The hemp plant, also known by the name of cannabis or marijuana, has been used in the world for thousands of years. The first fabric in the world was purportedly woven from dried hemp weed. Hemp seeds were used by the Chinese as food in 6000 B.C.
Marijuana has been used for religious, medicinal and recreational purposes. Ancient texts have cited the use of marijuana in China in 2000 B.C. It was used to treat medical conditions such as rheumatism, gout and malaria. Its use then spread to India and Africa and reached Europe in about 500 A.D. In Africa, marijuana was used for medicinal purposes, whereas the Indians used it for religious and recreational purposes. Though many doctors prescribed marijuana to treat earache and for pain relief, doctors also warned against excessive use of marijuana which they thought would cause blindness, impotence and hallucinations.
The next four hundred years saw the spread of marijuana throughout the European subcontinent. Euphoric properties of marijuana were cited in Jewish texts around 500 to 600 A.D. The use of cannabis spread to the Arab world between 900 and 1000 A.D. where it was used extensively. Around 1200 A.D., smoking cannabis became popular in the Arabia, more so because the Arabs were not permitted to consume alcohol.
Marijuana reached America during the 1500s and early 1600s through the Spanish and English settlers. Marijuana was cultivated as a major commercial crop to source fiber along with tobacco by the English settlers in Jamestown. During the late 1700s, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt brought marijuana to the French mainland where it was investigated for its pain-relieving and sedative properties.
In the late 1800s, cotton replaced hemp as the major commercial crop in Southern America. Some patented medicines contained marijuana in this period. However, around the 1920s, the popularity of marijuana began to grow. Its popularity was attributed to the Prohibition that was imposed during the period. It was used as a recreational agent mainly by people in the show business and the performing entertainers. Marijuana clubs or 'tea pads' sprouted in every major city. These were allowed to function as marijuana was not an illegal substance and consumption of marijuana did not pose a social threat.
The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act required labeling of drugs' contents including cannabis. By the year 1918, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was growing about 60,000 pounds of cannabis annually. From the year 1910 to 1930, many states banned cannabis. These laws were passed not because of a widespread concern over cannabis, but to primarily discourage its future use.
From the year 1850 to 1942, marijuana was prescribed for various medical conditions such as nausea, rheumatism and to lessen labor pains. It was also used as an intoxicant during the same period by some others. Pharmaceutical companies such as Parke-Davis and Eli Lily sold standardized marijuana extract based medications for use as antispasmodic, analgesic, and sedative.
The United States Federal Bureau of Narcotics believed that marijuana was the starting point of a drug habit and conveyed the idea that marijuana was an addictive substance that would guide its users into narcotics addiction. In 1937, Congress enacted the Marihuana Tax Act and this led to a decline in marijuana prescriptions. In 1938, Canada banned cultivation of marijuana to prevent its recreational use. In 1942, marijuana was removed from the U. S. Pharmacopeia. In the 1950s, marijuana was a part of the hippy culture and the college students' lives and its use portrayed rebellion against authority.
In 1951, the Boggs Act established minimum sentences for the possession of marijuana. The force behind enacting this act was the mistaken belief that drug addiction was incurable and contagious and that addicts should be quarantined. The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 resulted in compulsory sentences for marijuana related offenses. A first-offense of marijuana possession carried a sentence of 2 to 10 years together with a fine of up to $20,000.
In 1968, the University of Mississippi was designated as the official grower of marijuana for the Federal Government. The marijuana was to be used for various scientific studies relating to toxicology in animals and clinical use in humans.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I Drug. It had no specific medicinal use and had a high potential for abuse. Mexico and Columbia were the main places where marijuana was cultivated and shipped to the United States.
The use of marijuana saw a declining trend during the 1980s. However, during the early 1990s, there was an increase of marijuana smoking mainly by teenagers. However by the turn of the century, its use once again reduced to levels below the former peaks.