From ancient hunters and prehistoric collectors to the Vikings, cannabis has been used around the world for centuries, and a new report presents the colorful marijuana history . 

marijuana history

In the report, author Barney Warf describes how thousands of years ago in Asia use of cannabis originated, and has found a way to spread to many regions of the world. Over time it spread to America and the United States

“For the most part, it was widely used for medicine and spiritual purposes,” during pre-modern times, said Warf, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. For example, the Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches, he said.

“The idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction,” and the fact that it is illegal is a “historical anomaly,” Warf said. Marijuana has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history.

Interesting Read: Common Marijuana Growing Mistakes

American Marijuana History:

In the Americas, cannabis extract was a popular medicinal drug in the 1800s. But in the 1900s, the tide began to turn against the drug. In the 1920s, Mexican immigrants became associated with the smoked, recreational version of the drug, and anti-immigrant sentiments fueled marijuana prohibition.

By the 1930s, marijuana was banned in 24 states. The newly minted Federal Bureau of Narcotics launched a campaign against the drug, and newspapers fueled hysteria with headlines like the 1933 Los Angeles Examiner’s “Murder Weed Found Up and Down the Coast — Deadly Marihuana Dope Plant Ready for Harvest That Means Enslavement of California Children.” By 1937, Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively banned marijuana except for a few medicinal purposes, according to “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational and Legal” (Scribner, 2012).

In the 1950s, the Narcotics Control Act and the Boggs Act stiffened penalties for marijuana possession, with first-time offenses requiring two to 10 year sentences and a minimum $20,000 fine, according to Penalties were relaxed in the 1970s, but President Ronald Reagan increased federal penalties for marijuana possession in the 1980s. On the federal level, marijuana is now regulated under the Controlled Substances Act as a schedule 1 drug, meaning the government considers it to have a high potential for abuse with no legitimate medical or therapeutic uses.

However, numerous states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana, with 23 states currently allowing some form of either medical or recreational use of the drug as of November 2014, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In August 2013, the Department of Justice stated that while marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, they would decline to enforce federal drug laws in Colorado and Washington state, assuming that these states would set up their own rigorous regulatory schemes.

Cannabis & Marijuana History:

6000 B.C.                              Cannabis seeds used for food in China.

4000 B.C.                              Textiles made of hemp are used in China. (Pharmacotheon)

2727 B.C.                              First recorded use of cannabis as medicine in Chinese


1500 B.C.                              Cannabis cultivated in China for food and fiber.

1500 B.C.                              Scythians cultivate cannabis and use it to weave fine hemp cloth.

1200-800 B.C.                    Cannabis is mentioned in the Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”, one of the five sacred plants of India. It is used by                       medicinally and ritually as an offering to Shiva.

700-600 B.C.                        The Zoroastrian Zend-Avesta, an ancient Persian religious text of several hundred volumes, and said to have been written by Zarathustra (Zoroaster), refers                    to bhang as Zoroaster’s “good narcotic” (Vendidad or  The Law Against Demons)

700-300 B.C.                         Scythian tribes leave cannabis seeds as offerings in royal tombs.

500 B.C.                                 Scythian couple die and are buried with two small tents covering censers. Attached to one tent stick was a decorated leather pouch containing wild Cannabis seeds. This closely matches the stories told by Herodotus. The gravesite, discovered in the late 1940s, was in Pazryk, northwest of the Tien Shan Mountains in modern-day Khazakstan.

500 B.C.                                 Hemp is introduced into Northern Europe by the Scythians. An urn containing leaves and seeds of the Cannabis plant, unearthed near Berlin, is dated to about this time.

500-100 B.C.                         Hemp spreads throughout northern Europe.

430 B.C.                                 Herodotus reports on both ritual and recreation use of Cannabis by the Scythians (Herodotus – The Histories 430 B.C. trans. G. Rawlinson).

100 B.C.-0                             The psychotropic properties of Cannabis are mentioned in the newly compiled herbal Pen Ts’ao Ching which is attributed to an emperor.

2700 B.C. 0-100 A.D.          Construction of Samaritan gold and glass paste stash box for storing hashish, coriander, or salt, buried in Siberian tomb.


70 A.D.                                   Dioscorides mentions the use of Cannabis as a Roman medicament.

170 A.D.                                 Galen (Roman) alludes to the psychoactivity of  Cannabis seed confections.

500-600 A.D.                         The Jewish Talmud mentions the euphoriant properties of Cannabis. (Abel 1980)


900-1000 A.D.                      Scholars debate the pros and cons of eating hashish. Us spreads throughout Arabia.

1090-1256 A.D.                    In Khorasan, Persia, Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain, recruits followers to commit assassinations…legends develop around their supposed use of hashish. These legends are some of the earliest written tales of the discovery of the inebriating powers of cannabis and the supposed use of hashish.

1200s                                     Cannabis is introduced in Egypt during the reign of the Ayyubid dynasty on the occasion of the flooding of Egypt by mystic devotees coming from Syria. (M.K. Hussein 1957 – Soueif 1972)

Early 1200s                           Hashish smoking very popular throughout the Middle East.

1155-1221                             Persian legend of the Sufi master Sheik Haidar’s of Khorasan’s personal discovery of Cannabis and it’s subsequent spread to Iraq, Bahrain, Egypt and Syria. Another of the ealiest written narratives of the use of Cannabis as an inebriant.

1300s                                     The oldest monograph on hashish, Zahr al-‘arish fitahrim al-hashish, was written. It has since been lost.

1300s                                     Ibn al-Baytar of Spain provides a description of  psychoactive Cannabis.

1300s                                     Arab traders bring Cannabis to the Mozambique coast of Africa.

1231                                       Hashish introduced to Iraq in the reign of Caliph Mustansir (Rosenthal 1971)

1271-1295                             Journeys of Marco Polo in which he gives second-hand reports of the story of Hasan ibn al-Sabbah and his “assassins” using hashish. First time reports of Cannabis have been brought to the attention of Europe.

1378                                       Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni issues one of the first edicts against the eating of hashish.

1526                                       Babur Nama, first emperor and founder of Mughal Empire learned of hashish in Afghanistan.

Mid 1600s                              The epic poem, Benk u Bode, by the poet Mohammed Ebn Soleiman Foruli of Baghdad, deals allegorically with a dialectical battle between wine and hashish.

1700s                                     Use of hashish, alcohol, and opium spreads among the population of occupied Constantinople.

Late 1700s                            Hashish becomes a major trade item between Central  Asia and South Asia.

1809                                      Antoine Sylvestre de Sacy, a leading Arabist, reveals the etymology of the words “assassin” and “hashishin”


1840                                        In America, medicinal preparations with a cannabis base are available. Hashish available in Persian pharmacies.

1843                                       Le Club des Hachichins, or Hashish Eater’s Club, established in Paris.

After 1850                              Hashish appears in Greece.

1856                                       British tax ganja and charas trade in India.

1870-1880                             First reports of hashish smoking on Greek mainland.

1875                                       Cultivation for hashish introduced to Greece.

1877                                       Kerr reports on Indian ganja and charas trade.

1890                                       Greek Department of Interior prohibits importation, cultivation and use of hashish.

1890                                       Hashish made illegal in Turkey.

1893-1894                             The India Hemp Drugs Commission Report is issued.

1893-1894                             70,000 to 80,000 kg of hashish legally imported into India from Central Asia each year.

Early 1900s                           Hashish smoking very popular throughout the Middle East.

1915-1927                             Cannabis begins to be prohibited for nonmedical use in the U.S., especially in SW states…California (1915), Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924), and New York (1927).

1920                                       Metaxus dictators in Greece crack down on hashish smoking.

1920s                                     Hashish smuggled into Egypt from Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Central Asia.

1926                                       Lebanese hashish production peaks after World War I until prohibited in 1926.

1928                                       Recreational use of Cannabis is banned in Britain.

1920s-1930s                         High-quality hashish produced in Turkey near Greek border.

1930                                       Yarkand region of Chinese Turkestan exports 91,471 kg of hashish legally into the Northwest Frontier and Punjab regions of India.

1930s                                     Legal taxed imports of hashish continue into India from Central Asia.

1934-1935                             Chinese government moves to end all Cannabis cultivation in Yarkand and charas traffic from Yarkand. Both licit and illicit hashish production become illegal in Chinese Turkestan.

1937                                       Cannabis made federally illegal in the U.S. with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act.

1938                                       Supply of hashish from chinese Turkestan nearly ceases.

1940s                                     Greek hashish smoking tradition fades.

1941                                       Indian government considers cultivation in Kashmir to fill void of hashish from Chinese Turkestan.

1941-1942                             Hand-rubbed charas from Nepal is choicest hashish in India during World War II.

1945                                       Legal hashish consumption continues in India.

1945-1955                             Hashish use in Greece flourishes again.

1950s                                      Hashish still smuggled into India from Chinese Central Asia.

1950s                                     Moroccan government tacitly allows kif cultivation in  Rif Mountains.

1962                                       First hashish made in Morocco.

1963                                       Turkish police seize 2.5 tons of hashish.

1965                                        First reports of C. afghanica use for hashish production in northern   Afghanistan.

1965                                       Mustafa comes to Ketama in Morocco to make hashish from local kif.

1966                                       The Moroccan government attempts to purge kif growers from Rif Mountains.

1967                                       “Smash”, the first hashish oil appears. Red Lebanese reaches California.

Late 1960s-Early 1970s      The Brotherhood popularizes Afghani hashish.

1970-1973                             Huge fields of Cannabis cultivated for hashish production in Afghanistan. Last years that truly great afghani hashish is available.

Oct 27, 1970                          The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act is passed. Part II of this is the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) which defines a scheduling system for drugs and places most of the known hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, peyote, cannabis) in Schedule I.

1972                                       The Nixon-appointed Shafer Commission urged use of cannabis be re-legalized, but their recommendation was ignored. Medical research continues Early 1970s Lebanese red and blonde hashish of very high-quality exported. The highest quality Turkish hashish from Gaziantep near Syria appears in western Europe.

Early 1970s                           Afghani hashish varieties introduced to North America for sinsemilla production. Westerners bring metal sieve cloths to Afghanistan. Law enforcement efforts against hashish begin in Afghanistan.

1973                                       Nepal bans the Cannabis shops and charas (hand- rolled hash)  export.

1973                                       Afghan government makes hashish production and sales illegal. Afghani harvest is pitifully small.

1975                                       FDA establishes Compassionate Use program for medical marijuana.

1976-1977                             Quality of Lebanese hashish reaches zenith.

1978                                       Westerners make sieved hashish in Nepal from wild Cannabis.

Late 1970s                            Increasing manufacture of “modern” Afghani hashish. Cannabis varieties from Afghanistan imported into Kashmir for sieved hashish production.

1980s                                     Morocco becomes one of, if not the largest, hashish producing and exporting nations.

1980s                                     “Border” hashish produced in northwestern Pakistan along the Afghan border to avoid Soviet-Afghan war.

1985                                       Hashish still produced by Muslims of Kashgar and Yarkland (NW China).

1986                                       Most private stashes of pre-war Afghani hashish in Amsterdam, Goa, and America are nearly finished.

1987                                       Moroccan government cracks down upon Cannabis cultivation in lower elevations of Rif Mountains.

1988                                       DEA administrative law Judge Francis Young finds after thorough hearings that marijuana has clearly established medical use and should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug.

1993                                       Cannabis eradication efforts resume in Morocco.

1994                                       Heavy fighting between rival Muslim clans continues  to upset hashish trade in Afghanistan.

1994                                       Border hashish still produced in Pakistan.

1995                                       Introduction of hashish-making equipment and appearance of locally produced hashish in Amsterdam  coffee shops.

Marijuana History use in the World:

8,000+ BCE Use of hemp cord in pottery identified at ancient village site dating back over 10,000 years, located in the area of modern day Taiwan. Finding hemp use and cultivation in this date range puts it as one of the first and oldest known human agriculture crops. As explained by Richard Hamilton in the 2009 Scientific American article on sustainable agriculture “Modern humans emerged some 250,000 years ago, yet agriculture is a fairly recent invention, only about 10,000 years old … Agriculture is not natural; it is a human invention. It is also the basis of modern civilization.” This point was also touched on by Carl Sagan in 1977 when he proposed the possibility that marijuana may have actually been world’s first agricultural crop, leading to the development of civilization itself (see 1977, below).

6,000 BCE Cannabis seeds and oil used for food in China.

4,000 BCE Textiles made of hemp are used in China and Turkestan.

Twentieth Century Marijuana:

Despite these controls, marijuana became more popular and use spread to the Southwestern US, New Orleans and the New York area. The core users in each area were the ethnic groups who had moved into those areas in search of work or a good time: jazz musicians in New Orleans, Mexican laborers and African-Americans who left the South to find jobs in the big city. The association of marijuana use with ethnic groups aggravated the antagonism of lawmakers who were generally affluent and Caucasian.

In the early 1930s, jazz and swing musicians published a number of songs that featured marijuana, such as Cab Calloway’s “That Funny Reefer Man” and Benny Goodman’s “Sweet Marihuana Brown.”

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was founded, with Harry Anslinger as its director. Anslinger undertook to outlaw the use of cannabis by spreading stories of murder and rampant insanity among those who used the drug. By 1937, he had succeeded in getting the Marijuana Tax Act passed which criminalized the use of cannabis unless proper taxes were paid. This law suppressed the use of hemp for cloth or rope.

However, during World War II, hemp was needed for parachutes, cordage and other military supplies. American farmers were given incentives to grow hemp for the war effort.

Between 1952 and 1956, two laws were passed that brought America into its current philosophy of outlawing addictive drugs and arresting drug users. The first was the Boggs Act and the second was the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. First-time possession of marijuana could receive a sentence of two to ten years in prison.

There may have been well-meaning intentions behind these laws but they failed to stop the growth in marijuana use that was just around the corner.

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