5 Bizarre Tales From The History Of Cannabis
Marijuana has been part of the human experience for a very long time, and we can't remember just how long that was, it's only because we were high for most of it. But we do remember a few things, so sit back and let us fill your pipe with five hits from our secret stash of finely curated cannabis lore.
A Hemp Seed Spell To Foretell True Love
Next time you find some seeds in your weed and you’re not sure what to do with them, here’s a suggestion. You can use them to foretell the face of your one true love!
This is an ancient cannabis ritual that has been written about for at least five hundred years and likely dates back much further into folk history. Iconic Scottish poet Robbie Burns also describes a version of this spell in his 1785 poem "Halloween."
There are a few variations on the theme, but the crux is that on a sacred night like Halloween, Christmas Eve, or Valentine’s Day, you take a handful of cannabis seeds and go to a field or perhaps a churchyard at midnight. You scatter the seeds on the ground as you walk, pulling a rake along behind to symbolically plough the earth while reciting a magic spell:
Hemp seed, I sow thee,
Hemp seed, I sow thee;
He that is my true love,
come behind and harrow me.
Harrowing means to prepare the soil for planting, and can be seen here as a sexual metaphor, like “getting ploughed.”
A version from the 1880s uses more modern language:
Hemp-seed I sow, hemp-seed grow,
For my true love to come and mow.
After reciting the rhyme, you look back over your shoulder to see the face of the one who will be your true love, mowing down the hemp plants that have magically grown to maturity.
Some stories about the ritual are more frightening, including one where the girl doing the sowing must be quick to avoid having her legs cut off by the Reaper’s sickle, and another tale where the girl doing the ritual sees a coffin and dies shortly afterward. Magically catching a glimpse of your future lover is not without risk!
Marijuana and sex are a magical combination. Turns out we’ve known this for a very long time!
“Sowing Hempseed” Meant You Were Heading For The Hangman’s Noose
In early America, cannabis hemp was the number one source of commercial fiber. The world's great navies relied on hemp cultivation for ropes and sails. Another use for all that rope was hanging people, which led to many expressions relating hemp to executions.
A hangman's noose was called a "hempen collar" and a person who had been hanged had died of “hempen fever." A vigilante lynch mob was sometimes called a "hemp committee" and a woman whose husband had been hanged was known as a "hempen widow."
Someone whose life decisions were heading them down a criminal path was said to be "sowing hempseed"—planting the seeds of their own demise. Indeed, prisoners and slaves were often put to work breaking and preparing hemp plants to be made into rope, and sometimes that very rope would then be used to execute them and their fellows.
These days a hemp necktie is just a fun accessory. Two hundred years ago, not so much.
The Women’s-Only Hashish Temples Of Victorian London
By the late 1800s, cannabis use for pleasure had become increasingly mainstream in the Western world, mainly in the forms of hashish and extracts. There were even cannabis clubs in London which specialized in getting high-society women … even higher.
A wonderful newspaper article by the Marquise de Fontenoy describes the spread of these women-only "hasheesh temples" in London's most affluent district. These were expensive and exclusive clubs, exquisitely furnished, completely soundproofed, and "devoted to the absorption of the drug so famous throughout the Orient."
Here the elite of Britain's womenhood would ingest potent cannabis extracts while being waited upon by "maid servants in Oriental garb," in surroundings “conveying the impression of some Eastern harem.”
Some take it in the form of a liquid, that is to say, an infusion; others again use it in the form of a fine powder, which they mix with tobacco, and smoke either in cigarettes or in a narghile. The smoke, which is white and opaque, is drawn into the lungs so as to bring the fumes of the drug in direct contact with the blood.
What was driving these women to indulge in the heavenly herb? The Marquise blamed “overwork and over-excitement, the strain of fashionable life … and the fact of never being alone for a single hour in the day.”
The Marquise compares cannabis to other intoxicating options, and sounds like a modern-day weedvangelist explaining why marijuana is oh-so superior to all the other drugs.
To restore vitality, some women resort to alcohol, others think nothing of imbibing teaspoonfuls of eau de cologne, or sal volatile; others again smoke, and in the case of the majority of the cigarets manufactured for feminine consumption in London, the tobacco is not merely perfumed, but otherwise dashed with opium in order to furnish a more soothing ingredient. Hasheesh is far less harmful than any of these artifices to quiet the nerves.
I for one agree with the Marquise wholeheartedly. I definitely want to live in a world with plentiful numbers of goddess-friendly hasheesh temples in every city and town. Who’s with me on this?
The Nazis’ Funny Guide To Growing Hemp
During World War II, cannabis hemp was an important military resource. Industrialization had been steadily reducing the demand for hemp products since the turn of the century, but with the global conflict raging and traditional supply lines being cut off, both home fronts needed to produce every single strand of fiber they could.
The American government had banned all cannabis cultivation in 1937, including industrial hemp. But five years later, they re-legalized cannabis farming to produce hemp fiber for the war. The Department of Agriculture even put out a propaganda film called Hemp For Victory which encouraged farmers to grow more cannabis.
They later tried to scrub the film from history—it was only recovered in the 80s due to the diligent work of pro-pot activists.
Nazi Germany also wanted their farmers to grow more cannabis. The Third Reich distributed a surprisingly light-hearted hemp cultivation guide called “Die lustige Hanffibel”—The Funny Hemp Manual.
There’s nothing overtly Hitleresque in the grow guide. It does talk about the need for German self-reliance and how they can’t trust outsiders, but other than that there are no swastikas or political imagery. It’s just a fun, rhyming guide on how to grow hemp for the Fatherland.
There are many cartoons of wholesome Germans working the hemp fields.
Here’s some inspiring excerpts from the text (they rhyme in the original German.)
The hemp plant, large and mighty,
is varied in performance.
It grows higher than a man,
fast and lush.
From its intact body, all parts can be used;
The fiber strand, the smooth seed,
the wood part and the narrow leaves.
Each piece is able to help the four-year plan!
There is a fixed price guaranteed,
but for good quality there is even a higher price!
That’s why everybody should try
to grow only the best fiber!
That’s why big strong hemp will bring,
much raw material and lots of money!
Who grows hemp today with a busy hand,
Helps themselves and the country!
By the way, in case you’re wondering, you have my permission to punch Nazis even if they are into growing hemp.
Secret U.S. Spy Lab Gets Monkeys Comatose On Potent Red Oil
Weed played its role in WWII, and also in the Cold War that followed. During the 1950s, the U.S. military started trying to create “non-lethal incapacitating agents,” drugs to get the enemy so fried they can’t fight. Marijuana was growing in popularity at the time, so some big brains in the army thought maybe the essence of the sticky icky could be weaponized.
Could they blast battlefield opponents into psychic oblivion with ultra-potent extracts? They were trying for a reverse Captain America: dosing enemy super-soldiers with drugs until they turned into harmless Tommy Chongs.
The first step to getting enemy soldiers too high to fight is getting animals too stoned to move, and if you wanted to send animals on psychedelic journeys in the 1950s you went to Ed Domino. He was a researcher working for Parke-Davis and had already been dosing animals with PCP and Ketamine, so getting him to try super-potent synthetic cannabinoids on monkeys seemed a natural next step.
Cannabis was a controversial plant however, and the government didn’t want word getting out that they were studying how to get soldiers stoned. So they sent Domino vials of red oil to inject into animals, but they didn’t tell him exactly what they were. Domino found that lower doses of the drug made dogs leap and bark at imaginary creatures and then hide under the table. More impressively, at higher doses, these extracts could put monkeys and dogs into a completely comatose state for days, with no apparent long term harm.
“You could step on their feet without any response,” said Domino, even though he probably didn’t need to try that particular stimulus. “It is an amazing effect and a reversible phenomenon. It has greatly increased our interest in this compound from the standpoint of future chemical possibilities."
You know how weed makes you feel sleepy? Well multiply that by a million and you know what these monkeys were going through.
Here’s how Domino described the red oils in an interview:
“They were the most remarkable agents. Some of these red oil compounds would put a monkey into a state of hibernation—lowered blood pressure, lower temperature, a state of artificial hibernation—for up to a week! They’d be anesthetized 24 hours a day. Occasionally, you would have to move them gently back and forth or so. They’d recover in a few days to a week depending on the dose.”
At one point a vial sent to Domino had a label still accidentally attached, which revealed the red oil chemical formula. Domino figured out he was dealing with a THC derivative, but when he asked his superiors about it they freaked out and immediately made him swear to secrecy.
Other army scientists eventually created an even stronger cannabinoid, a synthetic analog of the red oil called EA2233. On the project was Army colonel and drug researcher Dr James Ketchum. He once pointed out that while some other psychedelic scientists were “trying to open minds with chemicals to achieve greater awareness,” his goal was “trying to subdue people."
The ultra-potent EA2233 was tested on human volunteers, and found to cause effects lasting 30 hours! If giving the enemy the giggles was the intent, this drug was a huge success. One soldier’s interview while high was typical:
Q: How are you?
A: Pretty good, I guess …
Q: You've got a big grin on your face.
A: Yeah. I don't know what I'm grinning about, either.
Q: Do things seem funny, or is that just something you can't help?
A: I don't—I don't know. I just—I just feel like laughing …
Although they showed it was possible to get soldiers so high they couldn’t fight back, ultimately, the research on cannabinoids in combat was abandoned. Even with these ultra-potent products, there was no easy way to get enough of the drug into the enemy to have the desired effect. The army didn’t give up though, as thousands of other Americans were given a bizarre range of other psychedelics at the same facility over the following years.
In some cases, testees were grateful for having been part of these experiments. According to Ketchum, some soldiers said they had insightful and rewarding experiences on LSD. On the other hand, a barrel with enough acid to dose a few hundred million people once vanished from their lab, so there’s that.
There you have it. What other plant can find you a husband, support your war effort, ease women’s stress, knock you unconscious for a week and then hang you by the neck until dead? That’s right, only cannabis can!
Dana Larsen thinks cannabis is the world’s greatest plant. Check out his stoner stories and marijuana fairy tales at PotheadBooks.com or sign up for some microdoses at his Canadian Mushroom Dispensary.