Marijuana - the first 12,000 years - Earnest Abel

Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years

Ernest L. Abel
The complete history of the cannabis plant and it's relationship with mankind

Contents

Introduction

I The Early Years

1 Cannabis in the Ancient World

2 Hashish and the Arabs

II The Hemp era

3 Rope and Riches

4 Cannabis Comes to the New World

III The Marijuana and Hashish era

5 New Uses for the Old Hemp Plant

6 The Indian Hemp Drug Debate

7 The African Dagga Cultures

8 The Hashish Club

9 Hashish in America

IV A nation of drug users

10 America's Drug Users

11 Reefer Racism

12 The Jazz Era

13 Outlawing Marijuana

Epilogue

Bibliography

Introduction

Of all the plants men have ever grown, none has been praised and denounced as often as marijuana (Cannabis sativa). Throughout the ages, marijuana has been extolled as one of man's greatest benefactors - and cursed as one of his greatest scourges. Marijuana is undoubtedly a herb that has been many things to many people. Armies and navies have used it to make war, men and women to make love. Hunters and fishermen have snared the most ferocious creatures, from the tiger to the shark, in its herculean weave. Fashion designers have dresses the most elegant women in its supple knit. Hangmen have snapped the necks of thieves and murderers with its fiber. Obstetricians have eases the pain of childbirth with its leaves. Farmers have crushed its seeds and used the oil within to light their lamps. Mourners have thrown its seeds into blazing fires and have had their sorrow transformed into blissful ecstasy by the fumes that filled the air.

Marijuana has been known by many names: hemp, hashish, dagga, bhang, loco weed, grass - the list is endless. Formally christened Cannabis sativa in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, marijuana is one of nature's hardiest specimens. It needs little care to thrive. One need not talk to it, sing to it, or play tranquil Brahms lullabies to coax it to grow. It is as vigorous as a weed. It is ubiquitous. It flourishes under nearly every possible climatic condition.

It sprouts from the earth not meekly, not cautiously in suspense of where it is and what it may find, but defiantly, arrogantly, confident that whatever the conditions it has the stamina to survive.

It is not a magnanimous herb. Plants unfortunate enough to fall in the shade of its serrated leaflets will find that marijuana does not share its sunlight. It wants it all. Marijuana also does not like to share its territory. It encroaches on its neighbors. Its roots gobble up all the nutrients in the soil, and like a vampire it sucks the life blood from the earth.

Marijuana is a very rapidly growing plant, attaining a usual height of three to twenty feet at maturity. Five hundred years ago, the French author Rabelius wrote that it was "sown at the first coming of the swallows and pulled out of the ground when the cicadies began to get hoarse."

Marijuana is dioecious, which means that there are sexually distinct male and female plants. At one time, farmers believed that only the females produced the intoxicating hashish resin. Now it is known that both sexes produce this gummy secretion. The male, however, manufactures less resin and produces flowers earlier than the female. To prevent a pollinating marriage, cannabis growers destroy these males as soon as they are detected. Had he known of this age-old custom, Freud might have written an insightful treatise on the symbolism of this bit of agricultural castration.

The intoxicating resin is secreted by glandular hairs located around the flowers and to a certain extent in the lower portions of the plant. The actual substance in the resin responsible for the plant's inebriating effects is a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In very hot climates, as in India and North Africa, so much resin is produced that the plant appears to be covered with a sticky dew even as it bakes under the parching rays of the hot sun. This resin serves as a protective shield preventing loss of water from the plant to the dry air. And of course, the more resin, the more THC likely to be present.

Cannabis seeds are brownish and rather hard. When pressed, they yield a yellowish-green oil once used to make soap, lamp oil, paint and varnish. Bird fanciers claim that hemp seed stimulates birds to develop superior plumage. While the seeds contain far less THC than the leaves or flowers, the chemical is still present. Although there are no reports of any birds flying into trees or houses after feasting on a meal of cannabis seeds, it was by burning these seeds and inhaling the fumes given off that some ancient societies first experienced cannabis's intoxicating powers.

The stem of the plant is square and hollow and covered with strong fibers. The first step in removing these fibers is called retting and involves soaking the stems so that partial decomposition occurs. This disengages the nonfibrous tissue. The stem is then bent so that the fibers can separate. Once separated, they can be stripped away and spun into thread or twisted into cordage and rope.

Cannabis will grow under most conditions that will support life. It is inherently indestructible. Long after other species of plants have disappeared because of drought, infestation, or climatic changes, cannabis will still exist. Cannabis is one of nature's best examples of survival of the fittest.

Depending on the conditions under which it grows, cannabis will either produce more resin or more fiber. When raised in hot, dry climates, resin is produced in great quantities and fiber quality is poor. In countries with mild, humid weather, less resin is produced and the fiber is stronger and more durable.

It is because of these climate-related characteristics that most Europeans knew very little of the intoxicating properties of the cannabis plant until the nineteenth century when hashish was imported from India and the Arab countries. Prior to this time, cannabis was merely a valuable source of fiber and seed oil to most Europeans, nothing more.

In India, Persia, and the Arab countries, the main value of the plant resided in its inebriating resin. People in these countries were also among the first to use cannabis fiber to make nets and ropes. But the sticky covering on the plant was what they valued most, especially where alcohol was proscribed by religious doctrine.

Depending on his personal interests, the cannabis farmer could increase his yield of fiber or resin by various measures. To produce a plant with a better fiber, he grew his plants very close to one another. This reduced the amount of sunlight falling on individual plants and promoted the growth of long stems and fibers. To obtain more resin, he sowed his seeds further apart. This gave each plant more sunlight and forced the plant to secrete more resin in order to keep itself from drying out. But regardless of whether he was after the fiber or the resin, male plants were always destroyed before they could court the females, since the production of seeds by the female invariably reduced the quality of fiber and resin.

Cannabis was harvested by various methods. If the fiber were primarily of interest, the stems would be cut fairly close to the ground with a specially designed sickle with the blade set at right angles to the handle.

Harvesting the resin was a different matter. People who grew cannabis for personal pleasure simply snipped some leaves whenever the desire moved them. In countries such as Nepal where cannabis became part of the agricultural economy, the resin was gathered more systematically but in a less sanitary fashion: after the female plants were ripe with their sticky coverings, workers were hired to run naked through the cannabis fields. As they brushed against the plants, a certain amount of resin would adhere to their bodies. At the end of each run they would scrape the sticky resin from their bodies and start again. Since cannabis resin and water do not mix very well, the perspiration from their sweating bodies were shaped into bricks and readied for market. Buyers were rarely finicky about anything other than how pleasurable was the intoxication they felt when they consumed their purchase.

Next Section >>