The plant itself: How its history shaped Medicine Box
Medicine Box, like every other cannabis company, begins and ends with the plant. And only by mastering the plant’s unique heritage and history can we or you maximize its benefits.
That fight for identity can break down into millions of feuds about the provenance of a particular strain or the legitimacy of the indica-vs.-sativa dichotomy. As many of the OGs know, much of the plant’s history was absolutely buried, and it wasn’t until Jack Herer came on the scene with his book The Emperor Wears No Clothes that this history was taken out of the counterculture and eventually into the mainstream. Years later, Herer and Steve DeAngelo would set up their Hemp Museum in a MASH tent just outside of the Smithsonian Institute, which had rejected Herer’s request to correct the record on several hemp-containing exhibits. It’s not too far of a stretch to say that once the history of hemp and cannabis was mainstreamed, the plant itself eventually followed.
The plant has morphed and shifted in countless ways, but one thing that has never changed about it is its ability to help humans. No matter what our needs may have been for the time, cannabis has always been able to deliver. With full-scale environmental, mental and spiritual crises lapping at our shores, we probably have never needed more from it. How WE at Medicine Box understand this plant’s legacy directly shapes the products we sell, so read on to determine the method to our sanity.
The medicinal roots of cannabis
A recent meta-analysis released by Vegetation History and Archaeobotany roughly located cannabis’s point of origin in the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau of China before heading west towards Europe six million years ago and then further west into China 1.2 million years ago. What this plant looked like, one can’t say: the specific studies cited looked at fossil pollen studies which lumps cannabis in with other plant species. Once it starts appearing within China, its uses for fiber, food and medicine were clearly noted. The Shen Nung pharmacopoeia, which compiled the medical discoveries of the mythological “sovereign king” Shen Nung, classifies hemp as an “immortality elixir,” and doctors prescribed it for menstrual cramps, constipation, fevers and chronic pain. Wherever it spread, cannabis’s medical properties were often connected to divinity, whether it was the Soma of the Atharva Veda or the banha of the Zoroastrians. This tincture was reportedly adopted by the Kafirs in Africa as “bangue.” In June, a discovery of THC-coated incense burners at a burial site in Western China circa 500 B.C. indicated the first likely use of cannabis for non-medical purposes. And of course, bhang is consumed in India to this day.
Cannabis’s roots in Central Asia would later come back to haunt it. While some theories about a pre-Columbian hemp in North America exist, it is known mainly as an import to our shores. It wouldn’t be until the Scottish surgeon William B. O’Shaugnessy documented his clinical experiments with hemp while stationed in Calcutta in 1839 that we in the west would wake up to its medical uses. And even then, old school heads were starting to use and abuse it once it entered the US Pharmacopoeia in 1850, memorably documented in Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s The Hasheesh Eater. Interestingly enough, when the initial drug scares surrounding “marijuana” began to surface from the Mexican border states, the connection between “marihuana” and the cannabis extract used in tinctures and bird seed was not made, and indeed, cannabis would not be dropped from the Pharmacopoeia until 1942, five years after cannabis was effectively made illegal.
While it all comes from the same plant, this division of the plant’s uses – cannabis for tinctures and medicine, marijuana for vice-ridden smoking – continues to this day. This has certainly added confusion into the mix, but looking back, the versatility of our plant was well-known to people who didn’t put up strong barriers between physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The more we take those barriers down within our minds, the better we end up understanding this plant.
Landrace cannabis strains and the melting pot of America
If I had to choose a time in history to go back to, I would love to accompany my mentor Michael Hollister and his homies to the smuggling days. Not too soon after cannabis was made federally illegal in 1937, cannabis as a medicine and a recreational substance became a high-priced illegal import for many years, initially through Mexico and then through Southeast Asia. Our AfGoo strain, as you may have guessed initially made its way to the Nevada County, CA terroir through Afghanistan, and surfers, Vietnam vets and travelers on the famed “Hippie Trail” brought back seeds that would later be crossbred into the Hazes and Kushes that we all know today.
Of course, we Californians are practically children when it comes to our landed traditions. South Africa has been a mecca for cannabis production and exportation. Morocco has long served as the leading hash producer for Europe, and the mountainous Rif tribe’s cultivation traditions has brought plenty of cannabis tourism to the region. In Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley is one of the most fertile strips in the Middle East, and its growers have been exporting cannabis for decades with little pushback from authorities in this region. What these regions have in common is a cannabis trade that is attached to deep cultural roots.
Of course, those traditions can only take the plant so far. Anyone who has ever taken a look at ‘70s bud will remark at the proliferation of stems and seeds. And in terms of potency, the modern-day concentrates certainly crush traditional kif and hashish preparations. But there is much to be learned from applying the old-school techniques to cannabis. Take our Equanimity tincture – we based our formulary on century-old herbalist traditions and blended it with the rediscovered abilities of the cannabis plant. By doing so, we bring back the “original medicine” of the people that was the predecessor to Big Pharma.
History repeats itself, of course, and when I look at the world, I see people turning to cannabis for the same reasons they always have. Those reasons have just been conveniently forgotten, however. Dr. Tom O’Connell served in the US Army Medical Corps during Vietnam, and later studied cannabis use amongst the use, and made an important observation during his research: “The need to self-medicate symptoms of adolescent angst is much more important than simple youthful hedonism.” Today, we see the Gen Y/Z kids as well as the Millennials exhibiting the same rebellious streak, alongside a desire to change the system and embrace natural, holistic means of self-care. Joining them in this are Baby Boomers, where medical use is growing faster than for any other age group. The only difference is that now, cannabis’s true potential can be unlocked by all its stakeholders, and the Generation Gap which determined who used it in the last century has narrowed considerably in this one. So it looks at this point in history, we’ve been given an opportunity to get this cannabis thing right. We here at Medicine Box promise not to drop the ball on this one.
- This history is detailed in Steve DeAngelo’s autobiography The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness(Berkeley, CA:North Atlantic Books, 2015)
- High Times Encyclopedia of Recreational Drugs(New York: Stonehill Publishing Company, 1978), 118.
- This is theory is largely spelled out in the book The Marijuana Farmers: Hemp Cults and Cultures, which is now out-of-print. Take it with a grain of salt.
- As one of cannabis’s lone defenders, the AMA’s Dr. Wiliam C. Woodward, reported in his testimony during the hearing which led to the outlawing of cannabis in 1937, “It was the use of the term “marihuana” rather than the use of the term “Cannabis” or the use of the term “Indian hemp” that was responsible, as you realized, probably, a day or two ago, for the failure of the dealers in Indian hempseed to connect up this bill with their business until rather late in the day.”