History of Weed

The lack of information on the history of cannabis itself seems surprising. But, then, cannabis is a surprising drug that can make the impossible seem real and the real seem unnecessary. Asking what is weed and where did come from can lead to many different answers. 

How old is it?

How old is pot? Ask a smoker and they will tell you "grass" is as old as Eden. He may even refer you to Genesis 1:11 (quoted on previous page) to substantiate his contentions. To the smoker, weed is a sacrament in a new religion that has arisen from a trinity of love, nonconformity, and anti-materialism.

Smokers, however, do not quote from Genesis a comment made by God some sixty-two verses later, when he dispatched Adam and Eve from their paradise:

 "Cursed is the ground for thy sake," He said, "In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat of the herb of the field." 

Cannabis, anyone?


Hemp for Victory

In some ways cannabis has been beneficial to man. In earlier days many used the hemp plant as a source of rope, clothing, and to treat—usually with poor success—every imaginable illness. The full history of cannabis, then, is its history as a commercial product, hemp, and as a psychotoxin.

It is, of course, in this second category that cannabis interests us today, and it is cannabis the psychotoxin that interests most of us today.


Chinese Origins

History had to wait until the Chinese recorded the first adequate description of the hemp plant. Their writings indicate cannabis originated somewhere to the north of the Himalayan Mountains; but how it got there, or why, no one seems to know. The learned emperor Shen-Nung, a surprisingly adept pharmacologist, was well aware of the effects of cannabis. About the year 2737 b.c. when he wrote his book on pharmacology, he noted a number of still accurate observations concerning the hemp plant.

For centuries hemp remained the principal source of clothing for the Chinese, for this civilization failed to discover the practicality of using flax fiber. Why this is so is unknown. Perhaps, since they began with the hemp fiber and were satisfied with its product, they felt no need to develop an alternative. In any event, hemp was so commonly utilized that it was described in the Chinese treatise Rh-Yar compiled during the fifteenth century b.c. This work noted that hemp grew in both male and female forms and referred to it as Ma, a term that still has some colloquial usage.

During this period the Chinese developed an interesting folk custom. They took the hard hemp stalk and carved one end into the shape of a snake's head. When a Chinese became ill his friends or relatives would beat his bed with this "magic" totem, believing it had the power to dispel evil spirits. While the Chinese attributed supernatural powers to the hemp plant, they had little, if any, use for the peculiar resinous exudate that oozed from the flower clusters on the female plant. 

Contemporary Chinese moralists, watching the effects produced by the use of this resin in those wild youth of the era, concluded that this frenetic euphoria had no place in stable Chinese culture. Shortly, with proper warning to recalcitrant youths, the drug was labeled the "Liberator of Sin," and the use of the hemp plant or its resin as an escapist phenomenon forbiddento the Chinese.

Chinese Medicinal Use

Shen-Nung, however, was not opposed to utilizing cannabis in medicinal treatment. He prescribed it for beriberi, constipation, female weakness, gout, malaria, rheumatism, and, of all things, absent-mindedness! One particularly interesting medicinal use of hemp resin was recorded about 220 a.d. in the biography of the Chinese physician Hoa-Tho. He mixed the resin with wine, termed it Ma-Yo, and employed it as an anesthetic for controlling pain during various surgical procedures.

According to this ancient doctor one good dose and the patient was ready for the operating table. It was so effective that later when he questioned his patients they all claimed they were free of pain during their surgery.

It is an interesting commentary on the variance of psychological response produced by the use of cannabis when employed by different civilizations that the placid Chinese for the most part did not appreciate its euphoria. Tranquil, smooth, languorous reveries from opium, yes. Technicolor fantasies from hemp exudate, absolutely no. The unpredictable reactions of hemp intoxication, sometimes stimulative, sometimes sedative, seemed alien to the nature of this culture, which preferred, when it chose to relax, to utilize a predictable drug that would afford it the chance to sleep and dream. 

Where the ecstatic sensations and vivid hallucinations produced by the use of hemp were concerned, however, the Chinese were content to leave these to cultures more temperamentally suited to enjoy them.


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