Cannabis | A History
Updated: Feb 19
Cannabis has had a tricky past with its first reported restrictions happening in the Islamic world by the 14th century. In the 19th century, it began being restricted in colonial countries often associated with race and class stresses. Most of the globe saw sweeping restrictions by the middle of the 20th century. Now in the 21st century, we are seeing a reversal of such prohibitions.
Its usage dates back to at least the third millennium BC (that's over 5000 years!) It is valued for its many many uses which include food, medicine, supply creation, and psychoactive properties.
Why was it prohibited in the first place you ask?
This is kind of a long story but worth a read!
Let's go way back. Alcohol production and sales were initially prohibited by the Ayubid King al-Afdal in Egypt and Syria (Arab scientists had invented the distillation of fermented beverages into alcohol) in the 12th century. Because there was still no ban on Cannabis another form of the plant called hashish spread to the general population of Islam by the 13th century. It had also gained converts in the West, as well as Egypt and Spain.
Sometime during that century, the Mongols entered Persia in an attempt to overrun the Arab empire. They were also very familiar with alcohol and cannabis. In the middle of the 13th century, the Mameluks overthrew the Ayyu- bid dynasty in Syria and Egypt, thereby inaugurating a lengthy period of economic, social, and cultural decadence that coincided with the widespread use of hashish among the common people. This sombre period of Egyptian history (1250-1571) was followed by the ruthless domination of the Ottoman Empire, which lasted until 1804.
Hashish was being used by the rulers to enhance their pleasure and by peasants to escape their dreary lives.
It had a widespread effect on the population including merchants and professionals so King al-Zahir Babar (who had defeated the Mongol invaders at Goliath's Well in Syria) made the next attempt to ban the use of cannabis in 1266. He did the same with wine. However, this ban only lasted until his successor reversed it to try and take a more liberal approach. There were a few more attempts to ban hashish but no concerted attempts after the 14th century. Not until the 19th century where repressive measures were tried again.
During Napoléon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1798, alcohol was not available per Egypt being an Islamic country. In lieu of alcohol, Bonaparte's troops resorted to trying hashish, which they found to their liking.
As explorers travelled the world so did cannabis in many forms spread globally.
During all of these centuries, cannabis continued to be used for medical uses.
Muslim physicians found more medicinal uses for cannabis than had been initially reported.
The physician al-Razi (865-925) refers to using hemp leaves as a medicament for the ear and prescribes them for dandruff and for dissolving flatulence. He also describes their curative power in cases of epilepsy. Rumphius, a German botanist (A.D. 1100) describes in his herbarium the Moslemuse of cannabis to treat asthma, gonorrhea, constipation, and as an antidote for poisoning. However current restrictions have left much of the population without access to this powerful plant without fear of prosecution.
Currently Cannabis is only legal for recreational and medical sale and consumption in Canada, some of the states in the US, and Uruguay (but not for foreigners).
Cannabis can be legally used for medicinal purposes in Argentina, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil (terminally ill only), Canada, Chile, Columbia, Croatia, Syprus, Czech Republic, Denmark (trial 4 year program), Ecuador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland (5 year pilot program), Isreal, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.