The cannabis plant was one of the very first plants to be domesticated some eight to ten thousand years ago, and remained one of the world’s most important crops right up until the end of the nineteenth century.
There are three types of cannabis plant that each belong to separate subspecies, two of which have been used by humans for millennia, and selectively bred for certain characteristics. Cannabis sativa is a tall woody annual plant that can grow as much as fifteen to twenty feet high in a single growing season. The plant produces strong and versatile fibres and highly nutritious seeds, but produces a very small amount of THC making it useless to those who use cannabis for recreational or ceremonial purposes.
Cannabis indica produces leafy flowers that secrete a resinous substance laden with the psychoactive compound THC. The perception-altering properties of this plant have been discovered and utilised by many Old-World civilizations, and indeed every one of the world’s five extant major religions has made use of cannabis indica for ceremonial (used as incense) or ritualistic/spiritual (smoked or ingested to alter perception) purposes. Cannabis indica was also a very important plant in herbal medicine, having a wide variety of uses.
Both hemp and cannabis were widely grown in European countries and North America right up until the end of the nineteenth century, when technological advances and discoveries of new materials led to a decline in the use of hemp fibre. Hemp was poised to make a comeback in the nineteen-thirties following the invention of a new technique that would massively increase the efficiency of hemp-pulp production to make paper. Unfortunately, a newspaper baron who owned huge tracts of logging forest and the mills that produced his paper began a vicious smear campaign against hemp and cannabis, eventually succeeding in getting hemp banned altogether in the US, a position that still stands even though hemp is such an incredibly useful crop.
Of course, as is usually the case, prohibiting a substance does not stop its use, and in many cases increases it. Historically the recreational use of cannabis was a very rare thing, and few people would have tried it. In these days of prohibition, cannabis is the most widely abused illegal drug of all, with an estimated twenty-four million people having tried it in the US alone.
Many people who would like to use cannabis but are worried about its illegality seek cannabis substitutes, or ‘legal weed’. These legal weeds are usually blended from mildly psychoactive plants that are legally available, or take the form of ‘legal buds’, which are a cannabis-like flower bud to which legal psychoactive chemicals have been added. There are many different legal weeds available, but the strongest usually contain the herbs Lions Tail and Mugwort.