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Marijuana: An Ancient History


In his book Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse, Paul M. Gahlinger noted that Europeans had discovered and were using marijuana by the fifth century BCE. By the time Venetian traveler Marco Polo (c. 1254–1324) made his famous expedition to the Far East in the late thirteenth century, the drug was widespread throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Different cultures used it in varied ways even then. Marco Polo records the legend of the "Old Man of the Mountain," a Muslim Middle Easterner said to have recruited assassins by intoxicating them with HASHISH, which is the solidified form of the drug. (The very word "assassin" is said to have roots in "hashish," but the story Marco Polo reports has never been verified.) In Europe as early as the Middle Ages (c. 500–c. 1500), hemp was planted for use as clothing and rope, and marijuana was used as medicine for illnesses as varied as menstrual cramps, labor pains, and headaches. Its recreational uses were understood as well, and in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII (1432–1492) said that hashish consumption was linked to Satanic rituals.

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