The Hidden History of Cannabis

The Hidden History of Cannabis

Chris Rice (2018)

Film Review

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.



The Hidden History of Big Oil

How Big Oil Conquered the World

Corbett Report (2016)

Film Review

This is an extremely gripping documentary about the hidden history of John D Rockefeller and the global oil cartel. Much of this history, including Rockefeller’s early background, the role of the “oilagarchy” in instigating World War I, Prohibition and their total domination of education, medicine, agriculture and finance has been systematically erased from US history books.

I found the beginning of the film, in which James Corbett talks about JD’s father William Avery Rockefeller, most revealing. Rockefeller senior was a notorious snake oil salesman (and cunning sociopath) who changed his name to Dr Bill Livingston to escape the clutches of the law for fraud, bigamy, rape and various other crimes.

The film traces Rockefeller junior’s entry into the oil drilling business in the 1850s with the formation of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. From the very beginning of his career, JD demonstrated the same knack for treachery, deceit and fraud as his father – in dealings with both business partners and competitors.*

The invention of the internal combustion engine in the 1870s put Rockefeller in direct competition with the electric vehicle industry. Even the first electric cars (built in 1884) had a number of advantages over gas-powered cars. In 1900, they made up 28% of the US market. Thanks to the discovery of plentiful oil in Texas, Rockefeller easily flooded the market with cheap gasoline and put electric car makers out of business.

After World War I, he faced similar competition from ethanol-fueled cars (Henry Ford designed the Model T to run on either gasoline or alcohol produced from agricultural waste). Here Rockefeller and his corporate allies demolished their competition by conspiring to instigate a national anti-alcohol movement. The latter resulted in the enactment of Prohibition in 1919 and a total ban on alcohol. In a similar vein, after World War II the “oilagarchy” conspired with General Motors to acquire and shut down electrified public transport systems in at least a dozen cities.

Rockefeller’s transformation of medicine (by funding and acquiring control of medical schools) into a field dominated by synthetic petroleum-based pharmaceuticals is fairly well known. There is less public awareness that he played a similar role in shaping public education (especially the teaching of history) and the replacement of organic-based farming with industrial agriculture reliant on petrochemicals. Rockefeller played a similar role in secret meetings that resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve, as did Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank in the creation of the World Bank and IMF.

Corbett also traces the creation of parallel oil monopolies in Europe by the Rothchilds, the Nobel family and the British and Dutch royal families. Germany posed a major threat to this global oil cartel with a treaty they signed with the Ottoman Empire to acquire a controlling interest in Iraqi oil development. The threatened competition with established European oil interests set wheels in motion for a British-led war against Germany (ie World War I).

* JD’s favorite motto: “Competition is a sin.”


Alcohol and the American Dream


The Cocktail: the Influence of Spirits on the American Psyche

by Joseph Lanza (1995)

Book Review

The term “cocktail,” which first appeared during the Revolutionary War, refers to the adulteration of whiskey, rum, gin, vodka or other hard liquor with wine or non-alcoholic beverages to disguise the bitter taste. The cocktail is as fundamental to the American dream as the white picket fence. Joseph Lanza’s short book traces the history of this distinctly American style of inebriation, emphasizing the importance of Prohibition and Hollywood in establishing the cocktail as the ultimate status symbol of the American middle class.

Owing to my family background, this book had special personal importance. Both my parents, caught up in a drinking culture that considered it pathological not to have daily cocktails, were full-fledged alcoholics by the time I was twelve.

Prohibition: a “Progressive” Cause

The rise of the cocktail culture was directly linked to urbanization, while the early prohibition movement, viewed as a progressive cause, was closely linked to the women’s suffrage. Most of the suffragettes who campaign for women’s voting rights simultaneously campaigned for the government to ban alcohol.* Anti-alcohol sentiment was strongly bolstered by the protestant work ethic that characterized early American society, and anti-immigrant sentiments against Italian and Irish newcomers who were slow to adapt to it. By the end of the nineteenth century, numerous individual states had already enacted prohibition legislation.

The Volstead Act and 18th Amendment (which undercut a Constitutional challenge), officially took effect on January 17, 1920. The Act provided that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.” Because it was only loosely enforced, supplying bootleg liquor was instrumental in the rise of organized criminal gangs and the career of the Kennedy family patriarch Joseph Kennedy. By the evening of January 18th, the first speakeasy had opened in New York. Prior to 1920, women had been barred from public drinking establishments. With Prohibition, this changed and they became an established fixture in speakeasy jazz clubs.

The Celebrity Drinking Culture

Prohibition also gave rise to the celebrity drinking culture, typified by the early twentieth century writers and composers who openly frequented speakeasies. The most prominent celebrities included George Gershwin, Moss Hart, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Walter Winchel and the Algonquin Roundtable writers (Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woolcott, Robert Sherwood, Robert Benchley).

Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, speakeasies became cocktail cafes. With the advent of talking movies, Hollywood stars replaced writers and composers as role models in the cocktail cafes (later known as cocktail lounges) where wealthy socialites mingled with Hollywood celebrities.

In the late thirties and early forties, cocktails singers emerged to entertain them. The first cocktail entertainers were male crooners,* like Rudy Valle, Dean Martin, Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Crickett’s voice in Pinochio), Vic Damon, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. They typically drank heavily while performing. Female cocktail singers, such as Peggy Lee, Abbe Lane and Julie London, wouldn’t become popular until after World War II.

The cocktail culture took off big time in the 1940s as movies, especially detective films, glamorized heavy drinking.

Advertising and Media Manipulation

The fifties and sixties saw the coming to age of the advertising industry and media manipulation in redefining the human personality. This period ushered in urban leisure drinking, when alcohol consumption became so prevalent among the American middle class that it was considered pathological not to have a cocktail. A common angle used in alcohol advertising was that drinking was an important coping mechanism in dealing with urbanization and the pressures of the sterile corporate work environment.

In the literary world, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Eugene O’Neill were all held up as visionaries who relied on liquor to liberate ideas the sobriety suppressed. During the Kennedy administration, this drinking culture would permanently bind American politics to the entertainment industry, Frank Sinatra’s “rat pack.”

Baby Boomers Reject Alcohol

The sixties and seventies would see a significant decline in the cocktail culture. Baby boomers disliked the taste of alcohol and preferred the pain-free high of cannabis.

*Thaddeus Russell explores this link at length in A Renegade History of the United States.
* *Crooning is a method of using the voice to slide up and down the scale. It was facilitated by the advent of microphone technology that allowed performers to sing in a near whisper and still be heard.
**Rat pack member Peter Lawford married JFK’s sister Pat and Sinatra campaigned heavily for Kennedy in 1960. Follow his election, rat pack members (Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Sid Loft, Judy Garland, Joey Bishop, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin) were frequent White House guests.