What is Weed Culture? Weed culture refers to a social environment and set of behaviors that focus on heavy cannabis consumption for its entheogenic, recreational, and medicinal properties.
While archeological evidence of hemp being cultivated for textile fiber dates back to 8000 BC in Mesopotamia, the history of Weed Culture itself only dates back about 2500 years ago. Evidence of its use in religious ceremonies is not very well documented, although new discoveries are being made as residues on religious artifacts are being analyzed. Early evidence for recreational pot use is even less clear.
Origins of Weed Culture
Wild cannabis is found from the Caucasus to Western China and was especially prevalent in the well-watered habitats Central Asia. Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants, having been grown for fiber and grain, as well as, for medicinal, recreational, and ritual uses. Evidence suggests THC content was very low in many of these wild strains which may explain its lack of use, relative to textiles, in religious contexts.
Archeological evidence from the Eastern Pamir mountainous region, in what is now along the China - Tajikistan border, suggests ritual cannabis use first occurred there over 2500 years ago.
Wood and stone braziers found in the Jirzankal Cemetery were found to contain traces of cannabinoids. Chemical analysis has shown that these residues contain relatively higher levels of CBN, indicating the presence of THC (THC breaks down into CBN).
Although little definitive archeological evidence exists documenting it's spread, ritual cannabis use likely expanded from the Pamir region to other peoples along The Silk Road and other trading routes throughout East Asia, Southeast Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and Southern Europe.
One such group of people were the Scythians, a nomadic people who dominated the Pontic Steppe from the 7th to the 3rd century BC. The Greek historian Herodotus describes Scythian shamans using a kind of cannabis sauna to induce trance and divination. Archeological excavations have found ornate solid gold vessels containing cannabis and opium residues.
One of the more well documented origins of today's cannabis culture can be traced to Vedic Period on the Indian Subcontinent around 2000-1500 BC. Vedic Hindu scriptures describe marijuana as one of the five sacred plants, bringing joy, happiness, and liberation. Hindus believe the god Shiva brought cannabis down from the Himalayas.
To this day, on Maha Shivarati, or "Night of Shiva", devotees celebrate Shiva by smoking cannabis and hashish, and consuming bhang, a cannabis preparation used in beverages and edibles. In fact, the name Ganja is the Sanskrit term for cannabis flower.
Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhist texts from the 6th to the 9th centuries AD contain numerous references to cannabis and other psychoactives, including datura, to enable practitioners to elicit extraordinary states of consciousness.
The Tara Tantra quotes Buddha as saying one cannot achieve ecstasy without wine and cannabis. Non-Tantric monastic Buddhism is far less accommodating of psychoactives.
Followers of the Sufi branch of Islam in Persia used hashish to attain spiritual insights in order to connect with the divine. Sufi fakirs traveled the world disseminating their vision of cannabis as an instrument that favored contact with Allah. Indeed, Sufi traders most likely introduced marijuana to the rest of the Middle East and Africa.
Evidence of cannabis use in early Jewish worship has recently been discovered in 2700 year old temple in Tel Arad, suggesting cannabis also played a role in worship at the Temple of Jerusalem.
Weed Culture Spreads To Africa
Evidence for recreational use of marijuana first appeared in Egypt between the 13th and 15th centuries. Cannabis was cultivated and sold openly in markets where it was consumed as hashish or as an edible made with sugar and sesame.
Cannabis use spread from Egypt into Ethiopia in the 14th century, where pipe bowls containing traces of cannabis were discovered. Arab traders introduced marijuana to southern Africa about this time.
Hottentot tribes around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa would throw bundles of help onto coals and breath in the smoke or make a cannabis beverage similar to Indian bhang.
In fact, it can be argued that the Hottentots were the first 'Weed Culture' to popularize the act of smoking marijuana (they had a term 'dagga' for the act of smoking weed) and developed elaborate techniques for 'dagga'.
One of the more interesting tales of recreational pot use can be found in France's occupation of Egypt in 1800. Many of the French Army of The Orient soldiers took to smoking hashish and eating cannabis confections due to the lack of wine and liquor. The General in Chief, Jacques-François “Abdallah” Menou has horrified about the intoxicated soldiers behavior and banned hashish in Egypt. Thus becoming the first European Anti-Drug law. Many accounts attribute the banning of hashish in Egypt to Napoleon Bonaparte, but he had already departed for France a year earlier.
Marijuana Arrives in the New World
Cannabis arrived in the Americas in the 1500's. Portuguese, British, and Spanish colonialists cultivated hemp to make rope for ship rigging and other fibers and textiles. African slaves, mainly from Angola, brought and cultivated marijuana on the sugar plantations in Brazil on which they worked. It is believed that plantation owners allowed slaves to grow and smoke marijuana to keep them productive and "pacified" during their down time.
Marijuana use spread from the plantation to other parts of Brazil. Blue-collar workers in both city and rural areas would gather together for smoke sessions called Club de Diambistas. Pot smoking also took place in military barracks and prisons.
There is evidence that cannabis was brought to North America by the Jamestown Settlers who cultivated it for its fiber. Hemp would become a major crop and both colonial and national agricultural policies encouraged its cultivation. There is little evidence of its recreational use in pre-modern times; however, notes from George Washington's diary suggested he was using male - female plant separation techniques to improve potency.
Marijuana arrived in Jamaica in the mid 1900's by East Indian indentured laborers brought over by the British. Their knowledge of cultivating and smoking ganja soon spread to the black working class in Jamaica and surrounding Caribbean Islands.
Modern Weed Culture
The Rastafarin religion in began in the 1920's in Jamaica and several islands in the Caribbean. The Rastafari believe that Emperor Haile Selassie I, who was crowned Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930, is the living God. Smoking ganja, or 'The Holy Herb' is used in 'reasoning sessions', or group meditation.
Cannabis use didn’t become popular outside of Eastern countries until the early twentieth century. From the 1920s to the 1940s, several Western countries, especially the USA, experienced a subculture movement where cannabis use was rising in popularity. The members of this culture, called hipsters or hepcats, adopted a lifestyle that revolved around smoking cannabis, listening to jazz, using slang and sarcastic humor, and participating in more casual sex. Exploitation films warning of the (often exaggerated) dangers of smoking marijuana began in this era, and would continue into the 1970s.
The beatnik subculture of the 1950’s brought the psychoactive properties of marijuana to the forefront. Aldus Huxley’s novel The Doors of Perception further influenced Americans' perception of marijuana. This subculture had a major influence on the movement that would define the next generation.
The 1960s became the era of the most influential counterculture movement in modern U.S. history. Weed culture grew significantly during this time. Cannabis had many names, including marijuana, Mary Jane, pot, weed, and grass. People across the country, often called hippies, consumed cannabis recreationally. They spoke of how cannabis gave them a pleasurable or mellow feeling in the body and mind. Many described this feeling as being "baked" or “stoned.”
The psychotropic and psychoactive properties of marijuana were used as an alternative to more dangerous drugs in psychotherapy and to experience a psychedelic journey into self-exploration. There was also a return to using marijuana for religious and spiritual enlightenment. Hemp also returned as a popular textile and fabric, being used to make ropes, canvas, paper, clothing, jewelry, and so on. Plus, pipes, bongs, and hookahs became even more popular products for people to smoke weed through.
Weed culture became more mainstream in the 60’s and continued to grow in the 1970’s. Stoner films, like the Cheech and Chong movie franchise, dominated movie theaters. Musicians referred to smoking marijuana in music. This was usually done using common metaphors and slang, since weed was deemed an illegal substance by the government. The magazine High Times was first published as a lampoon of Playboy in 1974, and contained centerfold photos of weed instead of naked women.
Weed culture today spans the globe. Cannabis users have developed their own unique language, humor, etiquette, art, literature, film, television, and music. The number "420" has become synonymous with smoking weed. Weed has been legalized in several states. Production of hemp is at an all-time high, and used in numerous industries, including natural fuel, food, clothing, cosmetics, and so on.