Marijuana has always been a part of human history, with the earliest written accounts of which date back to around 2600 BC in China. Later in the 17th and 18th centuries, marijuana made its way across the Atlantic where it would prove to be one of the most useful crops in America. Hemp was grown as a fiber and was extremely successful in its production of rope, clothes, and paper. In 1892, the Indian Hemp Commission was established to investigate possible health dangers of cannabis. The Commission came to the conclusion that there were no injurious, physical, mental, or moral effects of marijuana after two years of research. So where did the negative perceptions of marijuana come from?
Around the mid 1900s, many factors influenced the change in that heavily influenced the way the society views marijuana today. One such factor was Harry J Anslinger’s successful push for the criminalization of marijuana, with the help of William Randolf Hurst, who was an American newspaper publisher. Hurst supported Anslinger’s anti-marijuana movement and cherry-picked a misleading series of quotes from police reports to depict crimes committed by drug users. The pervasive nature of mass media led to public hysteria and initiated the “Reefer Madness.”
Despite multiple reports that determined no link between cannabis sativa and criminal behavior and other health concerns, the enduring negative image of marijuana that started in the early 1900s has remained in our present culture.
Current media, such as this post by Huffington, makes a sweeping generalizing as their article titles, which can be very misleading for the general public. In the said article, which is titled, “The Scary Way Long Term Marijuana Use Can Impact Memory” later mentions results are actually inconclusive, and that findings are sometimes mixed, meaning more extensive research must be done. Obviously, if research results in mixed findings, making such a reaching claim with the key word “scary” is deceptive on Huffington’s part. These discrepancies can be damaging and can lead to people creating false, misled schemas about marijuana.
However, other popular media have released articles that have challenged the notion of marijuana being a directly mentally/physically harmful drug, like this post by Wired. In fact, Wired refers to medical effects of marijuana (specifically the psychoactive component cannabidiol) that have shown promising relief in research, such as reducing seizures and invoking relaxation, which has shown improved sleep in those with insomnia.
Because it has been historically politically advantageous to be against drugs, this ideology spread to laws involving the use of cannabis. Not only did the propaganda from the “Reefer Madness” era generate unfounded fear and negative associations with immigrants, present public understanding has also been limited to this residual suspicion. As such, the recriminalization of possession has exhibited many setbacks to the reintroduction of marijuana as a medicinal/therapeutic agent. However, as more research and ongoing studies are published, hopefully the strict aversion toward this drug can transition to an acceptance for its medical potential.