The History of Cannabis and the Cultural Elements Around it

History of Cannabis

Today, people use cannabis as a recreational drug. But in ancient societies, it was recognized for its healing properties. Ancient people knew cannabis cures illness. They treated it as a medicine, and not as something that could get them high.

CBD – the compound that underpins the medical usability of cannabis has been found by contemporary research. There have been studies – not one or two, but quite a few – which brought in light how CBD fights with several ailments and restructures the body’s natural immune system.

Need for a culture

 Scientific resources confirms the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. owing to CBD. But still, we are far from building a culture where its consumption is endorsed by medical professionals.

What we need is a culture that normalizes cannabis consumption.

The power of culture should never be underestimated. At least not according to Thomas Wolfe, who defined it as “the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” Because of media brainwashing, most people today refuse to believe that an ailing health could be improved by alternative treatment, aided by cannabis.

This is a dogma fueled by the mainstream media. Only a cultural backlash can change this dogmatic mindset. But organizing a cultural renaissance to promote cannabis is not easy and it needs us to reinvent the history of cannabis and its usage in ancient cultures.

Asia, the origin

 Central Asia is believed to be the origin of cannabis. Not all anthropologists, however, hold this opinion. Some held cannabis originated in both Central and South Asia.

A herb called Ganjika was mentioned in ancient Sanskrit literature. It was actually  cannabis. The Vedas mentioned a brew called Somarasa, which some held is a potion made of cannabis. However, most scholars bunked this claim. Bhang, a drink made of cannabis extract is very popular in India. It is used for recreation and it has medicinal properties.

Today, it is difficult to get cannabis in China because of government clamping down on illegal trade and the absence of legitimate outlets. However, China’s aversion to cannabis is as recent as early 1980s. The spiritual history of China, in which a strange intermix of Taoism and Acupuncture can be found, regarded cannabis as a part of a ritual. Taoist medical practitioners used cannabis for healing as well as for spiritual attainment.

In Japan, cannabis cultivation has been going on since the pre-neolithic period. Archaeologists believe Japanese used hemp mainly for textile manufacturing, not for its medicinal properties.

 There are archaeological proof that cannabis usage was popular among Central Asian nomadic communities. It dates back to 2500 BC. Early Greek historians wrote extensively on how the Scythians, who were ruling Central Asia back then used cannabis to prepare vapor-bath. The scarcity of water and the herbal nature of hemp-seed made cannabis steam bath popular among them.

Cannabis in Europe

 Some scholars opined that Indo-European communities brought cannabis to Europe from Eurasia. Today, many agree with this view. The map below shows how cannabis usage spread to Europe from Asia. Take a look at the map:

Because of a lack of consensus, it’s hard to determine the exact timeline of cannabis’ arrival in Europe. The map shows the time to be 1200 A.D. But Barney Warf of University of Kansas wrote “Cannabis seeds have also been found in the remains of Viking ships dating to the mid-ninth century.”

Vikings were Scandinavians, and they were a battle-hardened lot. Cannabis consumption by them can be construed as a rebuttal to the modern claim that it makes people stoned, unable to carry out important tasks.

The map above has credibility as it was created by experts based on historical and archaeological data. According to the map, cannabis came to Europe from Middle-East, not directly from South or Central Asia. Eastern Europe and Russia were the first to embrace cannabis. Then courtesy to Anglo-Saxons, cannabis usage spread through Western Europe.

In the European culture, cannabis never gained anything more than a psychoactive substance status. The bastions of hope are countries like Netherland with flexible cannabis regulations. Netherland is visited by pot-lovers from around the world. This is a good sign as it shows Europe is taking a liberal stand over the cannabis consumption.

Cannabis in America

According to the map above, cannabis reached American shores from South-West Africa. And South America adopted Cannabis before North.

It was early-1800s, when cannabis was introduced in South America. Not all South American countries were equally quick to adopt it. Countries like Paraguay and Colombia have historically been known for cannabis production. These countries were first to recognize the potential and market for cannabis.

Today, Jamaica is portrayed in the media as a safe haven for potheads with dreadlocks. But you will be surprised to know that before 1850s, cannabis was unheard of in that island. Bonded labours imported from India made it popular in Jamaica. In the early 1900s, cannabis was banned. It took nearly a century for it to get decriminalized. Today, the law permits both cultivation and possession of cannabis.

Cannabis entered the United States in the 20th century. The United States, despite having a liberal and democratic legal system, had tightening rules around cannabis. It’s only recently that some of the states legalized it.

Unlike Asia, America doesn’t have a legacy around cannabis. While that could be a bit disappointing, the fact that the whole continent is showing a welcoming face to cannabis is definitely good news. At least there’s no counter-culture, which means there’s no cultural or ideological blockade to the creation of a cannabis culture.

Religion and cannabis

Whenever there’s a discussion on culture, religion inevitably checks in. Culture influences religion and vice versa. Eastern dharmic religions attributed spiritual qualities to cannabis. So, cannabis is native to these cultures.

Cannabis consumption is encouraged in contemporary religions like Rastafari, Modern Paganism and Present-Day Shamanism, which is a leftover of yesteryear’s shamanism. Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity forbids cannabis. These religions don’t’ consider cannabis anything more than a hallucinogenic plaything.

Some sects of the Hindu faith went on to claim cannabis gives one the ability to move beyond trans-dimensional boundaries. This may sound like an exaggerated acclamation, but Lord Shiva, a supreme deity who forms the holy trinity of Hinduism, was described to be a devoted consumer of cannabis. Some tantric sects regarded cannabis experience to be a small fraction of Lord Shiva’s normal consciousness.

Hinduism, as it seems, is very welcoming to cannabis and cannabis lovers believe it has a lot to contribute to build a culture that approves cannabis consumption.

Ending remarks

It’s clear from the discussion above that some narratives already exist, which acknowledge the power of cannabis to develop a new, personified and libertarian culture. With these narratives becoming popular, cannabis consumption will gradually become mainstream.