The Indo-European Legacy of Ancient Cannabis

There are few plants that have caused upheavals in human society comparable to those centered on cannabis in modern times. Since the declaration of the ‘war on cannabis’ by American President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, the American prison population has exploded from 300,000 to 2.2 million people, and the United States has become home to nearly 25 percent of the imprisoned population of the entire world. As of 2018, between 40 and 50 percent of drug arrests in the United States were for cannabis. The situation in America is mirrored by similar ‘wars’ on cannabis in other western societies, such as the United Kingdom, where 2.1 million adults aged 16 to 59 used the plant in 2016, in spite of its illegality.

Cannabis Americana Distributor logo, United States, 1917. (Public Domain)

Cannabis Americana Distributor logo, United States, 1917. (Public Domain)

The attitudes supporting prohibition have begun to collapse in recent years. The myriad possible medical applications of cannabis in treating diseases, disorders and other ailments are becoming increasingly well known. Politically, the grim statistics noted at the beginning of this article are offset by the fact that while United States Federal policies remain unchanging, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use, and 21 states have legalized medicinal usage. Canada has become the first North American country to legalize recreational cannabis use, and some experts predict something similar in the United Kingdom within five years. South Africa has also legalized recreational use in 2018.


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