Cannabis has been used as an agent for achieving euphoria since ancient times; it was described in a Chinese medical reference traditionally considered to date from 2737 B.C. Its use spread from China to India and then to N Africa and reached Europe at least as early as A.D. 500.
The first direct reference to a cannabis product as a psychoactive agent dates from 2737 BC, in the writings of the Chinese emperor Shen Nung. The focus was on its powers as a medication for rheumatism, gout, malaria, and oddly enough, absent-mindedness. Mention was made of the intoxicating properties, but the medicinal value was considered more important. In India though it was clearly used recreationally. The Muslims too used it recreationally for alcohol consumption was banned by the Koran. It was the Muslims who introduced hashish, whose popularity spread quickly throughout 12th century Persia (Iran) and North Africa.
In 1545 the Spanish brought cannabis to the New World. The English introduced it in Jamestown in 1611 where it became a major commercial crop alongside tobacco and was grown as a source of fiber.
By 1890, hemp had been replaced by cotton as a major cash crop in southern states. Some patent medicines during this era contained cannabis. It was in the 1920’s that marijuana began to catch on. Some historians say its emergence was brought about by Prohibition. “Reefer songs” became the rage of the jazz world. Cannabis clubs, called tea pads, sprang up in every major city. These establishments were tolerated by the authorities because cannabis was not illegal and patrons showed no evidence of making a nuisance of themselves or disturbing the community. Marijuana was not considered a social threat.
From 1850 until 1942 cannabis was prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism. Its use as an intoxicant was also commonplace from the 1850s to the 1930s. A campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) sought to portray cannabis as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction. It is still considered a “gateway” drug by some authorities. In the 1950s it was an accessory of the beat generation; in the 1960s it was used by college students and “hippies” and became a symbol of rebellion against authority. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use.
Most marijuana in the 70’s came from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate the crop by spraying it with the herbicide paraquat, raising fears of toxic side effects. Colombia then became the main supplier. The “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana and in heightened vigilance against smuggling. The “war on drugs” thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation (particularly in Hawaii and California). Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States, and there was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers.
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