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Marijuana: History, Medicine, and Industry

My writing interests are general, with expertise in science, history, biographies, and “how-to” topics. I have written over seventy books.

Marijuana Plant

Marijuana Plant

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana, or cannabis, is a psychoactive drug that comes from the cannabis plant. Marijuana is used for both medicinal and recreational purposes, due to its qualities. The cannabis plant contains both tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabinoids. The THC in cannabis is what results in marijuana’s psychoactive qualities. Marijuana is typically consumed by smoking it, adding it to food or as a liquid extract. There are many different strains of marijuana, based on the type of cannabis plant or the way it is grown.

When marijuana is used for recreational purposes, the user’s goal is to achieve a mental state that changes their perception of surroundings. Everyone reacts differently to marijuana, and different strains have unique impacts on the mind, but the general changes are a feeling of euphoria or a sense of relaxation. It is why people who just smoked marijuana are referred to as being high or stoned. Marijuana is also said to impair motor skills and reaction times, provide a feeling of paranoia or anxiety, or cause an increase in appetite. Marijuana is also helpful at reducing pain symptoms in the body, which is why it is sometimes recommended for patients who suffer from short or long-term pain due to an illness or injury.

A Brief History of Cannabis

A Brief History of Marijuana

Marijuana was first discovered as early as 2700 BC. The first recorded details of marijuana in history come from China and the reign of its emperor Shen Nung. Those writings talk of a medicine that was used to treat conditions such as rheumatism, gout, absent-mindedness and malaria. But the psychoactive properties of marijuana are also mentioned in those writings, despite the Chinese typically using marijuana for medical purposes.

The substance is well known in many ancient cultures and parts of the world. It quickly spread to India and the rest of the sub-continent, where it was primarily used for recreational purposes. When Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East first encountered marijuana, it quickly became popular for recreational reasons. Since consuming alcohol is not permitted in their religion, Muslims would frequently use marijuana to relax and achieve a different mental state. And it was the Muslims who first brought hashish into the world. Hashish is the resin from cannabis, which is smoked using a pipe, bong or joint. It is often mixed with tobacco or regular marijuana to help it burn – as pure hashish does not burn in all conditions.

The popularity of marijuana and hashish spread from Asia to the Middle East and to Persia. It even reached North Africa by the 12th century. And by the 16th and 17th centuries, marijuana had made its way to the “New World” – the modern United States. It was brought to South America by the Spanish in 1545 and to New England by the English in 1611. Marijuana was initially a major commercial crop in the United States, where it was crown alongside tobacco and used for its high fiber quantities. But it was eventually replaced by cotton as the cash crop by the late 1800s.

Cannabis in Ancient Scythia

The ancient 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus recounted in his masterwork The Histories his experience when he visited Scythia and his encounter with the use of cannabis. The Scythians were a nomadic people of Iranian stock living in what is a region that encompassed parts of modern-day southern Russia and Ukraine. Much of what we know about ancient Scythia comes to us from an ancient book called The Histories written by Herodotus during the later part of the 5th century BC. In book 4, section 4.75, Herodotus tells of his encounter with the Scythians and their use of cannabis:

“Well, the Scythians take the seeds of this cannabis, creep beneath the wool covering the stakes, and throw the seed on the blazing-hot stone within. When the seeds hit the stones, they produce smoke and give off a vapor such as no steam bath in Hellas could surpass. The Scythians howl, awed and elated by the vapor. This takes the place of a bath for them, since they do not use any water at all to wash their bodies. But the women pour water into a mixture of cypress, cedar, and frankincense wood, which they have ground on rough stone. They apply this thick substance all over their bodies and their faces, and thus become steeped in the fragrance; and in addition, when they remove the plaster the next day, they emerge from it sparkling clean.”

Archeological sites have found evidence that supports the story of Herodotus.

Marijuana in the United States

Smoking marijuana for recreational use was not too popular in the United States in the 19th century. It was not until the 1920s when smoking marijuana became a more popular recreational activity. It is said that Prohibition, the time when alcohol was a banned substance, increased people’s want for marijuana. Marijuana clubs were becoming a more common site in major cities, and the authorities did not have a problem with it. Since marijuana was legal, and those who smoked it were not rowdy or creating trouble, its legality remained intact.

It was not until the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that marijuana became illegal in the United States. It was classified as a Schedule I Drug, along with substances such as heroin and LSD. It was not only banned for recreation but also for medicinal use in the country. Mexico was the main supplier of marijuana to the United States in the mid-1900s, but a shift to Colombia occurred when the Mexican government banned its growth in 1975. Since it was harder to obtain, and successive administrations in the United States created a “war on drugs” in the 70s and 80s, the popularity of marijuana declined significantly. It was not until the 1990s and 2000s that it once again became a popular substance among young adults in America.

Medical Marijuana

There are different types of medical marijuana, depending on how it is grown and why it is being used. Some strains of medical marijuana are almost identical to the type a person would purchase to “get high.” They give you the same euphoric feeling and change in perception. However, other strains are grown in a way that limits the THC, with a focus on the cannabinoids. Such strains of marijuana retain all its medical properties, but do not have much of an impact on a person’s mental state.

Marijuana is used for medicinal purposes to treat conditions such as pain, nausea and a decrease in appetite. It is typically prescribed to those who have long term pain from an accident, or are suffering from conditions such as HIV or cancer. Many cancer patients report feeling less nauseous, more likely to eat and in a better mental state if they regularly consume medicinal marijuana. There is also research that shows how marijuana can help treat conditions like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Like other drugs, marijuana does have the potential to become an addiction. While many patients do not have a problem stopping when their condition has improved, others find they are dependent on the drug. And there are long-term health risks associated with excessive marijuana consumption, such as breathing issues, respiratory conditions, persistent coughing, and a higher risk of lung problems. Some studies show that marijuana is linked to mental illness, depression, suicidal thoughts and a lack of motivation.

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The use of medical marijuana on children is controversial, due to the possibility of them getting high. However, there is a strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web,” which contains almost no THC. Such a strain would help with conditions such as epilepsy, which is very hard to treat in children, but would not subject the patients to any of the drug’s mind altering side effects.

There is also a suggestion among some in the medical community that the legalization of medicinal marijuana is linked to a decrease in prescription opioid abuse. The United States is currently going through a major prescription drug crisis, with many patients ending up seriously addicted to the pain pills they are prescribed after an accident. There are numerous cases of prescription opioid-related deaths. And one study has shown that in the areas where medical marijuana is legal, there are fewer overdose deaths from prescription opioids. However, more studies are needed to form a proper conclusion.

Medical Marijuana Facility

Medical Marijuana Facility

Legalization of Marijuana in the United States

Marijuana is currently legal for medical use in thirty three American states and the District of Columbia. Three more states have passed measures legalizing it in some form – and those measures will go into effect in 2019. It is illegal for any purpose in the remaining states. However, recreational marijuana use is only legal in eleven states and the District of Columbia. The most recent states to pass such measures were California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. And even in those states where it is legal for recreational use, the illegal cultivation and sale of the substance is still a punishable offense. However, someone who is caught or arrested with small quantities of marijuana on their person will not find themselves arrested or charged with a marijuana-related crime – unless they were behind the wheel and had an open container in the car.

There is a strong push to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes around the United States. It is believed that full medicinal legalization is the first step. But it would have to get done through the individual states, because it remains unlikely that the Federal government would fully legalize the substance. The FDA has not conducted enough tests to conclude that marijuana is safe for medical legalization, while the political realities of the country means it is hard to imagine a President or political party making a serious push for country-wide legalization.

Poll on the Legalization of Marijuana

The Business of Marijuana

With the popularity of marijuana increasing, and more studies showing that it is a viable substance to use for medical reasons, the business of marijuana is also picking up steam. While there are no multi-billion-dollar companies that have taken up the growth or sale of the substance, there are hundreds of startups that have some connection to the industries. But the companies that are at the top are established pharmaceutical ones that have incorporated marijuana into their portfolio of products and services.

The top four marijuana businesses, as of June 2017, are AbbieVie Inc, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, Corbus Pharmaceuticals and Insys Therapeurtics Inc. There is also a list of marijuana stocks, which helps investors or marijuana enthusiasts remain updated on how these companies are faring.

AbbieVie currently has a cannabis-based drug that is on the market. Marinol, which is FDA-approved, is used to help alleviate nausea and vomiting among those who go through chemotherapy. The substance is not its biggest seller, but it has shown the company increasing revenues for four successive years.

Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is developing products that cannabis growers can use – such as marijuana-friendly pesticides. While the company has a steady share price, it may be one that investors would look at as a “one to watch,” instead of a sure buy.

Corbus Pharmaceuticals is involved with many marijuana-based drugs, but they are all in clinical trials right now. One of the drugs is used to treat sclerosis and is showing some promise during its trials. Whether the company is one that will grow substantially, or drop, is entirely dependent on the results of those clinical trials.

Insys Therapeurtics is a marketer for many non-cannabis drugs, but it is also working on a synthetic substance that mimics the impact of cannabis on the body. This substance will be used to treat children who are suffering from epilepsy.

For investors who are thinking about going heavy into companies that are focusing on marijuana, it is important to remain calm. Yes, it is an industry that is set for major growth over the coming decade. But it is also unclear whether specific companies are here to stay, or if they will fall on their feet. As is the case with any growing industry, most startups and established companies will fall by the wayside before a few emerge with substantial gains.

Marijuana Industry Growth Projections

Analysts who assess the growth and potential of specific industries believe that the marijuana industry could be worth more than $24 BILLION by 2025. The data comes from New Frontier Data, a market research and analytics firm that focuses on cannabis. But even with such a promising statement, the firm does acknowledge that the legal issues surrounding marijuana mean that such projections can shift dramatically. For instance, something compared to a full-scale crackdown on marijuana by the Federal government could change things in a big way. The study shows that marijuana is most definitely not a “flash in the pan” industry. It is here to stay and the growth is very real. There may be some ups and downs based on legalization decisions, but the long-term projections are most definitely positive.

The market is set at a little more than $8 billion in value in 2017. A shift from $8 to $24 billion is a dramatic shift, especially if it happens in the projected eight years. It is why investors are so determined to find the right types of marijuana stocks to put their money into. The study is projecting such huge growth because the states that recently legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use will be operating at full capacity by 2025. California could have a market worth more than $6.5 billion on its own. And other states are bound to jump on the legalization bandwagon within eight years.

These figures may seem astronomical, but when we see that Colorado shops raised more than $1.3 billion in sales in 2016 alone, it is easy to see why this is a booming industry that could explode. But there is always caution mixed in with optimistic language. For instance, one economist mentioned that it is not completely accurate to extrapolate Colorado’s sales to California, because California is a state with significant minority populations. And those populations typically have much lower usage rates, especially among Indians, Iranians, Vietnamese or other Asian minorities.

Marijuana Growing Greenhouse.

Marijuana Growing Greenhouse.

A summary chart for the MJ ETF which specializes in the Marijuana industry. You can invest in Marijuana companies without leaving your house.

A summary chart for the MJ ETF which specializes in the Marijuana industry. You can invest in Marijuana companies without leaving your house.

Marijuana Information Website

  • Marijuana History
    Marijuana history information provided as a public service by Narconon International. The history of marijuana, for use in drug education


  • Hudak, John. Marijuana: A Short History. Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institution Press, 2016.
  • Strassler, Robert B. (Editor). The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.

© 2017 Doug West


J Zod from Nairobi on September 19, 2019:

I agree with you Doug. Some Marijuana and CDB companies are planning to list in African Stock Exchanges.

Doug West (author) from Missouri on September 18, 2019:


Marijuana and CDB products are big business now. I can't believe how rapid the change has been.

J Zod from Nairobi on September 18, 2019:

Hey Doug,

I really enjoyed reading this enlightening article. Marijuana is a very controversial topic. Medical and recreational use of marijuana is prevalent in many countries.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 03, 2017:

Very educational!

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