This section outlines the many and varied uses of marihuana through history, and deals with its use in medicine and its use as an intoxicant. The experience of the 1960's might lead one to surmise that marihuana use spreads explosively. The chronicle of its 3,000 year history, however, shows that this "explosion" has been characteristic only of the contemporary scene.
The plant has been grown for fiber and as a source of medicine for several thousand years, but until 500 A.D. its use as a mind-altering drug was almost solely confined in India. The drug and its uses reached the Middle and Near East during the next several centuries, and then moved across North Africa, appeared in Latin America and the Caribbean, and finally entered the United States in the early decades of this century (Snyder, 1970: 129). Meanwhile it had been introduced into European medicine shortly after the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon and had a minor vogue as an intoxicant for a time in France.
Cannabis sativa has been used therapeutically from the earliest records, nearly 5,000 years ago, to the present day (Mikuriya, 1969: 34) and its products have been widely noted for their effects, both physiological and psychological, throughout the world. Although the Chinese and Indian cultures knew about the properties of this drug from very early times, this information did not become general in the Near and Middle East until after the fifth century A.D., when travelers, traders and adventurers began to carry knowledge of the drug westward to Persia and Arabia. Historians claim that cannabis was first employed in these countries as an antiseptic and analgesic.
Other medical uses were later developed and spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Several years after the return of Napoleon's army from Egypt, cannabis became widely accepted by Western medical practitioners. Previously, it had had limited use for such purposes as the treatment of burns. The scientific members of Napoleon's forces were interested in the drug's pain relieving and sedative effects. It was used during, and to a greater extent, following his rule in France, especially after 1840 when the work of such physicians as O'Shaughnessy, Aubert-Roche, and Moreau de Tours drew wide attention to this drug.
With the rise of the literary movement of the 1840-1860 period in France (Gautier, Baudelaire, Dumas, etc.), cannabis became somewhat popular as an intoxicant of the intellectual classes.
In the United States, medical interest in cannabis use was evidenced in 1860 by the convening of a Committee on Cannabis Indica of the Ohio State Medical Society, which reported on its therapeutic applications (McMeens, 1860: 1). Between the period 1840-1890, Walton states that more than 100 articles were published recommending cannabis for one disorder or another.