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Misconceptions of Cannabis...The Historical Timeline

Updated: Mar 11

Part 1

For the last nearly 100 years cannabis has been demonized and many people hold misconceptions about cannabis, its uses, its benefits, and its risks. Most of what the general public knows about cannabis has been colored by politics, media, and other early learning and it has been negatively associated with crime and other substance use/abuse. However, it is a plant that has been used for "thousands of years in human history medicinally and recreationally without report of a single death as a result of toxicity" (Medical Marijuana continuing education course hosted by Pesi and presented by David Aronson, LCSW, April 2021). Read on to learn more!

Green leafy plants and green background with white letter.

*Cannabis Fun Fact: Some people cannot process cannabis orally (edibles) because of something having to do with a person's liver enzymes. Once something is processed through the liver it changes the makeup of the substance and it doesn't always give the same effect as smoking inhalation. So be careful not to pass judgment on those choosing to smoke cannabis vs. ingest cannabis edibles--it may be that they don't experience anything with edibles.

Way Way Back In Time

The first known users of cannabis for psychoactive purposes dates back to 3500 BCE with Kurgans of the East Europe region and Assyrians in the Middle East region. Ancient Egyptian records of cannabis use began in 2300 BCE and was used in their pharmacies through the 19th century. Polish etymologist has claimed (in 1975) that the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament mentions hemp incense used both religiously and as an intoxicant. It was widely used in the Roman era and mentioned in several medical texts from the 2nd Century. Remains of cannabis seeds have been found in buried Viking ships and believed to then have spread to the rest of Europe and the crusades brought many Europeans in contact with recreational cannabis use. It is considered one of the most widely cultivated plants on earth!

More Recent History

The way of life remained largely unchanged throughout the middle ages, until we reach the industrial revolution in the 18th Century. This industrial revolution arrived in the U.S. in the 19th Century and with this new industry and expanding infrastructure to accommodate, there was a need for cheap labor. Western expansion saw large influxes of immigrants to fill the labor gaps. These folks brought and shared their herbal medicines. What came next has been seen in this country time and again: lack of acceptance as different if it's not understood. Citizens losing jobs to immigrants fueled racism and this led to increased prohibitions of drugs/substances that were disportionately used by immigrants. If it was not labeled and patented by the U.S. government (some examples include: cocaine toothache drops and Bayer Pharmaceutical Products' Heroin-Hydrochloride; these were fine because they were approved, packaged and sold in the U.S.), it was not allowed to be used. This, then therefore, effectively created marginalized and oppressed groups.

Let's get real clear here: The U.S. government created marginalized groups because they chose to use cannabis vs. purchasing U.S. made cocaine toothache tablets or heroin over-the-counter pain reliever. We all caught that, right? Essentially people said "You are bad if you use cannabis" while at the same time saying "You are not bad if you just buy the U.S. cocaine option instead." Really? WTF doesn't even cover it here...

In 1850 cannabis is added to the American Pharmacopea and listed as a treatment for tetanus, typhus, cholera, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, tonsillitis, excessive menstrual bleeding, insanity, to name a few. During this time, cannabis is one of the most popular patented medicines and marketed as treatment for antispasmodic, pain relief, as sleep aid, as well as anti-anxiety medication. In 1889, E.A. Birch (physician) wrote an article where he's cited saying this, "The chief point that struck me was the immediate action of the drug for appeasing the appetite for chloral or opium, and in restoring the ability to appreciate food. It seems to supply the place of poison, to stimulate the appetite, to increase the heart's (cardiovascular) power, and thus to procure sleep indirectly, as well as directly, by its own sedative effect." He's surprised that cannabis satiates one's appetite for opiates plus other sleep aids and remarks on how cannabis replaces the poison (of chloral and opium) and stimulates appetite (as opium/opiates tend to significantly reduce appetite), increase cardiovascular (or heart) health, and works as a sleep aid to replace the other more dangerous substances used at the time as sleep aids. Cannabis was the #1 recommended treatment for chronic pain by physicians prior to the creation of opiates. Read that again. Because from where I sit, the creation of opiates has been detrimental to the human population. Opiates are incredibly bad for you if taken long-term and notably have far fewer medicinal benefits than cannabis. Period.

However, just 22 years later, Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw cannabis in 1911 and, in time, will be part of a bigger push for prohibition as a movement to legislate morality. By 1970, the controlled substances act classified cannabis as schedule 1 drug, declaring no medical value, effectively ignoring a millennia of prior use and data to support. The act stated more research and study needed to be conducted to determine effects. These studies were conducted in 1972, and at that time the Shafer Commission concludes cannabis should be decriminalized. However, Nixon has been quoted to say this, "Even if the Commission does recommend that it be legalized, I will not follow that recommendation...I can see no moral or social justification whatever for legalizing marijuana..." Okay...pause... isn't this the same U.S. president that resigned after a huge scandal of some kind? Yea, I thought so. Why is he making a decision opposed to the research findings? Does that make any sense to anyone? Okay, thought not, moving on.

This is all fine and good, but don't take my word for it. Here are some links explaining the historical context and prohibition of cannabis.

The U.S. Prohibition (Think Anslinger, Hearst, Rockefeller, Dupont, Carnegie, and Melon) and the real reason cannabis was outlawed in the states. This is a really interesting 20 minute video giving the down and dirty behind politics, big business and power, and media efforts to criminalize cannabis and discriminate against those who use it (mostly immigrants and people of color).

This "reefer madness" approach dictated policy and attitudes for decades following! (Remember at the very beginning of this article where I say 'most of what is known about cannabis has been dictated by politics and media?' Yep. If you have spent time believing the things you watched in the youtube video about cannabis, it's because they wanted you to feel, and think, and react that way towards it.

Here is another link to check out:

Getting To Present Day

In 1976, federal government ruled in favor of a person who used Common Law Doctrine of Necessity to defend himself against the criminal charges of 'marijuana cultivation.' Ever since, the U.S. government has grown and provided cannabis cigarettes every month for this person and 13 other people, and as of 2011 (per a CBS news report) 4 people were still being supplied cannabis cigarettes by the U.S. government for the medical necessity of its use. In 1978, New Mexico is the first state to re-recognize medical use for cannabis and trials were conducted, and successful, with 74% of cancer patients in the trial study reporting improvement in cancer treatment side effects and overall cancer symptoms. However, (here we go again...) in 1981 Marinol (synthetic cannabis) is created despite reports and recommendations that natural cannabis is more effective. FDA eventually approves manufacture and use of Marinol, where some people are helped, and most still prefer the natural form. Okay, gotta pause again... they won't legalize the natural form even AFTER it's proven to have medicinal benefits for cancer patients, BUT they'll create a synthetic form and approve that for use for cancer patients, even though it's not as effective and not as preferred by patients. What in the actual F! This is still not making sense to me...

There was a 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With results from that survey it was estimated that the average, annual domestic cannabis crop would value at the market at $120 billion, if legalized. A news report compared captured data from 2009 combining both alcohol and tobacco legal sales to be valued at $263 billion. What does this mean? This means that under prohibition, cannabis is on par with market volume and value of legal intoxicants. This means the amount of cannabis produced/harvested and therefore, the amount traded or purchased for use by people is pretty equal to amount of alcohol and tobacco that is produced and purchased and used by people. #1: that means its way more common than you think, just like drinking alcohol is pretty darn common and #2 we could be increasing GDP if the federal government would legalize and monetize cannabis.

Wrapping up

Legal intoxicants. Let's talk about them. Below you will see 23 substances listed in the right column and their subsequent toxicity in the left column. First, let's review DEA drug schedules (or classifications). This is what the DEA designates as "legal, not dangerous" all the way through to "illegal, dangerous," not what is scientifically proven and known about each substance (that comes later!)

1. Unscheduled (Legal Over The Counter). These substances will be marked with *

2. Schedule IV or V (Prescribable, Low Danger) These substances will be marked with **

3. Schedule II or III (Prescribable, Dangerous) These substances will be marked with ***

4. Schedule I (Illegal and Dangerous) These substances will be marked with ****





Psilocybin**** (hallucinogenic alkaloid, found in toadstools)






Nitrous Oxide* (laughing gas)




Phenobarbital** (barbiturate)








Rohypnol** ("roofies")










MDMA**** (ecstasy)






Dextromethorphan*(ingredient in Robitussin)




Isobutyl Nitrate* ("poppers" or inhalants)


GHB**** ("acid")




So, what does all of this mean? What are these fractional numbers? What is actually toxic, not just what the DEA says is toxic...or says is not toxic when it actually is toxic?

The fractional number is the Therapeutic Ratio. Therapeutic Ratio is the ratio of the Effective Dose over the Lethal Dose of that substance. What does THAT mean? The first number (top number in fraction) is designated as ONE DOSE of that substance and the bottom number is designated as the NUMBER OF DOSES needed to be lethal. For example: Alcohol. Everyone's favorite and well-celebrated and accepted drug of choice. Alcohol's 1/10 Therapeutic Ratio means that 2 shots get you drunk and 20 shots can kill you. Alcohol- although designated by the DEA as an Unscheduled/Legal Over the Counter (which are presumed to be less toxic or not dangerous at all according to DEA classification)- is the 4th most toxic substance on this list. This means that Alcohol is MORE TOXIC FOR YOU than MDMA, Mescaline, DMT, Cocaine, Ketamine and "Roofies." Also, Alcohol is JUST AS TOXIC as Methamphetamine.

One more time.

Alcohol is just as toxic and dangerous as Methamphetamine.

But I'm pretty sure you can't just grab Methamphetamine at the store and go home and use as much of it as you want. Why? Because you likely would die. You certainly could die. And THE SAME IS TRUE FOR ALCOHOL.

Why all the caps, you ask? (usually this means I'm annoyed, outraged, or frustrated). In this case, it's all three! People everywhere see nothing wrong with copious amounts of alcohol use and there's almost zero regulation on it even though it's toxic as hell. Yet, many people still villainize and judge TF out of people who choose cannabis over alcohol, or other substances or medicines. It just doesn't make any logical sense whatsoever! It's only due to policy, politics, money, and intentional discrimination of people who were different, came from different places, and used different substances that anyone in the U.S. today has a negative view of cannabis. And really at this point, we need to be willing to address our unchecked bias about cannabis and the people who choose to use it, for whatever reason. Because, again, from where I sit, there are not any medicinal benefits or properties of alcohol, it's only toxic and bad for you, yet breweries, bars, and alcohol at baby showers is the norm these days.

Whereas cannabis has a completely benign Therapeutic Ratio. Let's review. Technically, the ratio for cannabis would imply something to the effect of needing 20,000 hits/doses to be toxic, which isn't even really possible to do all at once without some of it making its way out of your system before you get to 20,000. But instead it says cannabis' "therapeutic ratio cannot be reasonably measured-it is so non-toxic it can't cause lethal overdose." BOOM! What about the people they say "overdose on edibles?" The toxicity that comes from 'overdosing on edibles' is paranoia and discomfort ONLY. What does that mean? Well it means that you won't like what's happening but you won't die from it, and eventually it will wear off, and did you know you could take CBD-Only to balance the psychoactive effect of the THC to hurry along the process of feeling better?

Like what you read here? I hope so because there is more! I will write a part 2 next month and give you pros, cons, benefits, risks of cannabis as we understand today and I think you'll find that second blog equally, if not more, informative about cannabis and how it works and the effects you feel.

The main thing I hope you take away from this article is an internal look at your own unchecked biases that likely are based on outdated and false information about cannabis. Thanks for reading!

*Disclaimer* Please understand a blog is mostly a personal view or perspective on a topic. Although the opinions stated in this blog are based on researched information, continuing education training, and personal experience, they are still opinions. Please do your own research and educate yourself on the things mentioned here. Nothing replaces your own gained knowledge in the ways you learn best!

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