How did an unassuming agricultural plant, used for rope and textiles, end up classified as one of the most dangerous drugs in the nation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration? The journey taken by the cannabis plant to become the drug marijuana is indeed a strange trip.
In this final part of the series on marijuana, from the Unified Prevention (UP!) Coalition for Doña Ana County, we delve into the drug’s history to bring perspective to its historical use, and misuse, and better understand why the controversy surrounding its use continues today.
Cannabis is the Latin name for the medicinal, recreational and fibrous plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae. The plant originated in Central Asia, and its fibrous stalk lent it to be cultivated as a source of material for rope, textiles, and paper. As an agricultural crop, it spread quickly across Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The plant was also used for spiritual and medicinal purposes for centuries and is featured in writing in China as far back as 2,737 BCE. Cannabis’ medicinal use is included in the oldest Chinese pharmacology text, the Shennong Bencaojing, written in 100 AD.
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The crop was cultivated across the world as one of the leading agricultural crops for centuries.
European colonists, who founded Jamestown, Virginia, brought cannabis with them to cultivate in 1607. Although, the crop probably was already established in North America before that time by slaves from Africa.
Worldwide, cannabis is one of the most popular drugs, ranking behind caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, according to Martin Booth, author of the book “Cannabis: A History.”
It was not until the early 20th Century that public opinion of cannabis became more toxified and it was ultimately classified as illegal.
The real impact came when the United States passed Prohibition, the 18th amendment to the US Constitution which was the nation-wide ban on alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933. Without access to their preferred drug of alcohol, people looked for a recreational substitute which they found with cannabis.
By the end of Prohibition, concern turned from alcohol to the other emerging drugs, like cannabis, which was outlawed for recreational use in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, that also required a licensing fee for growers, importers and manufacturers.
The Revolution in Mexico in 1910 led to a wave of Mexican immigration into the United States. The word “marijuana” — the Spanish word for the drug — then came into popular usage as it was consumed among the new Mexican immigrants. There were political factions in the U.S. that stood to benefit from demonizing cannabis. They exploited fear of Mexican immigrants to sway public opinion of the drug.
Later, marijuana continued to be associated as a drug used by fringe and socially problematic groups, like jazz musicians, beatniks and the counterculture of the late 1960s.
To further politicize and demonize marijuana’s use, it was listed by the DEA as a Schedule 1 Drug, described as having no medical use and a high potential for abuse with the potential to create severe psychological or physical dependence. This ranked it on par with heroin, LSD, ecstasy, methaqualone and peyote.
Being a Schedule 1 Drug also prohibits research on marijuana. There are ways around this legality, but it can be costly to researchers and can force subpar research studies. The limited research that has been done paints a complicated picture of the substance.
Marijuana has short-term effects that have made it appealing for recreational use, like altered sense of time, enhanced senses, relaxation and sleepiness; however, the long-term effects are concerning because of effects on brain development.
However, as the National Institutes on Drug Abuse points out, of the studies that have been done there are conflicting results.
“Some studies suggest regular marijuana use in adolescence is associated with altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions such as memory, learning, and impulse control compared to people who do not use. Other studies have not found significant structural differences between the brains of people who do and do not use the drug.”
Clearly, there continue to be questions around the medical and recreational effects of cannabis. It may, therefore, be useful for the drug to be reclassified OUT OF Schedule 1, allowing for more research on its value. Maybe that is the best “next step” before discussing legalization.
For more information or local resources, contact UP! Coalition at 575-597-0024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This news release is made available by the Unified Prevention (UP!) Coalition for Doña Ana County, a program of the Center for Health Innovation.
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