Cannabis Britannica: The Rise and Demise of a

Cannabis Britannica: The rise and
demise of a Victorian wonder-drug
Professor James Mills
University of Strathclyde
Why were cannabis preparations heralded as
popular medicines in the middle of the 1800s
and yet subjected to a Parliamentary
condemnation and a Commission of Inquiry
by the end of the century?
Cannabis in south Asia
cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, Indian hemp, marijuana
Ganja is the dried flower head/smoked
Bhang is the ground leaves and stalks/drunk
Charas/Hashish is the dried exudation/ smoked.
Majum is a green sweetmeat/ eaten
Muddat is a preparation of hemp and opium
Cannabis and British Medicine
W. Ainslie, Materia Medica of Hindoostan and Artisan’s
and Agriculturist’s Nomenclature, (Gvt Press Madras
Majum: This electuary is much used by the Mahometans
particularly the more dissolute who take it internally to
intoxicate and ease pain and not unfrequently from an
overdose of it, produce a temporary mental
Cannabis and British Medicine
WB O’Shaughnessy, Professor of Chemistry and Medicine
in the Medical College of Calcutta, Government Chemical
Examiner, Knighted in 1856 (4000 miles of telegraph line)
‘Powerful and valuable remedy in hydrophobia, tetanus,
cholera and many convulsive disorders’
The Bengal Pharmacopoeia and General Conspectus of
Medicinal Plants, (Calcutta 1844).
Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal (BMJ)
Royal Medico-Botanical Society, London February 22
Cannabis and the House of Commons 1893/4
Mark Stewart MP 16 July 1891
To ask the Under-Secretary of State for India whether his
attention has been called to the statement in the
Allahabad Pioneer of the 10th May last that ganja 'which
is grown, sold and excised under much the same
conditions as opium', is far more harmful than opium, and
that 'the lunatic asylums of India are filled with ganja
Cannabis and the House of Commons 1893/4
William Sproston Caine MP
Here and there throughout the bazar are little shops
whose entire stock consists of a small lump of greenish
pudding, which is being retailed out in tiny cubes. This is
another ‘Government monopoly’ and is a preparation of
the deadly bhang or Indian hemp known in Turkey and
Egypt as Haseesh, the most horrible intoxicant the world
has yet produced
Picturesque India: A handbook for European Travellers
Indian Hemp Drugs Commission 1893/4
3 Indians, 5 British Officials
266 days, 8 volumes
1. Cannabis not cause crime.
2. Asylum statistics unreliable
3. Moderate use harmless
4. Excessive use may cause mental health problems.
i. The history of cannabis and the British extends beyond the
1960s into the nineteenth-century
ii. For much of this history cannabis has been confused with
other drugs like alcohol and opium
iii. Attitudes and approaches towards it have often been
shaped by wider agendas and prejudices