Mary Jane’s History: A Brief Overview

Cannabis has a long and variegated use. The plant is known to be at least 12,000 years old and has yet to be completely understood. In recent years, many rumors have developed in regard to its complex nature. However, very little is actually known by the general population. With that in mind, I decided to assemble an overview of the facts.

The oldest evidence of cannabis as a remedy is dated back to 2700 BC and is attributed to the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, a mythical figure who is considered somewhat of deity in Chinese culture. He’s primarily responsible for passing on holistic and agriculture practices. Unfortunately, writing had yet to become standardized, and Shen Nung’s teachings were taught strictly by word of mouth. The teachings were eventually recorded in the first Chinese medicine book, Shen Nung Pen-ts’ao Ching.

In 1989, archeologist recorded the earliest use of medicinal marijuana when they uncovered the grave of a young girl thought to have died in childbirth around 390 AD. In the grave, the scientist found burnt plant matter that latter tested positive for THC, leaving them to conclude that the girl had been inhaling the vapors during the birthing process.

Marijuana continued to be a popular herbal remedy throughout the next hundreds of years in the central regions of Asia and India. Until British colonization introduced the plant to the western regions. This occurred when Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy observed its use amongst the locals and began conducting research. He extracted the plant’s essential oils (as hash), and administered them orally as either pressed pills, or as an alcohol-based tincture, which he essentially used to treat Cholera.

Medical research continued to progress for weed until around 1899, when the ability to isolate and synthesize distinct chemicals from plants became standardized. A process that formed the foundation of the modern pharmaceutical medications used today.

Shortly after this, in 1923, New Orleans became the first major American city to place a ban on the plant. This was at the same time that the dispossessed African-Americans began to create jazz music as a release against the confines of a bigoted state. Because of the rampant racism at the time, anything associated with black culture was feared and condemned. Unfortunately, state officials recognized a direct association between the favorable use of weed, jazz, and African-Americans. Therefore, they named it a ‘devil drug’.

During the process of British colonization, an opium epidemic emerged due to the high trade of the crop for Chinese porcelain and silk. In 1925, a bill was proposed amongst the United Nations to regulate and control the distribution of opium in an attempt to subdue its widespread epidemic. In the final stages of the bill’s passing, cannabis was also added unto the legislation. Apparently, it too, was causing a pandemic.

The beginning of marijuana’s modern research starts in 1964 when chemist Raphael Mechoulam isolated the THC compound for the first time.  Initially, Mechoulam had been researching the adverse effects of cannabis consumption. However, this soon changed and its medicinal qualities soon became the focus of research. Eventually, this would lead to the first synthetically produced versions of THC developed as pharmaceutical drugs.

Stay tuned for a closer look at the advent of jazz and the necessary role pot played in its creation. We’ll also take a closer look at the details surrounding the 1925 opium bill and how cannabis was added in its final moments. It is no secret America has a dark history of repression. Sadly, it’s a history still in the making, (as can be seen in North Dakota, with the construction of the oil pipeline on Native-American territory). This is why we need advocates, not only for our ganja, but for the people. Stay tuned, stay informed.


Works Cited: Pain, Stephanie. “A potted history.” Nature, vol. 525, no. 7570, 2015, p. S10+. Health Reference Center Academic