“Contested Cannabis: A History of Marijuana in Wisconsin and the Wider World”—Digital Exhibit and Online Roundtable Discussion

Contested Cannabis Social Card

The American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP) is pleased to announce the completion of its digital exhibit, “Contested Cannabis: A History of Marijuana in Wisconsin and the Wider World,” funded in part by a generous grant from Wisconsin Humanities.

Drawing upon AIHP historical collections as well collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the exhibit uses objects and items—including children’s anti-drug coloring books, pro-marijuana festival posters, archived World War One-era medicinal cannabis correspondence, and other artifacts and texts—to investigate and analyze the history of cannabis, marijuana, and hemp in the state of Wisconsin and in the United States.

Read more

The Tragedy of George Schlichten; Or Reconsidering Cannabis Conspiracies

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY.  

There are a lot of conspiracy theories in the story of cannabis. The long, confusing, complex, and politically charged history of the plant in the United States, coupled with the absurdity of its current legal status at the federal level—and in a rapidly dwindling number of states—perhaps lends itself to this kind of thinking among American observers.

One alleged conspiracy involved the newspaper industry and the tragedy of German-American inventor George Schlichten. Schlichten made his name in the fiber industry, and he worked on improvements to decortication, the process of stripping the outer layer of fibrous plants prior to their further processing. But, the conspiracy theory alleges, his bid to manufacture hemp for newspaper production was sabotaged by scheming industrialists.

Schlichten Decorticator Machine 1919
Schlichten Decorticator Machine from George W. Schlichten’s 1919 patent.

Read more

Double-Edged Leaf:
Cannabis and Climate Change

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

Plants have long held sway over the future of human societies. They are our symbiotic partners on the planet, absorbing the carbon dioxide we breathe out and emitting the oxygen we breathe in. Plants supply us with food, shelter, and medicine—we return the favor with reproduction, granting them abundant progeny.

It is ironic, then, that the industrial revolution, an event that precipitated massive cuttings and die-offs of all kinds of plants across the globe, was in large part fueled by plants. Millions of years of the sun’s energy lay in the dead, compressed bodies of ancient ferns, reeds, and seaweed, crushed or sludged with other organic matter into underground deposits of coal and oil. Humans tapped and burned these masses of photosynthetic energy, harnessing their awesome power for wealth and comfort.

Now, we have reached the age where the promise of fossil fuels has yielded to peril. Hundreds of years of burning fuels is changing almost everything about our world and ushering in an era of accelerating climate change. Heat or rising seas may render large swathes of land uninhabitable. Mega-droughts, mega-storms, and mega-fires rage across entire continents, destroying homes and communities, killing people, sowing political unrest, and polluting air and water. Ready or not, we are being forced to confront the disastrous legacy of our own uncritical faith in the technology and “progress” of the industrial age.

It might seem strange to bring cannabis into this conversation. But, as is typical with cannabis, we find the plant on both sides of this major societal issue. On the one hand, hemp farming can be a powerful weapon to help ameliorate the effects of carbon emissions. On the other hand, industrial cannabis production has a formidable and growing carbon footprint. With the ongoing legalization of the plant and the expansion of its impact on the American economy, it is worth exploring how cannabis might be both a potential cure for and a contributor to climate change—and considering whether the plant can be more beneficial than harmful in this regard.

Cannabis Indoor Grow Operation
Medical Cannabis Growing Operation in Oakland, California, in 2012. Image Courtesy of Rusty Blazenhoff on Flickr.

Read more

Delta-8 THC: The Latest Cannabis Conundrum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

Traditionally, cannabis has been understood as a plant of dualities and contradictions. It comes in varieties that produce either fiber or drugs, for example. It grows tall and straight or short and bushy, with broader leaves or narrower ones. At various points in its history, it has been held up as a medicine and demonized as a menace. For centuries, cannabis has had its fun confounding humanity with its ambivalent identity.

Lately, however, modern technology and new laws are helping to blur the plant’s historic binaries and show us that—for all we have learned about cannabis over the millennia—we may not know as much as we think we do. Hemp, for instance, was rarely considered a medicinal plant in Western or American cultures until the advent of the CBD craze in the 2010s. Cannabidiol (CBD), a substance that “healed without the high,” broke the cannabis plant’s industrial-medicinal binary—turns out hemp could be both, after all. But we still knew one thing for certain, and this fact provided one of the most convincing arguments for the 2018 re-legalization of hemp in the US: hemp plants cannot get you high.

Delta New Hand

Well, we were pretty sure of it, anyway. Then the CBD boom went bust, and American farmers were left with fields full of CBD-rich hemp plants they could not sell. As it often does, need begot innovation. Starting in 2019, some CBD producers leveraged modern extraction technology to pull a psychotropic rabbit out of the hemp hat. Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a molecular cousin of Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound in traditional marijuana. Delta-8 THC produces essentially the same effects as Delta-9 THC, except far more subdued—and, through chemical reactions, it can be created from hemp-derived CBD.

Delta 8 Joints
Delta 8-THC Joints. Image courtesy of Elsa Olofsson at CBD Oracle.

Read more

Crazy Cows, Flea Detectives, and Protesting Songbirds: Exploring the “Animal Turn” in Cannabis History

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY. 

The study of non-human animals has become an exciting new direction in history and the broader humanities. In a 2016 issue of Perspectives on History, environmental historian Dan Vandersommers has gone so far as to label this new development “the Animal Turn.” He argues that the impact of animals on human history defies sub-field categorizations, because the very development of organized human societies has been so reliant on intimate human/animal relationships that intersect with too many different fields to ignore.

In my own research, I’ve seen limited examples of these non-human relationships in the history of cannabis in the United States. The brief discussion that follows will demonstrate a range of roles and limited agency for non-human animal actors in these stories. We can also see how human observers have exploited (directly and indirectly) these non-human animal actors in various ways

As discussed in Isaac Campos’s book Home Grown (see pp. 208–17), the accuracy of many newspaper stories reporting on the supposedly hazardous effects of the cannabis plant on cows, horses, goats, and hogs are questionable. These tales arose from a confusion in the Mexican press during the 1920s between marijuana and several other types of “locoweeds.” The stories then spread across the border into the United States in subsequent years. The articles I’ve found, indeed, fail to clearly establish whether or not marijuana was the plant ingested by animals, but the stories do reflect official efforts to pursue and eradicate wild (and clandestine) growth of cannabis throughout the United States after the 1930s.

Featured Image Animals + Drugs

Read more

Turning Back the ‘Diol: CBD Hemp Prices Crash; History Repeats Itself?

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Nick Johnson, a historian and editor based in Fort Collins, Colorado. His book Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (2017) is a history of cannabis agriculture that explores the environmental and social dynamics of the nation’s most controversial crop. He also blogs (and occasionally podcasts!) about all things cannabis on his website, Hempirical Evidence.

CBDProducts
A sampling of the “rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products.”
Image courtesy of Jeoy Pena via Wikimedia.

The booming market in Cannabidiol (CBD) products has gone bust. The boom was touched off by the federal re-legalization of hemp in the 2018 farm bill, which led many farmers, investors, and entrepreneurs to stake their hopes on a new crop supplying a rapidly expanding market of CBD-enhanced products—from gummies to lotion to lip balm. The benefits and risks of such products are still being substantiated by science, but consumers gobbled them up, anyway, looking for relief from ailments ranging from arthritis to insomnia.

Now, there are simply too many CBD products and companies on the market, using far too little hemp. Places like Colorado, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley report an oversupply of hemp, and per-pound hemp prices have plummeted. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) reluctance to approve CBD products has irked some in the industry, but the driving factor for the bust appears to be simple economics.

Akin to WWII Program

This is not the first time Americans have produced too much hemp for their own good. In 1942, the federal government suspended its cannabis prohibition to create a domestic hemp industry to supply cordage for the US military during World War II. After years of being told that the crop was a dangerous and addictive drug, American farmers were suddenly encouraged to grow thousands of acres of hemp. In a flash, the government built 42 hemp processing facilities across the Midwest, providing hundreds of jobs and invigorating depressed rural areas.

Read more

Cannabis and Sugar: A Bittersweet History Makes Reparative Legalization a Must

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Nick Johnson. Johnson is a historian based in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is the author of Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West (Oregon State University Press, 2017) and associate editor of the Colorado Encyclopedia. He blogs about all things cannabis at HempiricalEvidence.com.

Whether it’s gummies, cookies, brownies, or even soda, it is hard to imagine today’s cannabis culture without edibles. Many of these stony treats offer the delectable pairing of cannabis and sugar, two of the world’s most popular indulgences. Yet most people do not know that the two commodities share a historical relationship as well as a culinary one—and that historical relationship is rooted in oppressive labor regimes.

Over the last two decades, changing cannabis laws around the world have brought renewed scholarly attention to the plant. Together with older work, recent books have helped us piece together the bigger picture of cannabis history, giving us a better idea of how the plant traveled the world, for instance, or how large-scale cannabis cultivation affects the environment. Research on the plant’s history in previously overlooked areas, such as Mexico and Africa, help us see the true depth and extent of trends that earlier scholarship only partly exposed.

One of the most significant of these trends is that cannabis traveled across the Americas within oppressive systems of agricultural labor—in particular, the sugar industries that developed across the Atlantic World after 1492.

Read more

Hemp and Heritage in France

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

Screenshot 2019-02-20 20.37.21On 5 February 2019, growers, manufacturers, and distributers of “chanvre industriel,” or hemp, from across the globe met in Paris for the “AllHemp – Congrès international du chanvre,” the first international conference of its kind held on French soil. Organized by the French hemp-growers union, InterChanvre, the conference assembled industry professionals and researchers in France, the current epicenter of European hemp cultivation, to “bring notoriety to the industry and to this virtuous plant in terms of the economy and eco-responsibility.” In 2016 just over 1,400 French farmers cultivated over half of the EU’s total hectarage of hemp, nearly 17,000 ha of 33,000 ha, which was three times the amount of hemp cultivated in the United States during the same year.[1] The French farmers and manufacturers of InterChanvre thus organized the conference both to highlight France’s domestic hemp farming and promote hemp-based products, such as building materials, plastics, textiles, cosmetics, oils, and dietary supplements, on the international market.[2]

Read more