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The Cultural History of Cannabis

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

Taking a look at cannabis throughout history shows us its use medicinally and recreationally for years.

As cannabis becomes more socially acceptable since legalization, more people are wanting to know about this mysterious plant and how it came to be illegal, decriminalized and now legalized. It may surprise you to know that the criminalization of cannabis in Canada was driven by fear and racism.

Taking a look at cannabis throughout history shows us its use medicinally and recreationally for years.

Before 1923

Historically, cannabis has been used for medicinal and recreational use for hundreds of years. It was mostly used in the Middle East and Asia to treat a wide range of ailments. Cannabis naturally grows in India and has been used by ancient Hindus. It has been used to treat everything from an upset stomach to cancer, MS, epilepsy and much more. As mammals, we have the endocannabinoid system with receptors for the cannabinoids found in cannabis through this system, cannabis is able to treat such a multitude of ailments.


In the 1920’s, there were several cultural things happening in Canada. While marijuana was almost unheard of in the country, it was growing in popularity in the US. There were many new immigrants coming to Canada, specifically from China. With these immigrants came new ways of life, new medicines they brought with them, and, unfortunately, a racial hysteria in the locals.

Opium was becoming a problem and its use was blamed on immigrants coming in, and so the act to Prohibit the Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs was written up. Cannabis was hardly used, however. While the marijuana hysteria was growing in the US, several countries gathered at the League of Nations to discuss this new “crisis”. Here it was decided that Cannabis should be added to the list of drugs that were “corrupting” our culture and children.

The Mistake

It was a mistake to criminalize cannabis. It’s argued that the act of making it illegal, creating anti-cannabis propaganda is actually responsible for its sudden increase in use. When it was made illegal, it took it out of the controlled environment and thrust it into the black market. As a result, all that those in power feared would happen if they allowed cannabis to remain legal, started to happen. Drug use increased, violence increased, the use of other, more dangerous, drugs increased.

Fixing Our Mistake

Canada is now trying to repair this damage. In 2001, cannabis became legal for those with a medical need that was not being helped by traditional medicine. Slowly, over the last 18 years, Cannabis activists have been fighting to change the stigma surrounding cannabis and its use. Thanks to the internet and social media, the average person is able to get access to information about cannabis.

Studies that have been done are available on open sources like PubMed and NCBI. As a result, Canada’s leaders have taken a step back and re-evaluated the logic of keeping cannabis as an illegal drug. They now understand how it has fed illegal activity, that by keeping something in the dark you cannot regulate it, you cannot fix it.

Canada has legalized cannabis for recreational use, and medical marijuana is still available as well. While it is strictly controlled and there is certainly room for improvement, it’s at least on the right path.

For more information on Canadian cannabis usage and treatments, please contact us.

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