law as the eighteenth amendment to the constitution. When the depression hit in the 1930’s a great deal of distrust and prejudices came to the surface toward the Mexican-American community.

Reefer Madness poster

Prohibition

Just as the prohibition on alcohol was coming to an end in 1933 with the 21st Amendment, cannabis was increasingly demonized. States, especially along the border, were passing legislation restricting or outlawing cannabis. In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was formed and Harry J. Anslinger was its first director until 1962.

As a result of this upheaval from the Great Depression, the ending of prohibition, and the increasing resentments and fears toward Mexican immigrants, Harry Anslinger designed a powerful and effective campaign against cannabis. Anslinger tirelessly conducted a national campaign, speaking to audiences and politicians garnering support for a national ban. One of the most memorable pieces of propaganda during this period was the film “Reefer Madness” which highly exaggerated the dangers of cannabis, while ignoring its benefits.

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Hemp Fiber and Textile Prohibition

There were other opponents to cannabis in the form of hemp fiber, as well. New technologies were just coming on board that made hemp a less expensive source for manufacturing paper versus wood pulp. Hemp was also a competitor to the Rockefeller’s petroleum based pharmaceuticals, a threat to the oil industry as well as other chemical technology. In fact even today, the greatest opponents to the federal legalization of cannabis are the pharmaceutical industry, law enforcement, alcohol and tobacco industries.

Ropes

The synthetic drugs they create are heavily dependent on the petroleum industry and cannabis is an effective, natural, and safer pain medication than the opiates that enrich the pharmaceutical industry with billions of dollars.

The Winds of Change

Many activists were involved with the movement to legalize cannabis on the medicinal, recreational, and agricultural fronts. The hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s saw a resurgence of cannabis use. The memories of these Baby Boomers have been refreshed regarding cannabis and the fact that it isn’t the dangerous monster it was made out to be. Anyone who actually used cannabis or currently uses it, already knows that. In 1970 the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was founded to promote the dismantling of laws against cannabis.

US Capital Bldg

In 1996 the State of California, in opposition to the federal government, passed Proposition 215 allowing for the sale and use of medical marijuana. Most states have now passed laws allowing cannabis for medical reasons, and several states allow for fully recreational use by those over twenty one years old. Other states are considering it as well.

The 2018 Farm Bill also made industrial hemp federally legal in all fifty states paving the way for CBD and other products derived from industrial hemp to be manufactured and sold across the country. Hemp, which is the same plant as marijuana, is defined as cannabis having less than .3% THC.

The Future of Cannabis

While more and more states are passing legislation to either legalize or decriminalize cannabis either for medicinal purposes or for recreation, the federal laws are slower to change. Much of this opposition comes from industries and segments of the population that stand to lose economically from this change. This includes the pharmaceutical industry, the private prison system, and the alcohol industry.

It may come down to a draw: a tense relationship between a federal government that doesn’t want to give up control, and the people of all of the states who refuse to let them enforce their current laws. The future in regards to the federal government is a huge [icon name=”question-circle” prefix=”fas”] and the status quo could turn out to be preferable to the potential involvement of the federal government.

Conclusion

Unlike many other substances that have been placed high on the list of scheduled illegal drug list, cannabis has a multitude of positive uses and a long history of that use. There are very very few instances of permanent injury from cannabis use and the benefits can be a great benefit for people with any conditions. This is because cannabis acts on the body in a systemic way. For some it’s a lifesaver. Let’s look at cannabis with new eyes, and treat it as a normal part of life and lifestyle, appreciating its benefits.

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9 months ago

[…] Cannabis Sativa whose closest relative is hops (used for making beer), is not a large family as far as plant genuses go. The word sativa, from the latin sativus or sativum, in plant taxonomy, means cultivated. This adjective is often given to and associated with plants that give good health or are domestically cultivated. Cannabis Sativa has been cultivated for thousands of years. […]

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9 months ago

[…] The Role of History […]

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10 months ago

[…] more and more people are overlooking the controversy and receiving help. In addition there are thousands of years of evidence that cannabis has been used medicinally in the past for a number of conditions and is a safer […]

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10 months ago

[…] has been cultivated for various uses for thousands of years. Despite all of our technological advances, the humble rope is still a necessity of […]

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