The history of cannabis is inseparably intertwined with our own history. It is a story told from different angles, interpretations and varying degrees of truth. A careful historical examination reveals that our relationship with cannabis goes back a long way. The beginning of humankind. Used as medicine, food, clothing and a psychoactive agent, it has traveled with us from region to region, era to era, culture to culture.
Something about this plant connects with us on the deepest of levels. But thanks to a century’s worth of misinformation, we’re only just beginning to see a truthful and widespread understanding of the cannabis plant emerge.
In order to really explore the world of benefits this fascinating plant has to offer, one should take the time to properly educate themselves. This is no easy task given the vast quantities of misinformation currently in circulation. The aim of this short read is to clear some confusion, spark some interest and point you in the right direction should you seek a deeper understanding.
Cannabis (The Plant)
Cannabis is a plant. It is part of the Cannabaceae family of plants first originating from Central Asia. For millennia, cannabis has been used as a food, textile, medicine and spiritual substance. The exact origins of cannabis are a little hazy, but archaeological evidence suggests our first encounters with the plant occurred over 10,000 years ago. There is a general consensus that cannabis was first introduced to the western hemisphere in the sixteenth century via the slave trade.
There are different names, classifications and terms used to define cannabis and the different variations of the cannabis plant. To make things really confusing, these names, classifications and terms originate from, and are influenced by different cultures, different political systems and a combination of both scientific and colloquial language across tens of thousands of years.
Before we introduce any of these classifications, it’s important to be aware that different varieties and parts of the cannabis plant are cultivated for different reasons. Some will get you high, some will not get you high, some have scientifically proven health benefits, some are used for industrial purposes and some contain varying combinations of all these things.
Cannabis, THC, CBD, Hemp, Marijuana
If you’re like most people, grasping an understanding of the cannabis plant and the differences between its derived compounds is about as straightforward as sitting a quantum mechanics exam. The plant is complicated. The way we interact with the plant is complicated. Our history with the plant is complicated. The words, terms and classifications we use to breakdown the plant are misguided and complicated.
Let’s begin by going through a few short definitions and making some clear distinctions.
Cannabis is a plant. More specifically, a species of plant. Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds called cannabinoids. Two of the more dominant and more recognised of these compounds being Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
Marijuana is the term given to the potentially psychoactive variant of the cannabis plant. Some people claim that in the western world, marijuana was originally the name given to the flower tops of high resin cannabis plants. Things become blurry as US legislation responsible for making cannabis effectively illegal concluded that the term marijuana encompassed all parts of the plant. So to many, marijuana might be another term for the entire cannabis plant.
Hemp is a variety of cannabis containing very low levels of THC. It is grown primarily for industrial purposes to produce textiles, food, building material.
CBD (Cannabidiol) is perhaps the most fascinating and misunderstood cannabinoid. It has a vast range of demonstrated and proven medical benefits without any of the psychoactive side effects.
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is a cannabinoid responsible for producing a psychoactive ‘high’. Scientific studies have proven that outside the psychoactive response, THC has a number of positive health effects.
The Endocannabinoid System is also worth mentioning here briefly. The reason we have such a persistent curiosity toward cannabis has little to do with the plant itself, and everything to do with our bodies’ reaction to it. The Endocannabinoid System plays a crucial role in regulating mood and physiology. It is a system in our body comprised of receptors that interact exclusively (and interestingly) with cannabinoids like CBD and THC.
Why the Confusion?
We’re only going to have time to skim the surface of reasoning behind cannabis prohibition and confusion. It’s important to understand that the majority of ongoing confusion about the cannabis plant has come as the result of political and governmental scaremongering and prohibition.
It can be argued that the first official cannabis prohibitions came as the result of an early twentieth century international push to eradicate the non-medical use of opiates, cocaine, and other dangerous drugs. Cannabis did initially arrive in Australia with the First Fleet but it wasn’t banned until 1926. Records indicate that authorities didn’t see any particularly urgent reason to ban cannabis as nobody was using it at the time. Both lack of education, international pressure and early prohibition in other countries and country states supported the decision to ban cannabis in Australia.
Contrary to most mainstream education and information, the ongoing prohibition of cannabis has had little to do with adverse health risk and usage. In the United States for example, there was no stigma attached to cannabis, and zero cause for alarm until US prohibitionists targeted ‘Marihuana’ during the early twentieth Century upsurge of nativism and political repression. The fact that the use of cannabis was prevalent among outcast groups, migrants and racial minorities, may explain a number of the persisting myths.
And so began a seesaw battle that would stretch many decades and be the cause of endless confusion. As cultural norms and political prerogatives shifted, the fight against cannabis would be reframed. Within the space of a decade, cannabis would flip from being ‘a trigger for violence and violent crime’, to a ‘substance that would make people docile and less likely to contribute to war efforts’.
There are many theories as to why cannabis prohibition persisted, and still persists in many countries such as Australia today. Many of the theories contribute to part of the overall truth, which was a culmination of events and contributions from key individuals over a long period of time.
The Future of Cannabis
Cannabis was responsible, both directly and indirectly, for some huge cultural changes during the Twentieth Century. It’s worth remembering though, this period is only a speckle of sand in the sandbox of time.
Cannabis has been grown and cultivated, praised and demonised for millennia, in almost every imaginable corner of the earth.
Thanks in part to the internet and wider access to a more truthful version of the history of cannabis, we are now finally seeing the Twentieth Century fog of confusion lift. Many countries around the world are decriminalising and legalising both the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis.
Scientific research is unveiling the incredible potential of cannabis in treating an endless range of diseases and ailments including anxiety, arthritis, PTSD and insomnia. And the list is growing. Albeit information our ancestors knew tens of thousands of years ago, better late than never.
We now know that CBD provides a vast array of health benefits without any of the psychoactive effects created by its twin THC.
Cannabis Legality. Is Weed Legal in Australia?
Recreational use of cannabis in Australia is not legal. Medical use is, though it’s a tedious process to navigate.
We’ve written an entire article on cannabis legality in Australia. As a wider community is exposed to these benefits and the true story of cannabis, there will be a push on our own Government to adopt policies toward cannabis legalisation.