Cannabis 101


Cannabis is a dioecious , flowering herb. Cannabis plants have serrated, green leaves, varying in size and width. The first pair of leaves usually have a single leaflet,  the number gradually increases up to a maximum of about thirteen leaflets per leaf, but averages seven or nine fingers, depending on the strain variety and growing conditions. The number diminishes to a single leaflet per water leaf at the top of the plant. The lower leaf pairs grow in a pattern opposite to that of the other end of the mature plant. The leaves have a peculiar and diagnostic venation pattern that allows people whom are unfamiliar with the plant to distinguish a Cannabis leaf to unrelated species that have deadly, similar phenotypes.


Cannabis Sativa is indigenous to Central and South Asia. Evidence of Cannabis use can be found in the third millennium BCE; charred cannabis seeds found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present-day Romania, which is a direct indication of the utilization of Cannabis as an agricultural or medicinal crop. In 2003, a leather basket filled with dried, crumpled Cannabis leaves and seeds was found next to a nearly 3,000-year-old mummified shaman in the northwestern Autonomous Region of China. Egyptian mummies dated about 950 BC show evidence of the consumption of Cannabis as well. The ancient Hindus of India and Nepal are also known to have taken part in the consumption of Cannabis thousands of years ago. It is suggested by a good number of scholars that the ancient medicinal substance known as soma, mentioned in the Vedas, was indeed Cannabis; this theory is widely disputed. Cannabis was also consumed among the ancient Assyrians, whom discovered the plant’s psychoactive properties through the Aryans.  Known as qunubu–which means “way to produce smoke”, Cannabis was used in religious ceremonies due to it’s psychoacticve properties, which is a probable origin for the modern term, “Cannabis”. The Aryans also introduced Cannabis to the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai—”those who walk on smoke/clouds”) burned Cannabis flowers to induce a state of trance.

 Pharmacological cults around the world have implemented Cannabis in their rituals for centuries. Cannabis seeds discovered by archaeologists in Pazryk suggests early ceremonial practices such as oral consumption by the Scythians, occurred during the 5th to 2nd century BCE.  Cannabis was also used by Muslims in various Sufi orders as early as the Mamluk period, the Qalandars being one example.

A study published in the South African Journal of Science  stated “pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare’s   home in Stratford upon- Avon contain traces of Cannabis.” A chemical analysis was carried out when researchers began to hypothesized that the “noted weed” mentioned in Sonnet 76, as well as the “journey in my head” from Sonnet 27 could be references to Cannabis and the consumption thereof.  Other good examples of classic literature discussing or praising Cannabis include Les paradis artificiels by Charles Baudelaire and The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow. John Gregory Bourke described use of “mariguan”, which he identifies as Cannabis indica or Indian hemp, by Mexican residents of the Rio Grande region of Texas in 1894. He states Cannabis as a medicine and treatment of asthma, used to expedite delivery, to keep away witches, and as a love-philtre. He also stated many Mexicans added the herb to their tobacco or mescal; they would also take a bite of sugar afterward to intensify the effect of the medicine. Bourke also wrote because it was often used in a mixture with toloachi (to which he inaccurately described as Datura stramonium), Cannabis was known as “loco weed”, along with a small variety of other plants. Bourke compared Cannabis Indica to hasheesh, which he considered “one of the greatest curses of the East”, reporting that consumers “become maniacs and are apt to commit all sorts of acts of violence and murder”, inducing degeneration of the body and an idiotic appearance, and also discussed the laws against sale of hasheesh “in most Eastern countries”.

Cannabis Indica fluid extract, American Druggists Syndicate, pre-1937

Cannabis was criminalized in a variety of countries, beginning in the early 20th century. In the United States, the first ban of the sale of Cannabis came in 1906 within the District of Colombia. It was also outlawed in South Africa in 1911, and in Jamaica, then a British colony in 1913.  Then the United Kingdom and New Zealand criminalized in the 1920s. Canada criminalized Cannabis with the Opium and Drug Act of 1923, before there were any reports of consumption of the drug within Canada. In 1925, a compromise was made at The Hague regarding the International Opium Convention that banned exportation of “Indian hemp” to countries that had prohibited its consumption, and requiring that all importing countries issue certificates approving of the importation, as well as stating the shipment was required “exclusively for medical or scientific purposes”. The act also required the “exercise an effective control of such a nature as to prevent the illicit international traffic in Indian hemp and especially in the resin”. In 1937 the United States implemented the Marijuana Tax Act, which prohibited the production of hemp, as well as Cannabis. It is widely disputed as to why it was decided that hemp was to be made illegal alongside Cannabis—several scholars have made claims that the motive was to detroy the Hemp Industry within the US, for the benefit of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family. In New York City, there was more than 41,000 pounds of Cannabis growing like weeds throughout the boroughs until 1951, when the Sanitation Department General Inspector John E. Gleason and his “White Wing Squad”, was in charge with the destruction of the many Cannabis farms that had popped up all across the city. The White Wing Squad found the largest amount of Cannabis plants in Queens but in Brooklyn, dug up what they considered “millions of dollars” worth of plants; a significant amount were as “tall as Christmas trees”. Gleason oversaw incineration of the plants in Woodside, Queens. The United Nations’ 2012 Global Drug Report stated that Cannabis “was the world’s most widely produced, trafficked, and consumed drug in the world in 2010”,  stating that between 119 million and 224 million consumers existed within the international adult population. In 1997, California voted in Prop 215, which decriminalizes the consumption, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana to prescribed medical patients throughout the state.