Since the 1960’s cannabis use in Europe has seen a huge increase in the number of users. Today, more Europeans use cannabis socially or medically than ever before. And with medical cannabis being approved in more and more countries usage rates are likely to further increase in the coming decade or two. The biggest irony is that the prohibition of cannabis did very little to limit demand or reduce the number of users. But cannabis didn’t originate in Europe. It is thought to have originated in, and been indigenous to, the Indian sub-continent and Central Asia
Cannabis and the French Invasion of Egypt.
One of the first large-scale exposures of Europeans to cannabis came about in Egypt in the late 1700’s. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798 with thousands of troops for a campaign which lasted until 1801. Bonaparte was, amongst other things, defending French trade and commercial interests. The campaign involved extensive travels in the middle-east, primarily in Syria and Egypt. The Muslim culture meant that no alcohol was available for the troops during this campaign. Alcohol production had been outlawed and made illegal under Islamic law. The French troops were keen for some fun and social relaxation in Egypt and Syria, and the locals had the perfect solution, hashish.
Military grade hash.
The troops enjoyed their hash, and word spread quickly. Alcohol may have been off the menu thanks to local prohibition. But hash proved very popular and in any event, it was the only game in town. Hash must have seemed like a strange experience for the first soldiers who wouldn’t have experienced anything quite like it. The genie was out of the bottle. All of a sudden huge numbers of cannabis fans had been created and many would return to Europe to tell the tale. It’s ironic to consider that the prohibition of alcohol had allowed the introduction of such a pleasant alternative.
Interest in cannabis continued to gather pace, and reports about cannabis use would continue to trickle back to Europe. The French Doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau toured the Middle East and North Africa in the 1830’s and wrote about the psychological effects and uses of cannabis. Moreau was an influential character, who became a member of the Parisian Club des Hashischins (Club of the Hash eaters). This was formed in 1844 an can be thought of as an early cannabis social club. Members would meet up at the Hotel de Lauzon in Paris. The Club of the hash-eaters would enjoy copious amounts of cannabis.
Among the educated, cannabis was thought to offer a different creative perspective. It was popular with writers, poets artists and philosophers. Learning from Bonaparte’s troops, they found that consuming/smoking large amounts of hash would induce different mental states. Moreau was the first scientist to write a book about drugs in 1845, called Hashish and Mental Alienation. Moreau would experiment on himself, consuming heavy quantities of hash and exploring the different states between being asleep, being conscious and being under the powerful psychological effects of hash.
At the time there was a growing awareness of drugs such as cannabis and opium, and a certain degree of curiosity from the Europeans. Other Doctors, such as William Brooke O’Shaughnessy had used and studied cannabis whilst working as a medical officer in Bengal. He brought a quantity of cannabis back to Britain with him, this generated renewed European awareness and interest.
Cannabis popularity increases. So do the rules, restrictions and prohibition.
Through the late 1800’s cannabis use in Europe began to increase. The various European trading routes, empires and colonies ensured that cannabis use spread rapidly from one country to another. Cannabis seeds were easy to transport and grow in the new destinations. After the first harvest, there would always be a second. And so cannabis spread from Europe to South America and far beyond. Many of the first people to popularise the use of cannabis were noble explorers, Doctors and influential writers. But as cannabis culture began to spread, workers and slaves were increasingly enjoying it. And this meant the the authorities were keen to clamp down and restrict use. Throughout the late 1800’s and early-mid 1900’s various forms of prohibition were introduced. Much of this legislation was aimed at preventing African/Indian/Asian workers from using cannabis.
Mid 20th century. The War on Drugs begins.
As cannabis use started to become mainstream in the 1950’s and 1960’s, worried Governments began to clamp down much harder on cannabis use. The United Nations led from the front, with various conventions targeting cannabis and those that enjoyed using it. Perhaps the mis-placed illegality made some people more interested in cannabis. But one lesson from the UN anti-cannabis conventions is that they simply didn’t work. Cannabis use exploded from the 1960’s onwards in Europe and the rest of the world. People didn’t appreciate being told how to relax, and they certainly didn’t like being judged or stigmatised for it.
Liberalisation and medical uses.
Many Europeans felt that the restrictions on cannabis use were an inappropriate over-reaction from the nanny state. But prohibition wasn’t working for one simple reason – people enjoyed their cannabis and didn’t like others telling them not to. In 1972 the Dutch Government started differentiating between dangerous and less dangerous drugs. Tolerance had arrived, and the coffee shops began supplying personal amounts of cannabis to citizens (and plenty of tourists). Millions of Europeans were now safely enjoying cannabis. They didn’t believe the anti-cannabis propaganda from their Governments and still don’t. And what’s more, many of the new cannabis users were reporting some profound observations. They were claiming that cannabis had some remarkable properties for people suffering from a wide range of medical conditions.
The realization that cannabis has medical uses.
Claims of medical uses for cannabis were not taken seriously for many years. The UK only legalized medical cannabis in 2018, and even then didn’t do a particularly good job if it. The anti-cannabis propaganda had sunk in and wasn’t easy to undo. But medical cannabis quickly became a hot topic in places such as USA and was legalized in California in 1994. The evidence was easy to shove aside, but impossible to completely ignore. As medical cannabis use gained traction, public interest and usage rates continued to increase. Anti-cannabis rules and regulations began to look increasingly tenuous and ill-considered. Cannabis varieties rich in CBD further strengthened the medical case for cannabis use. Companies like Dutch Passion are also looking into selective breeding to enrich cannabis varieties with some of the minor cannabinoids which may open new medical possibilities in the future.
The future of cannabis in Europe.
History shows us that medical cannabis tends to lead the way. Once medical cannabis has been approved, political fear diminishes and legality of recreational cannabis can be discussed with less hysteria. The decision by so many US states, along with Canada and Uruguay to legalize cannabis shows the likely direction for Europe. The next decade or so should see the first European countries legalize recreational cannabis. Europe may also soon see legal commercial cannabis cultivation for both medical and recreational users.
By Tony, Dutch Passion Seed Company