Marijuana, the most commonly used illegal drug in America, is going mainstream. Now legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, pot seems poised for wider use, too: 21 states allow the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And legalization campaigns are underway in Oregon, California and even Alaska.
But just how much do you know about the wacky weed and its odd effects? How exactly does marijuana provide its high, and who discovered the effects of smoking the plant in the first place? Read on for some of the stranger facts about cannabis consumption.
The hippie generation did not discover pot. But the drug’s true origins remain a bit murky.
For example, one source, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum in Arlington, Virginia, states that the oldest written references to cannabis date back to 2727 B.C., when the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung supposedly discovered the substance and used it medicinally.
But there’s one problem with this putative fact: Shen Nung, if he existed, was not the emperor of China. The first emperor of a unified China was Qin Shi Huang, who was born around 260 B.C. — significantly later than the supposed Shen Nung. Nor is it entirely clear where or how this Shen Nung recorded his medicinal marijuana experiments. The earliest examples of written Chinese characters date to the Shang dynasty, between 1200 B.C. and 1050 B.C., when oracles carved symbols on bones and turtle shells. Though the story of Shen Nung permeates pot histories online, his existence seems to be more marijuana myth than fact.
Still, the Chinese deserve some credit. The ancient Taiwanese were using hemp fibers to decorate pottery about 10,000 years ago, according to “The Archaeology of Ancient China” (Yale University Press, 1968).