While doing some research on exactly how long the UK government has known about medical cannabis, I started my search in the golden age of the Victorian obsession with needing to know everything, the mid to late 19th Century. It was the era of Tall Ships, the East Indian Clipper trade, and Britain’s first foray into international drug dealing.
It was also a time of rapid colonial expansion and with it, an indentured labour force was being shipped around the world to work as slaves in South Africa and Jamaica.
There are accounts from the East Indies during that time of a form of hemp that was unusually grown, and not used for any of the purposes the British Empire would use it for. Squat plants with broad leaves and grown feet apart to produce a bush; nothing like the hemp that was grown close together in rows in Northern Europe for the very sails and ropes that powered the British Navy to India and beyond.
The British saw it was absolutely the same plant – but different.
Army doctors wrote journal entries of the many medical applications of this new sticky, aromatic, resinous ‘Indian Hemp’. Tinctures, extracts, pastes and pipes for a range of maladies. This was all completely new ground for these European (mostly military) medical ‘experts’.
A detailed account of this astonishing time in Victorian medicinal fact finding, and how the colonial conquerors completely embraced ‘India Hemp’ (Bengali Cannabis Indica grown for hashish), can be found in an epic set of 1843 records by William O’ Shaughnessy with the even more epic title:
“On the preparations of the Indian hemp, or Gunjah (Cannabis indica): their effects on the animal system in health, and their utility in the treatment of tetanus and other convulsive diseases”
In the late 19th century, London was buzzing with this wonder plant. It’s unlikely the Government of the day could not have know about the findings of O’ Shaughnessy et al. and the wonders of ‘Indian Hemp’.
There was a brisk trade in cannabis potions, snake oils and elixirs for the next seventy years until the League Of Nations banned ‘Indian Hemp’, partly because they didn’t like the effect it had on their work force. Sound science.
The Victorian era of Cannabis history has been covered at length on a number of our blog posts over the years but digging around this time I came upon an interesting account of Cannabis, even further back in the late 17th century. 1689 to be exact. Fully 150 years before O’Shaughnessy and his long winded book titles.
This account wasn’t from any medical perspective, it was just an observation of someone under the effects of what appears to be some knockout weed. English philosopher Robert Hooke (pictured above), gave an address to the Royal Society in December 1689. He presented what is claimed to be the first detailed description of ‘bangue’ in English, raving about its unusual properties, and noting of his companion that he “has so often experimented it himself, that there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter”.
Here is a translation of the old English:
It sounds completely legit. Eat some mauled ganja buds and wash them down with a frosty.
End up getting face-meltingly baked whilst incoherently laughing and singing.
After peaking, a dead slumber, waking up refreshed with a huge appetite and no hangover.
From a plant that was grown for rope and cloth in Europe, to the same plant in the Indies that could produce effects like this must have been quite a eye opener. Third eye opener perhaps.
Is it possible the UK government has been ducking and diving from their medical cannabis conundrum for hundreds of years longer than imagined? As they recently bent their rule book to accommodate two epilepsy sufferers, could it be that this is finally the tipping point for the UK and Europe’s failed drug policies? The drug rule book the United Nations put in place for the world to sign and adhere to in 1961 is being increasingly eroded as countries slowly, painfully slowly, re-write drug policies for the 21st century.
Drug policies that won’t make it a crime to get the munchies……