Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

54. Marijuana in the New World 

The first definite record of the marijuana plant in the New World dates from 1545 A.D., when the Spaniards introduced it into Chile. 1 It has been suggested, however, that African slaves familiar with marijuana as an intoxicant and medicine brought the seeds with them to Brazil even earlier in the sixteenth century. 2

There is no record that the Pilgrims brought marijuana with them to Plymouth but the Jamestown settlers did bring the plant to Virginia in 1611, and cultivated it for its fiber. 3 Marijuana was introduced into New England in 1629. 4 From then until after the Civil War, the marijuana plant was a major crop in North America, and played an important role in both colonial and national economic policy. In 1762, "Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties upon those who did not produce it." 5  

George Washington was growing hemp at Mount Vernon three years later–– presumably for its fiber, though it has been argued that Washington was also concerned to increase the medicinal or intoxicating potency of his marijuana plants. *

* The argument depends on a curious tradition, which may or may not be sound, that the quality or quantity of marijuana resin (hashish) is enhanced if the male and female plants are separated  before the females are pollinated. There can be no doubt that Washington separated the males from the females. Two entries in his diary supply the evidence:

May 12-13, 1765: "Sowed Hemp at Muddy hole by Swamp."

August 7, 1765: "–– began to seperate [sic] the Male from the Female Hemp at Do–– rather too late." 6

George Andrews has argued, in  The Book of Grass: An Anthology of Indian Hemp (1967), that Washington's August 7 diary entry "clearly indicates that he was cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes as well as for it's fiber." 7 He might have separated the males from the females to get better fiber, Andrews concedes–– but his phrase "rather too late" suggests that he wanted to complete the separation  before the female plants were fertilized–– and this was a practice related to drug potency rather than to fiber culture.

British mercantile policy hampered American hemp culture for a time during and after the colonial period by offering heavy bounties on hemp exported from Ireland; but the American plantings continued despite this subsidized competition. At various times in the nineteenth century large hemp plantations flourished in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, and other states, as well as on Staten Island, New York. 8 The center of nineteenth-century production, however, was in Kentucky, where hemp was introduced in 1775. One Kentuckian, James L. Allen, wrote in 1900: "The Anglo-Saxon farmers had scarce conquered foothold in the Western wilderness before they became sowers of hemp. The roads of Kentucky... were early made necessary by the hauling of hemp. For the sake of it slaves were perpetually being trained, hired, bartered; lands perpetually rented and sold; fortunes made and lost.... With the Civil War began the decline, lasting still." 9 The invention of the cotton gin and of other cotton and wool machinery, and competition from cheap imported hemp, were major factors in this decline in United States hemp cultivation.

The decline in commercial production did not, however, mean that marijuana became scarce. As late as 1937, the American commercial crop was still estimated at 10,000 acres, much of it in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky. 10 Four million pounds of marijuana seed a year were being used in bird feed. During World War II commercial cultivation was greatly expanded, at the behest of the United States Department of Agriculture, to meet the shortage of imported hemp for rope. Even decades after commercial cultivation has been discontinued, hemp can often be found growing luxuriantly as a weed in abandoned fields and along roadsides. Indeed, the plant readily spreads to additional territory. The area of Nebraska land infested with "weed" marijuana was estimated in 1969 at 156,000 acres. * 11

* One acre of good land yields about one thousand pounds of marijuana, enough for almost one million marijuana cigarettes.

The medicinal use of marijuana in the United States. It has often been alleged that American marijuana, cultivated primarily as a fiber, has little or no psychoactive effect. Nineteenth-century observers knew better. Dr. Walton sums up:  

Hemp grown for fiber in Kentucky has been shown to contain a substantial degree of... potency. H. C. Wood, in 1869, prepared an alcoholic extract of hemp grown near Lexington and proceeded to test the product himself. A large [oral] dose (20 to 30 grains) produced marked effects and, on subsequent occasions, milder but definite effects were obtained with doses as low as 1/4 grain. This latter dose is lower than the usual dose of the Indian extract and was probably the result of a more than usually selective extraction. Houghton and Hamilton in 1908 concluded from animal experiments that the Kentucky hemp was fully as active as the best imported Indian product. In any event, it is clear that the potentiality of hashish abuse has always existed with this type of hemp production. 12 

Comparative studies made by the National Institute of Mental Health on marijuana experimentally grown at the University of Mississippi in 1969 and 1970 indicate that the relative low potency of American-grown marijuana is determined primarily by the seed planted. 13 Marijuana grown in Mississippi from high-quality Mexican seed proved to contain much more of the psychoactive substance (THC) than marijuana from domestic seed grown on the same plot and harvested and processed in the same way. 14  

The NIMH studies also refute the widespread belief that the female marijuana plant yields more potent leaf. Flowers and leaves of male plants from Mexican seeds yielded 1.47 percent THC as compared with 1.31 percent for female plants. 15 The female plant does, however, yield more resin or hashish.  

Laboratory tests of United States "weed" marijuana indicate that its THC content is very low. A 1971 study published in Science, however, suggests that the THC determinations as currently made are a poor index of the effectiveness of marijuana when smoked; the smoke may be considerably more potent than the THC determinations indicate. 16

Between 1850 and 1937, marijuana was quite widely used in American medical practice for a wide range of conditions. The  United States Pharmacopeia, which through the generations has maintained a highly selective listing of the country's most widely accepted drugs, admitted marijuana as a recognized medicine in 1850 under the name  Extractum Cannabis or Extract of Hemp, 17 and listed it until 1942. 18 The  National Formulary and United States  Dispensatory, less selective, also included monographs on marijuana and cited recommendations for its use for numerous illnesses. In 1851 the United States  Dispensatory reported: 

Extract of hemp is a powerful narcotic [here meaning sleep-producing drug], causing exhilaration, intoxication, delirious hallucinations, and, in its subsequent action, drowsiness and stupor, with little effect upon the circulation. It is asserted also to act as a decided aphrodisiac, to increase the appetite, and occasionally to induce the cataleptic state. In morbid states of the system, it has been found to cause sleep, to allay spasm, to compose nervous disquietude, and to relieve pain. In these respects it resembles opium; but it differs from that narcotic in not diminishing the appetite, checking the secretions, or constipating the bowels. It is much less certain in its effects, but may sometimes be preferably employed, when opium is contraindicated by its nauseating or constipating effects, or its disposition to produce headache, and to check the bronchial secretion. The complaints in which it has been specially recommended are neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, tetanus, hydrophobia, epidemic cholera, convulsions, chorea, hysteria, mental depression, delirium tremens, insanity, and uterine hemorrhage. 19

Many eminent British and American physicians recommended marijuana as an effective therapeutic agent. Dr. J. Russell Reynolds, Fellow of the Royal Society and Physician in Ordinary to Her Majesty's (Queen Victoria's) Household, reported in  Lancet in 1890, for example, that he had been prescribing cannabis for thirty years and that he considered it "one of the most valuable medicines we possess" 20 Sir William Osler, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins and later Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, stated in his 1898 discussion of migraine headaches that marijuana "is probably the most satisfactory remedy" for that distressing condition. * 28

* Others who recommended marijuana for migraine headaches included the Committee on Cannabis Indica of the Ohio State Medical Society (1860); 21 Dr. G. S. D. Anderson in the  Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (now the New England Journal of Medicine) (1863); 22 Dr. Edward John Waring in his textbook,  Practical Therapeutics (1874); 23 Dr. C. W. Suckling in the  British Medical Journal (1881); 24 Dr. J. B. Mattison in the  St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal (1891); 25 and Dr. A. A. Stevens in his textbook,  Modern Materia Medica (1903). 26 (We are indebted to Dr. Tod H. Mikuriya 27 for a number of these and other historical references to the medical history of marijuana.)

To meet the substantial nineteenth- and early twentieth-century medical demand for marijuana, fluid extracts were marketed by Parke Davis, Squibb, Lilly, Burroughs Wellcome, and other leading firms 29 and were sold over the counter by drugstores at modest prices. Grimault and Sons actually marketed ready-made marijuana cigarettes for use as an asthma remedy. 30 As medicine progressed after 1903, marijuana's use declined, but its therapeutic value remained unchallenged, and doctors continued to prescribe it.

Early recreational use of marijuana in the United States. A number of colorful references to the recreational use of marijuana and hashish in the nineteenth century are available. Lush descriptions of their personal experiences were published by Baudelaire, Gautier, Dumas pere, and other members of a Parisian institution, the Club des Hachichins, 31 where strong forms of marijuana were eaten. In December 1856 a young American, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, of Poughkeepsie, New York, published an account of his own marijuana-eating experiences in  Putnam's Magazine, which he then expanded to 371 pages in  The Hasheesh Eater, a book published by Harper and Brothers the following year.

Young Ludlow had read De Quincey's  Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and was probably influenced as well by the French accounts of hashish eating published in the 1840s. His interest in drugs thus kindled, he made friends with a Poughkeepsie apothecary named Anderson and soon Anderson's drugstore was his favorite "lounging place."

Here, many an hour have I sat.... [he later wrote,] and here especially, with a disregard to my own safety which would have done credit to Quintus Curtius, have I made upon myself the trial of the effects of every strange drug and chemical which the laboratory could produce. Now with the chloroform bottle beneath my nose have I set myself careering upon the wings of a thrilling and accelerating life, until I had just enough power remaining to restore the liquid to its place upon the shelf, and sink back into the enjoyment of the delicious apathy which lasted through the few succeeding moments. Now ether was substituted for chloroform, and the difference of their phenomena noted, and now some other exhilarant, in the form of an opiate or stimulant, was the instrument of my experiments, until I had run through the whole gamut of queer agents within my reach.... 32 When the circuit of all the accessible tests was completed, I ceased experimenting, and sat down like a pharmaceutical Alexander, with no more drug worlds to conquer. 33 



He was sixteen years old at this time.

One spring morning in the early 1850s, however, apothecary Anderson greeted young Ludlow with a question: "Have you seen my new acquisitions?"

Ludlow "looked toward the shelves in the direction of which he pointed, and saw, added since my last visit, a row of comely pasteboard cylinders enclosing vials of the various extracts prepared by Tilden & Co.... I approached the shelves, that I might take them in review." 34 One of the Tilden products was a marijuana extract. After consulting the United States  Dispensatory (quoted above) and Johnson's  Chemistry of Common Life, Ludlow took ten grains of it. Nothing happened. A few days later he took fifteen grains. Again nothing happened. 

Gradually, by five grains at a time, I increased the dose to thirty grains, which I took one evening half an hour after tea. I had now almost come to the conclusion that I was absolutely unsusceptible of the hasheesh influence. Without any expectation that this last experiment would be more successful than the former ones, and indeed with no realization of the manner in which the drug affected those who did make the experiment successfully, I went to pass the evening at the house of an intimate friend. In music and conversation the time passed pleasantly. The clock struck ten, reminding me that three hours had elapsed since the dose was taken, and as yet not an unusual symptom had appeared. I was provoked to think that this trial was as fruitless as its predecessors.

Ha! what means this sudden thrill? A shock, as of some unimagined vital force, shoots without warning through my entire frame, leaping to my fingers' ends, piercing my brain, startling me till I almost spring from my chair.

I could not doubt it. I was in the power of the hasheesh influence. 35

Ludlow went on eating marijuana extract on occasion for the next four years, from the age of sixteen to the age of twenty. Then he stopped, and reported his experiences at inordinate length.

Marijuana continued in use after the Civil War as a rare and exotic drug claiming relatively few devotees by twentieth-century standards. The  Scientific American reported in 1869: "The drug hashish, the cannabis indica of the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the resinous product of hemp, grown in the East Indies and other parts of Asia, is used in those countries to a large extent for its intoxicating properties and is doubtless used in this country for the same purpose to a limited extent." 36 

The December 2, 1876, issue of the  Illustrated Police News confirmed that conjecture with a drawing showing five attractive young women in exotic clothing, reclining on divans–– several of them visibly intoxicated. The drawing was captioned, "Secret Dissipation of New York Belles: Interior of a Hasheesh Hell on Fifth Avenue." Water pipes (hookahs) similar to those used for smoking hashish were conspicuously displayed. 37 The most impressive evidence of hashish smoking in nineteenth-century America appears in an anonymous * article published in  Harper's New Monthly Magazine for November 1883, entitled "A Hashish-House in New York." It opened with a dialogue:

* The  Oxford English Dictionary attributes the article to Dr. H. H. Kane, author of a standard 1880 textbook on the medical uses of morphine (see Chapter 2) and an 1882 study of opium smoking. The article was recently discovered by lexicographer David Rattray, who sent a copy to the poet Allen Ginsberg, who passed it on to Dr. Michael Aldrich of the Marijuana Research Association, who in turn made it available for this Report.

"And so you think that opium-smoking as seen in the foul cellars of Mott Street and elsewhere is the only form of narcotic indulgence of any consequence in this city, and that hashish, if used at all, is only smoked occasionally and experimentally by a few scattered individuals?"

"That certainly is my opinion, and I consider myself fairly well informed."

"Well, you are far from right, as I can prove to you.... There is a large community of hashish smokers in this city [New York], who are daily forced to indulge their morbid appetites, and I can take you to a house up-town where hemp is used in every conceivable form, and where the lights, sounds, odors, and surroundings are all arranged so as to intensify and enhance the effects......... 38 

The next night the author with his friend visited a "hasheesh house" on or near Forty-second Street west of Broadway. The hashish smokers there, the author was informed, "are about evenly divided between Americans and foreigners; indeed, the place is kept by a Greek, who has invested a great deal of money in it. All the visitors, both male and females are of the better classes, and absolute secrecy is the rule. The house has been opened about two years, I believe, and, the number of regular habitues is daily on the increase. " 39 Dr. Kane was also told: "Smokers from different cities, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and especially New Orleans, tell me that each city has its hemp retreat, but none so elegant as this." 40

The maintenance of secrecy, the date of opening (presumably 1881), and other aspects of the New York City account suggest that when police pressure was put on opium-smoking dens in New York City and elsewhere after 1875 (see Chapter 6), their place was taken by "hasheesh hells" modeled after them. 

Liquid cannabis plus ergot–– the drug from which LSD was later derived–– were taken by Frank Dudley Beane, M.D., and reported by him in the  Buffalo Medical Journal in 1884. Dr. Beane's "trip," after a period of "hilarious exhalation and constant volubility," ended in deep sleep. 41 The ready availability of hashish in candy form in Baltimore was reported in 1894 by Dr. George Wheelock Grover in his book,  Shadows Lifted or Sunshine Restored in the Horizon of Human Lives: A Treatise on the Morphine, Opium, Cocaine, Chloral and Hashish Habits: "Once while passing down the leading business street in Baltimore, I saw upon a sign above my head, 'Gungawalla Candy, Hashish Candy.' I purchased a box of the candy and, while waiting with two or three medical friends at the Eutaw House in Baltimore, determined that I would experiment upon myself [and] test the power of this drug. I took a full dose at 11 o'clock in the forenoon." Hashish taken orally is much slower-acting than smoked hashish, and Dr. Grover felt nothing for about three hours. Then the drug "manifested its peculiar witchery with scarcely prelude or warning." Dr. Grover remarked to his friends, sitting at the dining room table with him: 

It is undoubtedly here a day of jubilation or of something in the way of celebration. You perceive that the tables are set with golden plate, that the waiters all seem to be dressed in velvet costumes, and that hundreds of canary birds are singing in gilded cages. It must be a celebration of a good deal of magnitude, as the many bands of martial and orchestral music seem all to be playing at once. 42 

The occasional use of cannabis for recreational purposes continued into the twentieth century. One New York City physician, Dr. Victor Robinson, reported in 1910 that he personally had taken fluid extract of cannabis (U.S.P.) and had on several occasions supplied it to his friends–– in part out of scientific curiosity but also just for fun. 43 General John J. Pershing's troops were said to have brought marijuana back with them from Mexico where they were chasing Pancho Villa in 1915. 44

"Old persons in Kentucky report seeing colored field hands break up and load their pipes with dried flowering tops of the plants and smoke them," Dr. J. D. Reichard of Lexington, Kentucky, told a scientific meeting in 1943. 45

In short, marijuana was readily available in the United States through much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, its effects were known, and it was occasionally used for recreational purposes. But use was at best limited, local, and temporary. Not until after 1920 did marijuana come into general use–– and not until the 1960s did it become a popular drug.


Chapter 54

1. J. Bouquet, "Cannabis," United Nations  Bulletin on Narcotics, 3 (1951): 36.

2. Ibid.

3. Richard Brotman and Alfred M. Freedman, "Perspectives on Marijuana Research," prepared for Center for Studies in Substance Use, unpublished, p. 19.

4. S. S. Boyce, Hemp,  A Practical Treatise on the Culture of Hemp for Seed and. Fiber with a Sketch of the History and Nature of the Hemp Plant (New York: Orange Judd, 1900), p. 35.

5. Ibid.

6. Cited by George Andrews and Simon Vinkenoog, eds., The Book of Grass: An Anthology of Indian Hemp (New York: Grove Press 1967), p. 34.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., pp. 35-36, 41.

9. James L. Allen,  The Reign of Law (1900), cited by Robert P. Walton,  Marijuana, America's New Drug Problem (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1938), p. 45.

10. W. IV. Robbins and F. Ramalay (1933), cited by Walton,  Marijuana, p. 45.

11.  Crime in America--- A Mid-America View, Hearings before the Select Committee on Crime, House of Representatives, 91st Cong., Ist Sess., pursuant to H. R. 17, October 11, 1969, Lincoln, Nebraska (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969), p. 168.

12. Walton,  Marijuana, p. 44.

13. Richard Colestock Pillard, "Medical Progress: Marijuana," New England Journal of Medicine, 283 (August 6, 1970): 294-295.

14, Ibid., p. 295.

15. Ibid.

16. Leo E. Hollister, "Marijuana in Man: Three Years Later,"  Science, 172 (April 2, 1971): 22,

17.  The Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America (Easton, Pa.: Mack Printing, 1851), pp. 332-334.

18.  The Pharmacopeia of the United States of America, 11th ed. (Easton, Pa.: Mack Printing, 1936), p. lxviii.

19. George B. Wood and Franklin Bache, eds.,  The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 9th ed. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851), pp. 310-311.

20. J. Russell Reynolds, "On the Therapeutic Uses and Toxic Effects of Cannabis Indica,"  Lancet (March 22, 1970): 637,

21. R. R. McMeens, "Report of the Committee on Cannabis Indica," from  Transactions of the 50th Annual Meeting of the Ohio State Medical Society (Columbus, Ohio: Follett, Foster, 1860), pp. 75-100.

22. G. S. D. Anderson, "Remarks on the Remedial Virtues of Cannabis Indica, or Indian Hemp," Boston  Medical and Surgical Journal, 67 (1863): 427-430.

23. Edward J. Waring,  Practical Therapeutics (Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 18741), pp. 157-161.

24. C. W. Suckling, "On the Therapeutic Value of Indian Hemp,"  British Medical journal, 2 (1881): 12.

25. J. B. Mattison, "Cannabis Indica as an Anodyne and Hypnotic,"  St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal, 61 (1891): 265-271.

26. A. A. Stevens,  Modern Materia Medica and Therapeutics (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1903), pp. 77-78.

27. Tod H. Mikuriya, "Marijuana in Medicine, Past, Present and Future,"  California Medicine, 110 (January, 1969): 34-40,

28. W. Osler and T. MacCrae,  Principles and Practice of Medicine, 8th ed. (New York: D. Appleton, 1916), p. 1089.

29. Marty Sasman, "Cannabis Indica in Pharmaceuticals,"  Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, 35 (1938): 51-52.

30. P. H. Blachly, "Use of Amphetamines, Marijuana and LSD by Students,"  New Physician, 15 (April, 1966): 90.

31. David Solomon, ed.,  The Marijuana Papers (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966), p. 121.

32. Fitz Hugh Ludlow, "The Hasheesh Eater," quoted in Solomon,  The Marijuana Papers, pp. 148-149.

33. Ibid., p. 149.

34. Ibid.

35. Ibid., p. 150.

36.  Scientific American, 21 (September 18, 1869): 183.

37. Reprinted in the  New York Times Magazine, December 13, 1970, p. 26.

38. H. H. Kane (according to Oxford English Dictionary), "A Hashish-House in New York,"  Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November, 1883), pp. 944-949.

39. Ibid., p. 945.

40. Ibid., p. 948.

41. Quoted by Michael R. Aldrich,  Heads Hidden in the Hemp Fields (Mill Valley, Calif.: Marijuana Research Association, 1970), p. 7.

42. George Wheelock Grover,  Shadows Lifted or Sunshine Restored in the Horizon of Human Lives: A Treatise on the Morphine, Opium, Cocaine, Chloral and Hashish Habit (Chicago, 1894, quoted in Tuli Kupferberg's  Birth Magazine, no. 3, book 1 (Autumn, 1960), p. 48.

43. Victor Robinson, "Experiments With Hashish," cited in Solomon,  The Marijuana Papers, pp. 201-215.

44. Walton,  Marijuana, p. 25.

45. J. D. Reichard, "The Marijuana Problem,"  JAMA, 125 (June 24, 1944): 594-595.


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