Origins of Cannabis Culture

Cannabis is older than humanity itself

Truly the history of the cannabis culture goes way back. Imagine the first people walking around the earth, hunting animals and collecting herbs. Cannabis just happened to be one of those extra herbs. Its healing qualities must have been known from a very early age, as we know that surgeons have used cannabis in ancient China and India as an anesthetic, grounding it to dust and mixing it with wine.

Other than its magical ability to relieve pain and help against inflammation, our ancestors found that cannabis had other more mystical qualities. By burning the plant and inhaling the smoke they found themselves in an elevated mental state. In this state, they could communicate with the spirits of the world and transcend their earthly bonds.

These ancient stories about cannabis are the stuff of legends and should be common knowledge by now. This article will bring the focus to the more modern origins of cannabis culture in the 20th century.

Rough Ride of the 20th century

At the beginning of the 20th-century, cannabis began to gather the attention of legislative bodies in the US. Starting with the 1904 Pure Food and Drug act through the 1937 Marijuana tax act, and culminating with the 1956 Narcotics control act, cannabis became criminalized. This meant that people could no longer rely on cannabis as a source for medicine, clothes, rope or paper.

During the Prohibition period in the US, cannabis became widespread among the population who needed a substitute for alcohol. Many jazz bars started serving canna-tea and became hot spots for cannabis consumption. When talking about jazz and cannabis culture we should mention a few songs like “That funny reefer man” and “Sweet Marihuana Brown”.

These jazz bars were mostly filled with non-white minorities. This had the effect that cannabis was branded as something that was a symbol of blacks and Mexicans and its prohibition was a deliberate act against these groups.

A representative film of this time period is the “Reefer Madness” movie. It depicted hilariously exaggerated effects that marijuana consumption can have, degrading the youth. Forcing teenagers to have sex and do crimes and misbehave. The movie truly fueled parental concern for decades to come.

In the 1950s another generation had taken up the rebellious youth torch. It was the generation of the Beatniks. They were an intellectual bunch with a keen interest in psychoactive and psychedelic drugs. You could even say they were the predecessors of the Hippie movement.

Following the Beatniks is the Hippie movement that took place in the 60s and 70s. The hippies were known for their anti-cultural norms. They rejected the established norms in mainstream America. They advocated for communal living, freedom, sharing resources, vegetarianism, pacifism, and love. One of the most iconic events that we associate with the hippies is the 1969 Woodstock concert. It had attracted an audience of more than 400 000 people – 3 days of peace and music.

What set it apart is that it originated in University camps and stemmed from the youngest elements of society. It was a rebellion of young people. The hippie movements were notorious for their anti-war rallies in the US, protesting against the Vietnam war.

One of the biggest icons of this time is Bob Marley, being the face of reggae culture. This man deserves an article alone. His face is still on T-shirts and marijuana products today. Legends say he was buried with His Les Paul Guitar, A Soccer Ball, A Marijuana Bud, His ring given to him by the Prince Asfa Wossen of Ethiopia and a Bible.

In the 70s cannabis was nowhere near being legalized. It was a taboo and it was protecting the children. It was in these serious times that Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong had formed a comedic duo with a set based almost entirely on stoner jokes. They quickly rose in popularity and became one of the biggest cannabis icons of the 70s and 80s and even today.

In 1978 the featured their first movie together “Up in smoke”. The movie is a classic and it represents 2 hours of the most laid back, chill stoner humor. The two of them meet together and smoke a lot of weed, get into a car crash, get arrested, do more stupid stuff, drive a van made entirely out of weed and so on. Cheech and Chong have remained one of the grandfathers of cannabis culture. Tommy Chong is selling cannabis products even today.

Among these OG cannabis activists are the traditional American songwriter and performer Willie Nelson. He’s been a fan of cannabis and has always been open about it. One of his best songs is called “Roll me up and smoke me when I die”. That ought to give you an impression of his personality.

The product of a long journey

One of the godfathers of cannabis culture today, or as he names himself – the doggfather is none other than Snoop Dogg. Calvin Cordozar Broadus Junior, professionally known as Snoop Dogg has made cannabis one of the cornerstones of his musical work. He has hits like “OG” and “Smoke the Weed” Outside of music Snoop is a huge cannabis activist, wherever he goes. He just makes his love for the plant known and also sells cannabis products online.

Outside of music an iconic person today is Joe Rogan. He owns one of the most popular podcasts in the world and regularly smokes cannabis during the episodes. The Joe Rogan podcast is incredibly entertaining and it attracts a huge variety of people. One of the big recent hits was Elon Musk coming to the podcast and smoking cannabis on air.

Cannabis culture has gone through a lot. From criminalization to decriminalization. Every generation has had its cannabis activists and they have all evolved and learned from each other. Cannabis culture is a huge topic. Today we see cannabis in music, in the cinema, in books. It’s no longer the taboo topic it once was. We can definitely and thankfully say that the reefer madness is behind us.