Stoned or celebrated: How Cannabis is viewed in different cultures around the world

For decades, myths and tales have surrounded cannabis like no other plant

DW January 27, 2022

Opponents demonise it, supporters praise it as a universal remedy: for decades, myths and tales have surrounded cannabis like no other plant. Here is how cannabis is viewed around the globe, according to DW.

Mythical plant

This is the hemp plant of legend. Intoxicating cannabis can be obtained from certain varieties, so its cultivation is strictly regulated in Germany. Unlike 200 years ago, hemp plants in the country are completely out of the public eye, paving the way for myths generated from the camps of supporters and opponents alike.

French troops brought home hashish

The use of hemp as an intoxicant has a comparatively recent history in Europe. French soldiers, who took home hashish made from the resin of female cannabis plants from Napoleon's Egyptian campaign in 1798, played a key role in spreading it. While Napoleon banned hashish in Egypt, it became popular in Paris.

Prescribed for menstrual cramps

Since the 1990s, the UK has been discussing the legalisation of cannabis. There was a rumour at the time that Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis for menstrual cramps. The only evidence: in 1890, her personal physician John Russel Reynolds noted in a medical journal the "great value" of cannabis in treating an array of conditions.

Parchment or hemp?

Urban legend has it that the American Declaration of Independence was written on paper made from hemp. That's not quite true: the document, vacuum-sealed and behind thick panes of glass at the National Archives in Washington, DC, was written on parchment paper. The first two drafts, on the other hand, were probably written on hemp paper.

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness, originally financed by a church group under the title ‘Tell Your Childen’, was a 1936 US propaganda film that depicted young people as immediately addicted, violent and crazy after consuming cannabis. With its almost comical exaggerations and misconceptions, the film is a historical testimony to the fear-mongering of that era.

Racist undertones

Back then, Harry Anslinger, the racist head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, had been fighting for prohibition since the 1930s. Allegedly, Mexicans and African Americans in particular consumed cannabis, but Anslinger wasn't concerned about their health. Weed makes Black people think they're as good as white people, he once said. For over 30 years, he set the tone of US drug policies.

Religious devotion

Other cultures are perhaps more open about the intoxicating effects of cannabis. Sacred texts about the Hindu deity Shiva state that he renounced all life's pleasures — except cannabis. Contrary to oft-repeated claims, cannabis use can very well be addictive.


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