The drug known to law enforcement officials as Marijuana; and to many others as wed, pot, grass, dope, and even Buddha; is possibly the oldest psychoactive drug known to human beings.  Today it is the most commonly used controlled substance, with about four percent of the entire population of the adult world using it on an annual basis.  Marijuana is actually the processed form of the plant cannabis, and is manufactured from the leaves and flowers of the female plant.  It is not to be mistaken with hashish or hash, which is a resin collected by brewing select parts of the cannabis plant. Modern chemistry has isolated the active compounds in Marijuana, the most important being tetrahyrdocannabinol, or THC.

Use of Marijuana

Evidence for the use of cannabis has been dated to the third millennium B.C., which was five thousand years ago.   Given the distance from the natural origin of the plant, it could have only arrived by distant trade networks, which implies that it was known far before then for its unique properties.   It  is used today as a medicine, a pathway to spiritual journey, and as a social disinhibitor.  It was likely used for all these reasons, going back to before the dawn of civilization.

The cannabis plant is native to India and central Asia, and therefore  was probably discovered by early foragers and developed into a social drug by the earliest neolithic settlers.  Some of the earliest cultural users were the Hindus, and Sanskrit, one of the first recorded languages, refers to the drug as ganjika.   Cannabis was consumed by inhalation even back then, proven by charred seed found in earthenware braziers.  The pottery fire pits were found in Romania and dated to 3000 B.C.  Since Romania is distant from Asia and an inappropriate place to grow the tropical cannabis plant, it could have only arrived by trade, proving that marijuana was an important cultural commodity even before then.

The common use of the drug in the West is proven by the activities of the Assyrians and the Thracians, who enjoyed a more direct trade route with Asia.   They used it for religious ceremonies, and due to their exposure to the drug through ritual, may have practiced it recreationally as well.  The consumption was known as “the way to produce smoke,” and more importantly the shaman in the region were occasionally known as “those who walk on clouds of smoke.”  Such references prove the cultural importance of cannabis to these people.  The use of cannabis spread to Europe through the Mediterranean channel, and the best evidence for its spread is its use by the cult of Dionysus.  The ancient Jews had a word for Cannabis (qannabos), and it is even likely the modern word is derives from the Jewish tongue.

Cannabis was certainly used by the Chinese, as its natural range extends into that part of Asia.  A leather sack full of cannabis seed was found burried with an ancient mummy in that region.  Marijuanna was used by the Chinese in ancient times for religious practices, but also for medicine.  The hemp, or cannabis plant, has been cultivated for ancient times for textile fiber; the type grown for fiber and the type grown for the drug are seperate species, both both are easily domesticated and were so in China.  The Chinese are famous for their ancient herbal and medicinal practice, and an interest in a psychodelic drug was inevitable.   Modern chinese herbalists still consider cannabis to be apart of their medicinal heritage.

Cannabis continued to be traded to Europe through the middle ages via the land route, but merchants began exploiting the sea route as soon as the age of exploration and the caravel began.   William Shakespeare is suspected of having consumed marijuana, attesting to its commonality even before globalization.  The availability of the drug increased with European sea trade, and it has always been an easy and profitable cargo.

Marijuana Prohibition

Marijuana was banned in the modern world in the twentieth century, beginning in the United States when it was restricted in the District of Columbia (apparently Senatorial enthusiasm had to be curbed), which was followed by restrictions in the British Empire.   The United States passed a sweeping restriction in 1937, when the Marijuana Transfer Tax Act was passed, which did not so much tax as ban the crop.  Merchants used marijuana as an excuse to have all variety of cannabis banned, including textile hemp in order to eliminate the fiber as competition.

Marijuana Safety

Marijuana is not as dangerous or addictive as other forms of drug, and some scientists report tobacco as being more harmful than vaporized or chewed cannabis.  The drug is still psychoactive and can impair judgement.  Law enforcement handouts in the 1930s greatly exaggerated the potential behavioral harm, linking dope with madness, murder, and sexual immorality.  There is some link between the drug and schizophrenic disorders, and harmful behavior is possible, but cannabis has long been touted by enthusiasts as the “safe high.”

It is curious to note that cannabis extract was used by spies and the military during world war II as a truth serum.  Because the drug reduces inhibition, recipients are more liberal with information, and information that occurs frequently in the mind but not blurted out becomes ready conversation.  Gangster Augusto Del Gracio was given a cigarette containing THC, and this chemical inspiration allowed him to talk about Lucky Luciano’s heroine business.

Cannabis today is grown exentsively in the United States, taking full advantage of greenhouse methods such as hydrophonics, artificial lighting, and selective breeding.  Much is still imported, with the retail price in the United States being about $150 to as high as $450 for a single ounce.  The total market value of cannabis in the US alone is estimated to be about 36 billion dollars.