For centuries, cannabis has been used for a variety of purposes. The plant was first cultivated in China over 12,000 years ago and was used for everything from rope and fabric to food and medicine. In fact, it wasn't until the early 1900s that cannabis began to be demonized. So, what happened? Let's take a look at the history of this versatile plant.
Early Use of Cannabis
Cannabis was first cultivated in China over 12,000 years ago and was used for a variety of purposes, including rope, fabric, food, and medicine. Evidence of its use has also been found in ancient civilizations in Central Asia and the Middle East. For example, the Scythians, a nomadic people who lived in Central Asia between the 9th and 1st centuries BCE, were known to use both hempen fabrics and marijuana for Shamanic rituals.
Cannabis in the West
Cannabis first came to the Americas with the Spanish in the 16th century. The Spanish introduced cannabis to Chile for its fiber (hemp) which was then used to make rope and sails. Cannabis eventually made its way north, being introduced to Jamestown, Virginia by English settlers in 1611. Hemp was soon being grown all across America as a cash crop.
In fact, during the early days of America's colonization, hemp was so important that it was actually legally required to be grown! In 1619, Virginia passed a law stating that every farmer must grow hemp as it was essential for making sails, rope, and other items needed by the burgeoning nation.
So, what happened? How did cannabis go from being an essential part of American society to being illegal? Well, unfortunately for cannabis fans, a perfect storm of events led to its prohibition in the early 20th century.
Firstly, as more immigrants came to America from Mexico in the early 1900s, they brought with them a new way of using cannabis—for recreation rather than work. This led many Americans to associate cannabis with these immigrants and view it with suspicion.
Secondly, around this same time period, certain powerful individuals and organizations began spreading false information about cannabis in an effort to criminalize it. For example, William Randolph Hearst—a newspaper magnate with financial interests in the timber industry—used his media empire to spread lies about marijuana's effects on users in order to destroy hemp's reputation and prevent it from competing with his paper products.
These stories often played on racist fears as well—portraying cannabis as a "drug" that would make white women sexually promiscuous with black men. Given the already tense racial climate of America at this time period, these stories helped turn public opinion against cannabis even further.
As you can see, cannabis has quite a long and complicated history. Once an essential part of American society, it fell out of favor due to a combination of factors—including racism and misinformation. Today, however, attitudes towards cannabis are changing rapidly thanks to mounting evidence of its potential medical benefits. Let's hope that this trend continues so that one day soon cannabinoid therapy can be used to its full potential!