We defy you to read this all the way through and come away with any remaining stigma against cannabis. It might also make you mad — as it does us — to realize that this known, natural and ancient medicine was taken out of legal circulation for the last 90 years of U.S. history, mainly because it was perceived as a threat to big industry.

Cannabis cultivation goes back some 12,000 years, making it one of humanity’s oldest crops. It’s believed to have first grown wild in Central Asia, (now Mongolia and Siberia). Humans quickly figured out that drying it, smoking it, wearing it and weaving it was a really good idea, so they began to cultivate crops.

In pre-modern times cannabis was regularly used as a medicine and for spiritual purposes. In fact, it’s only in recent years that cannabis has been demonized as a harmful, even dangerous drug (e.g., see the 1936 Reefer Madness entry in the Timeline below), rather than viewed as a wellness product.

Take A Look At This

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HEMP HANDY

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The economy of China’s oldest known Neolithic culture revolves around cannabis. Remains found around the Yellow River valley show that the Yangshao people wore hemp clothes, wove hemp fibers and produced hemp pottery.

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FOUND BY THE MOUND

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Pre-Columbian tribes throughout Mesoamerica (an area reaching from central Mexico down through much of modern-day Central America) use hemp to make clothing, fishing nets, sandals, baskets, rope and mats. Archaeological finds from another pre-Columbian people known as the Mound Builders, who lived in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River regions of North America between 3000 BCE and the 16th century, show evidence of the cannabis plant being used for textiles, as medicine and in rituals.

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THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

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Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi, credited with bringing civilization to China, references cannabis as a medicine, extolling its yin and yang properties. Most clothing at this time was also made from hemp.

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HIGH COURT

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Chinese Emperor Shen Neng is said to use cannabis in the treatment of constipation, gout, rheumatism, malaria, absent-mindedness and poor memory. (We find the last two hilarious.)

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THE BAKING DEAD

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Burial tombs in China and Siberia show evidence of mummified psychoactive cannabis.

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HIGH-ROGLYPHS

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Medicinal plants depicted on scrolls in Ancient Egypt include cannabis.

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MJ MILKSHAKE

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Bhang, a drink of ancient India made of cannabis, milk and spices, is used as an anesthetic and to speed up a slow metabolism.

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HIGH PRIESTS

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The Book of Exodus (from the Torah) mentions a holy anointing oil used in the ordination of high priests made from kaneh-bosem — believed by religious scholars to be cannabis mixed with myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and olive oil. The Old Testament also references cannabis as a bartering material and incense.

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WISE WOMAN WEARS WEED

Seshat, the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge and writing, is depicted on a temple in Luxor wearing what some historians say is a cannabis-leaf headdress. (Looks like it to us.)

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AGE-OLD REMEDY

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More than 3,000 years after he died, cannabis pollen is found on the mummy of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. The Egyptians use the plant for inflammation, enemas, to help the uterus during childbirth and to treat glaucoma (a medical breakthrough revived in 1971).

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ROYALLY SUPERB HERB

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Historians speculate that the biblical Queen of Sheba delivered cannabis to King Solomon in addition to gold and spices.

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THE ORIGINAL ZORO

An ancient Persian religious text said to be written by Zoroaster, founder of one of the world’s oldest religions, records medicinal use of cannabis.

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AYURVEDIC MEDIC

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Indian medicine calls for cannabis to sharpen the mind, reduce fevers and treat insomnia. It is also believed to relieve dysentery and leprosy.

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ICE MAIDEN’S VISIONS

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The mummified and tattooed remains of the Altai Princess — also known as the Siberian Ice Maiden — a 20-something-year-old woman who died of metastatic breast cancer 2,500 years ago, was found buried with cannabis, which she likely took to alleviate her pain. Burial clues suggest she may also have been a shaman; if so, her elevated status might have resulted from her cannabis use, since an altered state was believed to facilitate communication with the spirit world.

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SMILE LIKE AN EGYPTIAN

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According to Diodorus Siculus, a Sicilian-Greek historian, Egyptian women use cannabis to ease sorrow and lift their spirits.

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CHINESE SECRETS

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Chinese text known as the Pen Ts’ao Ching (The Herbal) references cannabis for the treatment of over 100 ailments.

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HOLY SMOKES!

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More than 1,400 years after cannabis-based anointing oil is cited in the Book of Exodus, Jesus is believed to use cannabis oil on his disciples and to cure the sick, including those suffering from “demonic possession,” better known today as epilepsy (for which cannabis is currently being explored as a treatment). “There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion,” according to Carl P. Ruck, a professor of classical mythology at Boston University, who notes that cannabis residue found in containers from Judea and Egypt indicate it was widely used throughout Christianity’s earliest days. The herb is also used as incense at religious gatherings.

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SEXUAL HEALING

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Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist who traveled throughout the Roman Empire with Nero’s army, lists medical cannabis in his book, De Materia Medica, recognized as the precursor to all modern medical pharmacopoeias. He also reports that cannabis is used to suppress sexual longing. (Our take on this is they must have had to get really, really stoned for this to work. In small doses, cannabis is a known aphrodisiac.)

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OLD FARTS

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Galen of Pergamon, a Greek physician famous throughout the Roman Empire, prescribes medical cannabis to relieve pain and flatulence (farting). The Egyptians of the era are a bit more ambitious, deploying cannabis in the treatment of tumors. They also used a cannabis-infused pessary (vaginal suppository) to aid childbirth and uterine pain. (Products such as this are on the market again today. See Foria.)

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VISIONARY SURGEON

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The famous Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo, recognized as “many hundreds of years ahead of his time in medical knowledge and practice” and the first person in China to use anesthesia during surgery, relies on a “cannabis boil powder” dissolved in wine as an anesthetic during intestinal resections, organ grafts and chest incisions. (Not so sure how the organ grafts went for him, but he sure was ahead of his time.)

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HIGH SEAS

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Cannabis reaches Britain’s shores during the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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KISS KISS BHANG BHANG

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Indian tantric sex practices incorporate cannabis, calling for a mixture of the leaves, buds and stems to be mixed with milk, water and spices to create an aphrodisiac known as bhang. (This is still available today on the streets of India and will knock your socks off. We know. We tried it.)

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1,001 APHRODISIAC NIGHTS

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One Thousand and One Nights, the tales told over 1,001 nights by the legendary Arabic queen, Scheherazade, in order to keep herself alive, describes hashish’s intoxicating and aphrodisiac properties.

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PERSIAN POT POTION

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Persians mix the juice of cannabis seeds with herbs to treat migraines.

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INVASIVE WEED

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Seeds dating to this era have also been discovered in the remains of Viking ships.

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YE OLDE BOOB BALM

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The Old English Herbarium calls for cannabis mixed with fat to be applied to painful, swollen breasts.

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ABBEY ASCENSION

 

14_12th_century_hildegardIn an era when few women wrote much of anything, Hildegard von Bingen, a brilliant Benedictine abbess in what is now Germany, regularly corresponds with the Pope. Known as Saint Hildegard, she also writes plays and music, and produces major works covering everything from theology to medicine. In Physica, she addresses the medical benefits of cannabis, recommending it for headaches and as a poultice to treat wounds. (If her self-reported visions are anything to go by, it seems likely she partook of her own medicine.)

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MEDIEVAL MAMAS

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Medieval midwives use hemp as an aphrodisiac and analgesic. German midwives advise that following a Caesarean section, mothers are to be wrapped with “a plaster made of three eggs, hemp cloth and Armenian earth.” (Which turns out to have made a type of cast. Ingenious.)

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A NEW LEAF

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William Turner, a naturalist and the first English botanist, extolls the importance of medicinal hemp in his book New Herball.

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VIVA ESPAÑA

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The Spanish introduce cannabis to their New World colonies, though it’s possible African slaves familiar with its medicinal and intoxicant components used it there previous to this time. Earlier explorers reported seeing it growing wild throughout North America and noted the use of hemp by indigenous populations. (See 3000 BCE for prehistory evidence of cannabis use throughout the Americas.)

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NATURALIST NOUSE

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Li Shizhen, considered China’s greatest naturalist, details the antibiotic and antiemetic effects of cannabis.

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TO TOKE OR NOT TO TOKE

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According to a 2015 study, scientists detect traces of cannabis on smoking pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare, suggesting the Bard of Avon may not have limited himself to tobacco.

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VIRGINIA PLAIN

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Jamestown settlers plant hemp in North America, where it is grown alongside tobacco and cultivated for its fiber. Hemp — used for rope, sails and clothing — is a major export throughout the colonial period.

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MONEY MANDATE

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The Virginia Assembly passes legislation requiring every farmer to grow hemp.

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SWEET MELANCHOLIA

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English clergyman and scholar Robert Burton recommends cannabis for depression in his book The Anatomy of Melancholy.

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MOUNT VERNON DAZE

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George Washington’s diaries detail his 30-year cultivation of cannabis at Mount Vernon, his Virginia plantation. Entries also reference a strain high in psychoactive compounds.

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POT POULTICE

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The New English Dispensatory, published in London, recommends applying boiled hemp roots to the skin to reduce inflammation.

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STONER SCRIPTS

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In addition to their discovery of the Rosetta Stone near Alexandria, Napoleon’s troops bring cannabis back to France from Egypt.

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HOT FOR HEMP

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Hemp plantations flourish in Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York and California.

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A ROYAL PAIN

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Queen Victoria is said to rely on cannabis to relieve menstrual cramps. Reports suggest she also takes it to counter morning sickness and as an obstetrical anesthetic. (Coming from someone who popped out 9 kids, we reckon she knew what she was talking about.) Her personal physician writes extensively on the plant’s benefits for a wide range of ailments, including pain relief, insomnia, muscle spasms and epilepsy.

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THE CANNABIS CHRONICLES

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After nearly a decade in India, where he studied the use of Cannabis sativa in Ayurvedic and Persian medicine, Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy conducts clinical trials of the plant as medicine. Conditions treated include rheumatism, cholera, tetanus, rabies and convulsions.

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HAREM HIJINKS

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Harriet Martineau — an English writer, feminist, abolitionist, social reformer and sociologist whose descendants include Kate Middleton — travels to the Middle East. In her memoir, Eastern Life Present and Past, she recounts an experience of enjoying cannabis in a harem: “The poor Jewesses were obliged to decline joining us; for it happened to be Saturday: they must not smoke on the Sabbath. They were naturally much pitied: and some of the young wives did what was possible for them. Drawing in a long breath of smoke, they puffed it forth in the faces of the Jewesses, who opened mouth and nostrils eagerly to receive it. Thus was the Sabbath observed, to shouts of laughter.”

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HIGHLAND CONTRACTIONS

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The Monthly Journal of Medical Science of Edinburgh notes that cannabis has a “remarkable power of increasing the force of uterine contraction during labour.”

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TOKE TOME

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Cannabis makes its debut in the 3rd edition of the United States Pharmacopoeia, an annually published compendium of drug information, where it remains for nearly a century.

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CANNABIS KUDOS

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The plant achieves official medical recognition as a childbirth aid when it is included in the Dispensatory of the United States as a method of inducing contractions.

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WEED FOR A WEEK

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An Ohio state commissioner proclaims that a weeklong dose of cannabis mixed with milk and sugar cures gonorrhea. (Although the afflicted probably finished the week with gonorrhea, the duration was undoubtedly made more tolerable.)

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HEAVENLY HASHISH

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Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, writes works depicting cannabis use. A story entitled “Perilous Play” ends with the line, “Heaven bless hashish, if its dreams end like this!” (Her prose suggests she may have enjoyed its effects herself.)

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HOW DO YOU SPELL RELIEF?

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An article in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, recommends cannabis to counter the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

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KING COTTON

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By the end of the 19th century, cotton has largely replaced hemp as a major cash crop in the U.S. southern states.

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RUNNING ON HEMP-T

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Henry Ford designs his first Model-T to run on hemp gasoline, and sections of the chassis are constructed from a plastic-like hemp product whose impact-strength is reputed to be greater than that of steel.

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MARIJUANA MENACE

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The beginning of the Mexican Revolution sees an influx of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. The newcomers introduce the recreational use of cannabis, which they call “marijuana,” into American society. Fear and prejudice run rampant, with anti-drug crusaders railing against the nation’s “foreign” element and decrying the “Marijuana Menace.”

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HOME GROWN

With its pharmaceutical supply of cannabis from India threatened by the outbreak World War I, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declares that the nation must become self-sufficient. By 1918 American farms are growing 60,000 pounds of high-quality cannabis.

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PROHIBITION PREVIEW

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Anti-drug proponents initiate a crackdown on the non-medical use of the plant and 10 states pass laws prohibiting marijuana, a word widely used by anti-cannabis campaigners to harness anti-immigrant fervor. None of the legislation makes a distinction between marijuana  (psychoactive) and hemp (industrial crop, non-psychoactive).

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DRY TIMES

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The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Prohibition) bans the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. Cannabis becomes an attractive alternative.

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GOOD WHITE FOLKS

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The New York Times runs an article July 6 under the headline “Mexican Family Go Insane: Five Said To Have Been Stricken by Eating Marihuana.” Fears grow that “good white folks will be corrupted by the habit.”

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