A Short, Disjointed History of Recreational Cannabis Use, 4/20 2011 Edition

Indians eating bhang (cannabis) circa 1790

Happy 4/20 recreational drug users! 

Hey, you’re probably too young to remember when Jack Casady, the bassist for the Jefferson Airplane, admitted that, like President Ford’s son Jack, he, too, had experimented with marijuana. 

These twin bombshells dropped in October of 1975.  President’s Ford’s “shaggy-haired, free-spirited son’s”[1]admission created quite a brouhaha, making the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post

ALEXANDRIA, VA – AUGUST 9: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) President Gerald R. Ford (R) and First Lady Betty Ford (L) pose with three of their four children (L-R) Steven Ford, John “Jack” Ford (not looking all that shaggy-haired), and Susan Ford in the family home on August 9, 1974 in Alexandria, Virginia. Ford stepped into office as president that afternoon, after the resignation and departure of ex-President Richard M. Nixon. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Of course, the Airplane’s bassist’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he followed up Jack Ford’s confession with his own. After all, Jack Casady had laid down the bass licks on the Airplane’s 1967 hit “White Rabbit,” which ends with this exhortation – “Feed your head, feed your head, feed your head!”

Needless to say,[2] people had been fueling their crania via cannabis long before the double Jacks discovered its mind-altering qualities, as this soporific sentence from Wikipedia attests[3]

The oldest archeological evidence for the burning of cannabis was found in Romanian kurgans dated 3,500 BC, and scholars suggest that the drug was first used in ritual ceremonies by Proto-Indo-European tribes living in the Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Chalcolithic period, a custom they eventually spread throughout western Eurasia during the Indo-European migrations.

Not surprisingly, it was the French, the inventors of un baiser avec la langue[4], who introduced marijuana to the West. Jacques-Joseph Moreau experimented with and wrote about cannabis during his travels to North Africa and the Middle East in the late 1830s. 

In 1842, an Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy copped some quantity in Bengal and brought it back with him to Britain. Later, Charles Baudelaire got a hold of some hashish and extolled its effects. The red-eyed munchie-afflicted genie was out of the bottle. 

Baudelaire demonstrating why it’s preferable to wear shades when you’re stoned. At least with shades, people might guess you’re stoned rather than seeing for sure that you are.

I won’t bore you with the history of its criminalization/ decriminalization. Even in South Carolina, which is about as progressive as electric shock therapy, a medicinal marijuana bill made it out of committee last week in a 9-5 vote. Now, it’s headed to the full Senate. At this rate, who knows, recreational legalization might take place by the centennial of the two Jacks’ admissions in 2175!

I should add, however, that the argument about whether cannabis is a gateway drug is still in dispute, despite the appearance of Wesley Moore’s score-settling poem published over a decade ago.

On the Slave Ship Lollipop

I used to stuff my face with candy
when I was a little boy,
couldn’t cop enough Mary Janes,
would kill for an Almond Joy.

Then I graduated to the Real Thing – Coke.
I was popping five cans a day,
plopping nickels and dimes upon the counter
under caffeine and sugar’s sway.

Now I’m hooked on heroin,
am little more than a thug.
Wish I’d known then what I know now –
that sugar is the gateway drug.


[1] This hipster description comes to us from Business Insider’s website.

[2] EB White would disapprove of this transition, but he’s dead, and I don’t care. 

[3] Don’t even attempt to read the senetence if you’re stoned.

[4] Or as it was known in my hometown of Summerville, SC, “swapping spit.”