The Hidden History of Cannabis
Chris Rice (2018)
This documentary traces the medical, textile and spiritual use of cannabis from its first discovery in ancient China. It’s use for 100 different medical conditions is listed in the first Chinese “materia medica” in 2,800 BC. Archeological evidence suggests it was in wide use for cloth, paper and rope for centuries before that. It has long been one of the 50 herbal remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Archeologists believe that Caucasus tribes known as Aryans spread cannabis use to India and Persia along primitive trade routes that pre-dated the Silk Road. In India it was used in Hindu sects devoted to Shiva, in Buddhism and Sikhism. According to legend, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) subsisted on cannabis alone for six years prior to his enlightenment.
In 500 BC, when the Persian empire (Iran) extended from the Indian border to Egypt, it played an essential role in Zororastianism. There is also good evidence Egyptians used it for medicinal purposes 700 years prior to their conquest by Persia (in 552 BC).
Following the unsuccessful Persian attack on Greece (in 492 BC), Greek physicians began using it to treat a variety of medical conditions. Both Pythagoras and Socrates refer to its mind enhancing properties. Cannabis would make its way to Rome by way of Greece.
Use of Cannabis in Judaism and Christianity
Rice also traces how Kaneh Bosm (which English Biblical scholars have mistranslated “calamus”) was used extensively along with frankincense and other psychoactive herbs to anoint ancient Jewish priests. Christ (which means “the anointed one”) used similar holy oils to anoint his twelve disciples. Some scholars believe Kaneh Bosm may have played a role in his healing miracles – due to its medicinal properties. Early gnostic gospels, which were banned by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD, cover the subject far more extensively than the New Testament.
Cannabis was also widely used by Muslim physicians, Sufi sects and by assassins (derived from the word hashish) of the secret 11th century Islamic sect Nizari Ismailis.
Cannabis Spreads to Europe and the New World
Cannabis cultivation spread from Rome to northern Europe via Germanic tribes who used the seeds as a food source. Prior to the conquest of the Americas, Europeans used it mainly as a source of fiber. When the New World tobacco trade made pipe smoking popular in Europe, a growing middle class also began smoking cannabis and opium.
Queen Elizabeth initiated the legal requirement that the North American colonies grow hemp to help supply the British Navy with rope and sails. Shakespeare, James Madison and James Monroe all smoked it, and Washington used it for toothache.
During the 18th century, it became widely available in various patent medicines – until the American Medical Association began a state-by-state campaign to ban it. Its ready availability and effectiveness for pain relief posed a major threat to the fledgling medical profession.
The advent of alcohol Prohibition in 1919, caused a surge in the use of cannabis, which was still legal surged.
The Corporate Conspiracy to Suppress Hemp Production
In 1936, a corporate conspiracy to suppress hemp production in favor of wood fiber and synthetic fibers (see The Politics of Hemp) would lead to the controversial 1936 Marijuana Tax Act.
Psychodelic guru Timothy O’Leary would initiate the first legal challenge to the Act, leading a federal court to overturn it in 1969. Nixon’s response was to ban cannabis altogether, under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.