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Cannabis in ancient history: From no courage necessary to the courage to explore the mind.
Cannabis cultivated in ancient China as hemp for fiber and cannabis for medicine.
Cannabis spread to India, where it is used as a religious sacrament as well as a medicinal herb.
Cannabis spread to Europe with the Scythians, who used it also as a mind-altering substance.
By the end of the Hellenistic and Roman eras, cannabis use becomes widespread, and issues like conflict and greed have yet to come into the picture.
Cannabis in Europe: The beginnings of conflict and greed.
Cannabis is used medicinally and mentioned in scientific texts.
The Age of Enlightenment gives rise to the exploration of the herb.
Cultivation of hemp as a cash crop begins during the Age of Colonization, planting the first seeds of conflict.
D. As a cash crop, cannabis presents a potential for greed.
The Modern Era: Courage, Conflict, and Greed Convene
A. Culture clashes and European hegemony cause cannabis to be stigmatized in Western Europe, North America, and even in Greece and Turkey.
B. Criminalization of the drug leads to the creation of a black market economy.
C. Conflict and violence characterize the evolution of cannabis during the 20th century, while pharmaceutical companies profit off a greed-driven business model.
D. Great courage becomes necessary to re-educate the public.
The archaeological record shows first known cultivation of cannabis in the prehistoric era, with conscientious use of hemp in ancient Taiwan and China from 10,000 BCE. Hemp was used for the earliest known manufacturing of paper, as well as for fibers used in rope, clothing, and weapons materials. The female cannabis plant was likewise being studied and used in ancient China. Doctors prescribed it, along with many other herbs, to treat a wide variety of ailments.
From China, cannabis spread to ancient India, Central Asia, and the Greco-Roman world. In India, the first noted use of cannabis as a religious sacrament was recorded in the Vedas. Exploration of the mind-altering properties of cannabis took spiritual and mental courage. There was not yet any conflict associated with the plant. It was being used both for hemp fiber and for the medicinal properties of the herb, and occasionally the seeds would be used as a source of food and oil.
Hemp and cannabis use spread throughout the Middle East, Persia, Central Asia, and Africa. Arabian literature refers liberally to the use of hashish, a preparation of hemp resin. Using cannabis as a mind-altering substance as well as a medicinal salve took some courage, but it was not taboo. Famous works of literature and poetry mention the effects of cannabis as if it were no different from alcohol.
The earliest beginnings of potential conflict began in the early modern era, during the European Age of Exploration. Hemp became more valuable and in demand, for its use as a fiber necessary for sailor ropes, sails, and other utilitarian materials. Thus, farmers in the feudal system were forced to grow hemp. The mandate to grow hemp also spread to the European colonies in the New World. As a cash crop, hemp started to become part of the capitalist greed-based economy that was based on colonial exploitation and European hegemony.
Cannabis use continued to be widespread throughout the Arab world, but its use as a recreational drug was also starting to become more common in the New World among farmers. When the first wave of Mexican immigrants to the United States moved across the border after the Mexican Revolution, the stigma against the drug began. The drug became a source of social and political conflict. Before long, the United States and Europe started to look at cannabis differently. It was still considered a medicinal herb, but the recreational uses -- that is, using it to get high -- were becoming banned. Napoleon was the first to officially ban cannabis. By the early 20th century, recreational use of cannabis was becoming increasingly taboo.
In the United States, the passing of the Harrison Act restricted the use of cannabis even as a pharmaceutical substance. The drug became criminalized, along with other medicinal drugs like opium. Criminalization created tremendous conflict. It helped establish a black market economy, which persists until this day. Greed-based public policy related to the war on drugs has also caused conflicts related to cannabis. For example, the pharmaceutical companies have benefitted from the criminalization of cannabis. Because cannabis is a free plant, and is relatively easy to grow, it would cut into the profits of pharmaceutical giants. Criminalization serves the best interests of the military-industrial complex in the "war on drugs," and it also serves the best interests of the pharmaceutical industries. It is currently taking great courage to overcome the conflict and greed-driven economy. Gradually, states and individual countries are decriminalizing cannabis and re-educating the public.
One Paragraph Description
This essay outlines the chronological and cultural history of cannabis with a focus on the themes of courage, conflict, and greed. It details the medicinal uses of cannabis as well as the functional uses of hemp, prior to the modern era. Then, it addresses the social and political problems with criminalization of cannabis. In the modern era, conflict and greed have necessitated courage in re-educating the public about the cannabis sativa plant.
Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history, and has been cultivated in many different geographic locations. It has not always required much courage to do so, as until only the last hundred years has the plant been stigmatized and criminalized. The earliest known examples of cultivated cannabis are found in the bio-archaeological records in Eastern Europe, China and Central Asia. References to cannabis cultivation start to appear in Greece and ancient Rome by the first millennium BCE. Cannabis was initially grown as a utility plant, and not necessarily used as a medicine or sacrament. By about 3000 BCE, cannabis was being used medicinally and religiously. The cannabis plant itself has changed a little, with modern horticultural techniques rendering the possibility to isolate desirable compounds and traits. Some varieties of cannabis yield tough and fibrous materials ideal for fabrics, ropes, and paper. Others possess more psychoactive properties and are more suitable for medicinal use. Only recently has cannabis taken on political overtones, having come under scrutiny and mislabeled as a narcotic. The prohibition on drugs seems to be rapidly coming to an end, though, as the United States appears to be liberalizing its drug policies on a state-by-state basis. Several countries around the world have started to liberalize their policies so that cannabis can once again be studied and researched for what it is: a simple but versatile plant. It is requiring great courage to overcome the biases against what is really just a simple weed.
The "earliest probable extant evidence of hemp use" has been located in prehistoric dwellings unearthed in what is now the Czech Republic, dating from 25,000 BCE (Head 1). Hemp was also being cultivated in ancient Taiwan and China by about the tenth millennium BCE according to the archaeological record, with the bulk of evidence pointing to hemp being used for rope and clothing (Gumbiner). In fact, most hemp varieties are the male of the cannabis plant and do not typically have psychoactive properties. Hemp has been cultivated for its utility in rope, cloth, and other fibrous materials. It has been described as the first known "war crop," given the use of hemp in stringing bows that were definitively used in warfare in ancient China (Gumbiner). Ancient Chinese records also detail the uses of hemp in the earliest forms of paper manufacturing.
Chinese herbalists and historians began denoting the psychoactive properties of female varieties of cannabis several thousands of years later. Shen-Nung, the Father of Chinese Medicine, wrote about cannabis in massive medical tomes like the Pen Ts'ao (Gumbiner; Head). Cannabis was therefore listed in the Chinese pharmacopeia as a plant that could be used to treat a number of different ailments from pain relief to the treatment of absent-mindedness (Gumbiner). Both the male and female plants offered an extensive range of uses including the oil from the seeds ("Marijuana Since the Beginning of Time," 1). Within the next thousand years, trade with the Chinese meant that hemp and cannabis both became relatively widespread. Chinese doctors seemed to be aware of the potential psychoactive properties of cannabis, but remained more intent on its application for physical, rather than mental ailments. For example, references to its use come with the caveat that "if taken in excess, will produce hallucinations," ("Marijuana Since the Beginning of Time" 1).
Although the Chinese doctors used cannabis to treat ailments, there was no evidence that the herb was used as a religious sacrament until cannabis spread to India. Likewise, there is written evidence that hemp and cannabis were both being used in ancient Egypt but only medicinally as opposed to as a mind-altering substance. For example, the ancient Egyptian Ramesseum Papyri mention the use of hemp preparations…[continue]
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