October 7, 2014  |  


What do Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Maya Angelou and well over 100 million Americans all have in common? They’ve all smoked pot. Throughout its history, marijuana has attracted plenty of unexpected users and proponents. And much of the history of greenery is now familiar to us—thanks to History Channel specials, the burgeoning legalization movement and the popularity of anti-pot propaganda films like Reefer Madness. But even if you’re intimately familiar with the plant in all its forms, we’re willing to wager that some of these facts will surprise you.

1. The first known potheads lived in ancient China, circa 2,727 BC. Emperor Shen Nung helpfully compiled an encyclopedic list of drugs and their uses, which includes “ma,” or cannabis. But ancient Chinese weed consumption is indicated by more than just written records: Six years ago, archaeologists on a dig in the Gobi Desert found the world’s oldest pot stash in the grave of a shaman of the Gushi tribe. The purpose of the cannabis was easily identified because the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, had been removed.

The Chinese certainly weren’t the only ancient culture to enjoy toking. The Greeks and Romans used marijuana, as did the citizens of the Islamic empires. In 1545, Spanish conquistadors introduced it to the New World when they began planting cannabis seed in Chile to be used for fiber.

2. You probably heard that a bunch of the Founding Fathers grew weed, but did you know the details?

Technically, you can’t really classify them as pot farmers because they were growing hemp, which is not the same cannabis variety that you’ll find in a joint. Hemp and pot are the same species— cannabis sativa—but the hemp variety has a lower THC content and was useful instead as a source of fiber for those distinguished dudes’ duds.

But debate continues about whether the Founding Fathers actually smoked cannabis in addition to growing it. While many traditional sources say there’s no evidence of it, other, less buttoned-down ones—including, predictably, High Times—contend that there is.

One factor that muddies the water and the Internet is an oft-repeated Thomas Jefferson “quote” that experts agree is not legit. Although he was a hemp farmer, Thomas Jefferson never said: “Some of my finest hours have been spent sitting on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”

Admittedly, that’s a pretty difficult image to forget.

3. Hashish, which is a compressed or purified form of pot resin, became faddish in the mid-1800s,

As a result of its prominence in popular novels of the era, including two classics: The Count of Monte Cristo and Arabian Nights, an early English translation of One Thousand and One Nights.

In one scene fit to make any DARE instructor shudder, the Count of Monte Cristo virtually coerces another character into a mind-bending hashish adventure, urging, “Taste the hashish, guest, taste the hashish!”

Arabian Nights meanwhile contains multiple references to hashish, including the story “The Tale of the Hashish Eater.” Both Monte Cristo and Arabian Nights found wide audiences due to their exotic settings, foreign cultures and adventure plots that heightened the allure of the drug described on the pages. Contemporary readers who would never had the opportunity to visit Persia could at least cop a little bit of Persia off seafaring vessels from foreign ports.

4. Pot’s reputation began to go south when the first English-language newspaper started in Mexico in the 1890s. Sensationalized stories of marijuana-induced violence gave the drug a bad rap, although pot didn’t really hit the US until after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, when a flood of Mexican immigrants moved north, bringing their favorite weed.

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