We meet more than enough people who are shocked, appalled or surprised when we say there is more to hallucinogenic drugs than the most common understanding. But those who truly understand historic cultures, beliefs and trends are aware that these drugs have been a part of more than enough cultural, religious, medicinal and (of course) recreational ceremonies.
Then how come while so much knowledge on a host of topics was passed down generations, the knowledge of the value and importance of cannabis was lost, and what remained was a stigma? How is it that while Cannabis includes a host of plants and varieties, what came to be known to this generation were hemp and marijuana?
Credit is to the modern era, especially the Prohibition, and as some of the experts I've spoken to- the institutional racism that defined movements such as War on Drugs. While we believe that the path is changing slowly (such as legalization of medical marijuana in many countries, and approval to grow industrial hemp in some states of India) the journey is long drawn to realize the full potential of this plant.
So, let’s begin where does the root of this stigma lie? As mentioned, the root of the stigma lies in the movements such as War of Drugs and institutional racism. Seems a bit obvious when African-American terms such as dope is used to refer to cannabis in everyday conversations. More than enough articles with a simple search will establish that weed was a drug for people of “color” and was made illegal with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. The federal agency that spearheaded this Act, went on to become the Drug Enforcement Agency and contributed to the War on Drugs in 1971.
In this complicated social-economic and political environment, it was perhaps unavoidable that the medical and cultural roots of Cannabis were replaced with association to madness and violence. This perhaps came from the fact that the medical roots were in wide contrast to the modernist view that was being propagated. Suddenly, this became a drug for the less privileged class which was indirectly anyways associated with crime.
Sadly though these misconceptions soon forced its way into perceptions and people who would use cannabis, would not only be considered as capable to committing a crime, but actually considered criminals or definitely someone no less than an evil to the society.
In a progressive, modern and capitalist society of that time, this association was not welcome and deepened the association people made with cannabis. Soon enough, consumption of cannabis became associated with not just crime, but also bad grades, poor social skills, and overall personal and professional failure of a person. Over the course of years and these associations, cannabis was lost in conversations amongst rationale individuals as well.
It is rather unfortunate that a plant, which has documented history dating back to as old as 4000 BC for its medicinal qualities such as pain relief, anesthetic or even antidepressant, soon saw losing its relevance in the day of modern medicine. And this was a plant which may have been originally cultivated in Asia, but soon founds its way to Europe and America (by 1500s). During this time, in Mexico, people identified more practical uses of the crop by using hemp fibre for ropes, clothes and other products.
But, here’s hoping that with realizations across the world, things will change soon and people will be able to break free the taboo to experience a plant which has nothing but to offer solutions to all our requirements- roti, kapda and makaan.