Cannabis is an ancient medicine that has been used for years in treating a variety of ailments. The exact region where cannabis use originated is difficult to place; some believe cannabis originated in central Asia. Extensive documentation of its usage in China points to Asia as the point of origin of cannabis use. Emperor Shen Neng of China was prescribing tea infused with cannabis extract for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, and malaria as early as 2727 B.C.. The popularity of cannabis then spread throughout various parts of the world, including the Middle East and the eastern coast of Africa. A number of Hindu sects in India also used cannabis for religious purposes and stress relief. Ancient doctors have documented prescribed cannabis for conditions that range from toothaches to childbirth.
Elements of the ancient Sumerian Culture of the Near East used cannabis for religious purposes. The plant assisted in giving man the ability of introspection, which the Sumerians saw as divine messages from their gods. Those who used cannabis for religious purposes would develop their own personal deity whom they worshiped while burning cannabis.
It is unclear when the psychoactive properties of cannabis were discovered in North America. There is strong historical evidence illustrating that the psychoactive properties of cannabis have been used as a part of cultural rituals in several societies throughout history. There are a number of scholars who believe that cannabis existed in North America before its colonization by British settlers. After its discovery, the cannabis plant began being cultivated across North America. These days, cannabis plants are cultivated for their cannabinoids – in the past, cannabis plants were cultivated for their fibrous stem which was then turned into clothes, rope, and sails. Documentation of the use of cannabis for its psychoactive components is fairly modern.
William O’Shaughnessy can be credited for having a major hand in popularizing medical cannabis use in England and America. He found that cannabis helped some of his patients with general discomfort, nausea in cases of rabies, cholera, and tetanus. By the late 18th century, early editions of American medical journals recommended cannabis root and seeds for the treatment of inflamed skin, incontinence, and venereal disease.
The first documentation of the criminalization of cannabis comes in 1912. The International Opium Convention, signed January 23rd 1912, was the first international drug control treaty and included making the possession of cannabis illegal. Additionally, the Harrison Act of 1914 got around states’ rights by requiring a tax on non-medical uses of the drug. If someone was using the drug without paying the tax, they were punished. By 1937, 23 US states outlawed cannabis completely.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, LSD, and cocaine. Schedule I drugs are said to have the highest abuse potential with no accepted medical use. When The Controlled Substances Act was implemented most of the cannabis in circulation came from Mexico. Subsequent laws created a zero tolerance climate when it came to law enforcement and drug offenders. This drug enforcement act and the laws that followed which established mandatory minimums were the creation of America’s “War on Drugs”. This new emphasis in drug enforcement shifted the black market of cannabis from Mexican imports to domestic cultivation (typically in California).