Cannabis has a long history

Detailed photos of the cannabis flower still on the plant. Photo by Esteban Lopez on

With millions of cannabis users across the U.S., that there still exists a negative stigma about the use of the plant is disheartening. 

Many view users as “drug addicts” or “lazy” and unproductive. Where did these ideas come from, especially considering that written history dates cannabis plant usage back to 3000 B.C.? 

Studies suggest that the plant had been casually grown, traded, sold and used even earlier than 3000 B.C. 

Rome, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, China, Korea and other well-known empires and well-researched tribal groups have documented the use of cannabis, and in the case of China, its use goes back at least 5000 years.

With such widespread historical use, ganja, the Hindu word for marijuana, affectionately known in the United States  as ‘weed,’ should be a well-accepted, minor, inconsequential facet of human life in the west. 

However, the number of people in the United States imprisoned due to possession or use of marijuana tells a different story. 

I decided to look for occurrences of the first known bans on cannabis use. In doing so, I discovered that in 1378, the Emir of the Joneima in Arabia, Soudoun Sheikouni, put forth the first recorded prohibition of marijuana. 

After ordering the destruction of all hemp plants in the region, this guy required forced removal of every tooth in one’s mouth for anyone found guilty of ingesting cannabis. 

Ironically, in less than 20 years, the use of the plant increased in Arabia.

Napoleon banned his soldiers from using it after he invaded Egypt in the late 1790s. Religious restrictions imposed in Egypt prohibited the use of alcohol. 

Napoleon’s soldiers used cannabis in place of alcohol and highly enjoyed it. 

Egyptian coffee shops were shut down, and their owners were incarcerated for making drinks that contained cannabis. 

In The Community’s Response to Drug Use, Stanley Einstein writes that in 1840 and 1870, respectively, British Mauritius and British-controlled Singapore imposed similar restrictions, particularly on enslaved peoples  and indentured workers. However,  the bans on marijuana were in effect for the entire colony. 

The imposition of restrictions and the criminalization of marijuana’s use has continued globally, with various nations enacting legislation throughout the 20th century to punish the use of this herb. 

Today, even as legislation worldwide has swung in favor of marijuana use and has tended to lessen the harsh effects of draconian legal measures against it.

The ideas that those who use it are somehow intellectually disadvantaged or socially unfit are problematic. 

In addition, arguments that posit cannabis use as immoral can’t be taken seriously given the subjective nature of culture, ethics and even medical practices. 

Personal research is a great way to advance one’s knowledge, resolve internal conflicts and correct the biased, often erroneous ideas one may have about cannabis. 

I’d suggest this as a starting point to dispelling one’s held myths about this highly misunderstood and greatly polarizing topic.