July 2018   Cannabis: Medicine or Recreation?

     Although our current revolution in herbal pain remedy is linked to a discovery and use of the Cannabis plant as a medicine in the Orient centuries ago, the evolution of Cannabis and opium from East to West was anything but smooth and shows just how worthwhile it can be to fight for what you really want and need. No matter what the mental age of  the learner is, a study of this plant's use in the past is anything but dull. For varied purposes, weed traveled across the Silk Road to Europe, North Africa, and finally India, where the plant developed a recreational function.

     Contrarily, in Rome and Italy, Cannabis was used as building material, clothing textile, and anesthesia. On the other hand, in the Orient, the plant's usage was strictly medicinal. For example, its administration relieved childbirth pangs. Its restriction was due to negative side-effects induced by Cannabis: ataxia, hyperactivity, drowsiness, and perceptual disorientation. These facts raise a pivotal question with respect to the use of Cannabis in the 21st century: in context of the legal jargon surrounding the restricted use of this plant, how will Canadians incorporate the use of the marijuana plant into everyday life?

     Outbreak and military strife compounded permanent change with respect to the traditional uses of pain remedies and impact on pain remedy’s history, such as the Black Death and New Spain’s colonization. The debates were mostly about attitude. After an arduous late medieval sociopolitical battle with approach to disease and remedy, France’s highly centralized government led a passionate global movement that revolutionized the mass’s reaction to the black plague and led to other medical breakthroughs in surgical methods, medical botany, and observational science.

     In the context of New Spain’s colonization, an American medical manuscript, the Aztec Badianus Manuscript, 1552, depicts Tlazolteolt as Goddess of Medicine Men, who are astute herbalists. This text, written after Spain’s Reconquest under Charles V, defined the broad scope of Juan Badianus’ research on history’s most effective herbal remedies.

     In Mayan culture, medicine men assumed that natural plants and herbs were sacred healers for humans, and scrutinized  the symptoms of the ailing to recommend remedies. The study of healing with plants was restricted to “priests” who were royalty. A medicine's ingestion or dosage quantity relied on gender: thirteen for men, nine for women. Medicine men relied on plants, herbs, and other things to cure illness, such as a plant's color. For example, to cure headaches and skin wounds, fresh vegetation in plaster form was applied to flesh. Plants like chili, cacao, tobacco, or agave were boiled as herbal drinks or baths, eaten, smoked, or inserted into the body to induce the healing benefits.

     Badianus’ most interesting compilation is that of a botanical concoction for an injured human body. It includes four hundred flowers, sour fruit water, tree moss, nettle seeds, cypress cones, jasper, pepper, and varied tree pines. With its emergence in 1552, the Badianus Manuscript was as highly acclaimed as two other contemporary popular French works: Wotton’s zoology treatise, De differentiis animalium; Paré’s La Manière de traicter les playes faictes tant par hacquebutes que par flèches et les accidentz d'icelles, on battlefield medicine.

     The historical context of Britain’s opium trade with India in the eighteenth century included war with China. The drug was illegal in Britain. However, opium use in China, like weed, was restricted from the seventeenth century as a traditional medicine, and was not intended for recreational use. Therefore, in 1839, when China rebelled against Western traders, Britain tried to counteract the ban by smuggling via Canton and attacked a Chinese merchant ship. At that point, the Chinese commissioner sealed off Britain’s access to the illicit drugs and barred the entry of all foreign trade ships into China. He resonated that if Britain could place a ban on opium, so could China!

     Britain’s retaliatory response to this restricted condition of free trade was to set up a barrier around Pearl Harbor. A few months later, this escalated into a full-scale battle: over forty British ships invaded China’s Cantonese port. Finally, in 1842, China surrendered. Britain negotiated for peace with the Treaty of Nanjing, which permitted the flexibility to trade within five Chinese treaty ports. The point is, the British protest was really more about naval supremacy and equal status in the East than access to the recreational drug, opium.