Archeologists have found hemp cords in pottery dating back as far as 10,000 years old in Taiwan and China. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan floated the idea in 1977 that Hemp might have been THE first plant to be cultivated by humans. In his book “The Dragons of Eden, Speculations on the Origin of Human Intelligence” he said, “It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization."
According to many sources, Emperor Shen Neng of China wrote about weed being used medicinally in 2737 B.C.E. It turns out paper gets a little brittle after about a thousand years, so in the interest of historical accuracy, I should mention the oldest surviving copies of his book “The Herbal” are from like 50 A.D. I don’t know where the curiously specific date 2737 came from, but it gets tossed around a lot. Either way, we can safely say that human beings have been getting the munchies for a long fucking time.
Hemp made its way from the East into India and then Greece, mostly because hemp fibers are easy to grow, and can be used to make like literally everything; most importantly, rope and sails for boats. The word “Canvas” comes from the Greek word Cannabis. In 430 B.C.E. Greek historian Herodotus wrote in his book “The Histories” about Scythians sitting around getting fucked up by throwing weed in camp fires. Weed in India has been popular since at least 1,000 B.C.E. The preferred method of getting blazed was by making a paste of mashed up weed called bhang, which is made into a drink, or used as an ingredient in cooking. Ancient sacred Indian writings called “The Vedas” dated back somewhere between 1,400-2,000 B.C.E. listed cannabis as one of the five sacred plants that could bring happiness and a deeper connection to the universe. Cannabis leafs are believed to be inhabited by a guardian angel. Ganja is the Hindi word for hemp.
Hashish gained popularity in the Middle East when Mohammed kicked off Islam in the 600’s because alcohol was forbidden by Allah, so people were like, “Well, he didn’t mention weed…” I love it when devoutly religious people turn into laywers to get around their own rules, like Mormons who take pictures of scantily clad women and cover up all the clothes so only the bare skin is showing so they can pretend the woman is naked and masturbate. The technique is called “bubbling,” which you should definitely Google and laugh at.
We have all kinds of crazy strains of weed these days thanks to modern science, but before stoners got all MacGyver on their gardens, the type of cannabis used for industrial purposes had almost no (Tetrahydrocannabinol) TCH, the active ingredient in getting fucked up. We refer to this type of cannabis as hemp. Strains of cannabis that make you watch cartoons for nine hours grow better in warm climates. For this reason, cannabis grown in Europe and colonial America weren’t much use for getting fucked up. It wasn’t until European imperialism started running amuck over India and Africa that recreational cannabis caught on in the West.
In 1833 an up and coming Irish physician named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy failed to get his medical license from the London College of Physicians and Surgeons, so he took a job as assistant surgeon with the East India Trading Company and moved to Calcutta. While he was in India, O’Shaughnessy did a ton of work making advancements in telegraph technology, as well as co-discovering the process of using I.V.’s to re-hydrate cholera patients. He also spent a good portion of his time researching native medical practices and experimenting with local medicines. He was particularly interested in Cannabis. The thing that set O’Shaughnessy apart from other medical and folklore references to cannabis, is that he was a meticulous note taker and documented his research in a scientific way that really hadn’t been done before. He started off by getting animals high. Then he experimented with babies and small children before testing weed on adults. He probably could have just had a conversation with the guy he bought the weed from but that wouldn't be very scientific.
After feeding a dog some Scooby Snacks he noted, “In about half an hour he became stupid and sleepy, dozing at intervals, starting up, wagging his tail as if extremely contented, he ate some food greedily, on being called to he staggered to and fro, and his face assumed a look of utter and helpless drunkenness.”
He had encouraging success treating muscle spasms in patients with tetanus. After administering some sticky-icky to an arthritis patient he wrote, “half a grain of Hemp resin was given in a little spirit … became talkative and musical, told several stories, and sang songs to a circle of highly delighted auditors, ate the dinner of two persons …, sought also for other luxuries I can scarcely venture to allude to, and finally fell soundly asleep, and so continued till the following morning.”
O’Shaughnessy observed that cannabis didn’t really cure things but he saw great potential for using weed to alleviate pain and suffering. Meanwhile his Indian helpers are over in the corner getting high, going, “Hey Rudra, I bet you twenty rupees that white guy takes credit for discovering this thing we’ve been doing for thousands of years.”
In 1739 Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt, hoping to carve out a foothold in Africa with the eventual goal of creating a French corridor to India. By 1801 Napoleon and his army were driven out of Africa but while they were there the troops developed a taste for hashish and brought it back to France.
French psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau “discovered” hashish while traveling in the orient. In the 1830’s psychiatry was one of the hot new sciences in France. They called psychiatrists “alienists,” coming from the French word “aliéné,” which means insane. Alienists were having a bad time though, because most treatments for mental illness was shit like feeling the bumps on people’s skulls, bloodletting, and reading the bible. People like Moreau were desperately searching for medicine that could make people less crazy. In 1845 he published a book called “Du Hachisch et de l'aliénation mentale” (Hashish and Mental Alienation). “
Being a forward-thinking man of science, Moreau began experimenting with hashish to gain a deeper understanding of the psychotic mind.
“To comprehend the ravings of a madman, it is necessary to have raved oneself, but without having lost awareness of one’s madness, without having lost the power to evaluate the psychic changes occurring in the mind… hashish gives to whoever submits to its influence the power to study in himself the mental disorders that characterize insanity.”
He enlisted the help of his artist friends to research the effects of hashish. You know…for science. Moreau began holding monthly meetings at the Hotel Pimodan for his newly formed Club Des Hashischins (The Hash Eaters Club) between 1844 to 1849. French philosopher and journalist Théophile Gautier joined the club and brought a handful of French writers and intellectuals with him such as Victor Hugo (Les Misérables), Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo), and Honoré de Balzac (his name sounds like ball sack). Every month a bunch of grown ass men would meet and dress up like Arabians and drink Hash coffee and eat hash infused treats. Members of the club referred to Moreau as “Dr. X”. It is unknown whether or not they had bean bags and bongos. Apparently potheads haven’t changed much in the last hundred and fifty years.
Many colonies in colonial New England required farmers to grow hemp. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their estates. The Constitution of the United States was even written on hemp paper. Unfortunately, the founding fathers probably weren’t smoking pages of the constitution, since it wasn’t the type that got you fucked up. Besides, if they wanted to get schwifty they could just pop on down to Ye Olde Apothecary and pick up a bottle of opium cough syrup, which they absolutely did…a lot.
The type of weed that gets you high was brought to Brazil in 1545 by Portuguese sailors. Slaves were allowed to plant Cannabis between rows of corn and smoke it on their time off to keep them docile. This same technique was used by slavers from the East India Trading Company with African slaves they dropped off in Jamaica so they wouldn’t complain so much while working themselves to death harvesting sugar cane.
Stay tuned for the next post where I explore the downfall of Weed in America.