Cannabis Historical Timeline


Hemp (Cannabis sativa) arrived in Australia with the First Fleet at the request of Sir Joseph Banks, who marked the cargo 'commerce' in the hope that hemp would be produced commercially in the new colony, growing enough to supply the British Navy with rope! For 150 years, governments in Australia actively supported the growing of 'industrial hemp' with gifts of land and other grants.

The first Australian drug law was an Act imposing an import duty on opium, the primary purpose of the law was to discourage entry of Chinese into Australia, rather than to restrict the importation of opium itself. These first laws were carefully worded to apply to opium in smokable form only, not opium as taken by the European population. Australians in the nineteenth century were among the world's biggest consumers of opiates in patent medicines, most contained alcohol, morphine or both. Laudanum (opium and alcohol) was taken regularly by adults and children to calm them! Cannabis was not consumed on a large scale (although it was readily available for sale as cigarettes called 'Cigares de Joy' until the 1920's)

Customs Act

Australia signed the Hague International Opium Convention on narcotics (well over 100 narcotic drugs were controlled under the Convention) and extended importation controls over drugs other than opium.

The Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs imposed restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, exportation and use of cannabis, opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin allowing for medical and scientific purposes only, despite the fact that cannabis use as a medication was rare in Australia at the time.

Cannabis importation and use was prohibited by the Australian Commonwealth Government with federal legislation implementing the 1925 Geneva Convention on Opium and Other Drugs.

Australian state of Victoria enacts Poisons Act and becomes the first state to prohibit the use of cannabis; other Australian states followed suit slowly over the next three decades.

South Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.

New South Wales prohibits the use of cannabis.

Queensland prohibits the use of cannabis.

The Australian Commonwealth Government extended import restrictions on 'Indian hemp', including preparations containing hemp.

Western Australia prohibits the use of cannabis.

Tasmania prohibits the use of cannabis.

Before the 1960's
Drug use was not completely unknown, but dependent drug use was typically the result of the use of opiates after first using them for medical reasons. There were drug dependent doctors (and their wives) and a small bohemian subculture that used drugs. Many Australian arrests for drug offences involved visiting jazz musicians!

Australia signs the International Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This convention supports an obligation to make cannabis available as a medicine. Most current State and Federal cannabis control Acts in Australia are in contradiction of this.

Throughout the 1960's
Emergence of the concept of 'recreational' drug use, the consumption of cannabis, heroin, LSD and other psychoactive drugs for pleasure or spiritual enlightenment occurred for the first time, and in Australia, drug use became widespread, if not mainstream, rather than an activity pursued by a few painters or poets. The official response was increased law enforcement, and legislative change to extend the range of offences and increased penalties for drug offences.

The Vietnam War contributed to the significant increase in drug consumption in Australia with US soldiers on 'rest and recreation' leave creating a market for cannabis and other illicit drugs and providing a glamorous example for the locals. The 'old' Australian drug laws were mostly under the various state Poisons Acts, reflecting an underlying approach of regulation and control of medicinal substances, with potentially addictive drugs legally available only on a doctor's prescription.

By 1970
All the states had enacted 'new' drug laws introducing a distinction between use, possession and supply offences. Penalties for possession and use increased and very substantial penalties were introduced for drug supply, especially supply of large quantities ('drug trafficking').
The Federal and State Governments adopted a National Drug Strategy which included a pragmatic mixture of prohibition and a stated objective of harm reduction. Harm reduction has been an official part of Australian drugs policy ever since, although most resources by far are devoted to policing and border patrol attempts at interdiction ('supply reduction'). In all states, the impact of prohibitionist laws on drug users is somewhat modified by a number of diversion programs, diverting some eligible users from the criminal justice system to cautions or treatment.


Emperor Fu His

2900 BC Chinese Emperor Fu His References Cannabis as a Popular Medicine

"The Chinese Emperor Fu His (ca. 2900 BC), whom the Chinese credit with bringing civilisation to China, seems to have made reference to Ma, the Chinese word for Cannabis, noting that Cannabis was very popular medicine that possessed both yin and yang."

Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History, 2003 Robert Deitch 

Emperor Shen Nung

2700 BC Chinese Emperor Shen Nung Said to Discover Healing Properties of Cannabis

"According to Chinese legend, the emperor Shen Nung (circa 2700 BC; also known as Chen Nung [considered the Father of Chinese medicine] ) discovered cannabis' healing properties as well as those of two other mainstays of Chinese herbal medicine, ginseng and ephedra."

Marijuana as Medicine: Beyond the Controversy, 2001 Janet Joy, PhD and Alison Mack

1500 BC Earliest Written Reference to Medical Cannabis in Chinese Pharmacopoeia

"The use of cannabis for purposes of healing predates recorded history. The earliest written reference is found in the 15th century BC Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the Rh-Ya."

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)  Marijuana Research Findings: 1976, 1977

1450 BC Book of Exodus References Holy Anointing Oil Made from Cannabis

"Holy anointing oil, as described in the original Hebrew version of the recipe in Exodus (30:22-23), contained over six pounds of kaneh-bosem, a substance identified by respected etymologists, linguists, anthropologists, botanists and other researchers as cannabis, extracted into about six quarts of olive oil, along with a variety of other fragrant herbs. The ancient anointed ones were literally drenched in this potent mixture."

"Was Jesus a Stoner?," High Times Magazine, Feb. 10, 2003 Chris Bennett

"Marijuana proponents suggest that the recipe for the anointing oil passed from God to Moses included cannabis, or kaneh-bosm in Hebrew. They point to versions calling for fragrant cane, which they say was mistakenly changed to the plant calamus in the King James version of the Bible."

"Cannabis Involved in Christ's Anointment?," National Post, Apr. 22, 2010 Shannon Kari

[Editor's Note: The Revell Bible Dictionary (1990), by Lawrence O. Richards, estimates that the events of the Book of Exodus occurred around 1450 BC.]

1213 BC Egyptians Use Cannabis for Glaucoma, Inflammation, and Enemas

Cannabis pollen is found on the mummy of Ramesses II, who died in 1213 BC. Prescriptions for cannabis in Ancient Egypt include treatment for the eyes (glaucoma), inflammation, and cooling the uterus, as well as administering enemas.

An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, 1989 Lise Manniche, PhD

1000 BC Bhang, a Drink of Cannabis and Milk, Is Used in India as an Anaesthetic

Bhang, a cannabis drink generally mixed with milk, is used as an anaesthetic and anti-phlegmatic in India. Cannabis begins to be used in India to treat a wide variety of human maladies.

US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding,", 1972

700 BC Medical Use of Cannabis in the Middle East Recorded in the Venidad

 "The Venidad, one of the volumes of the Zend-Avesta, the ancient Persian religious text written around the seventh century BC purportedly by Zoroaster (or Zarathustra), the founder of Zoroastrianism, and heavily influenced by the Vedas, mentions bhang and lists cannabis as the most important of 10,000 medicinal plants."

Cannabis: A History, 2005 Martin Booth

600 BC Indian Medicine Treatise Cites Cannabis as a Cure for Leprosy

"Cannabis was used in India in very early medical applications. People believed it could quicken the mind, prolong life, improve judgment, lower fevers, induce sleep and cure dysentery...

The first major work to lay out the uses of cannabis in [Indian] medicine was the Ayurvedic [a system of Indian medicine] treatise of Sushruta Samhita written in 600 BC... Within the Sushrita, cannabis is cited as an anti-phlegmatic and a cure for leprosy."

Cannabis, 2002 Jonathon Green

200 BC Medical Cannabis Used in Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, cannabis is used as a remedy for earache, edema, and inflammation.

US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse  "Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding,", 1972

Chinese ideogram
for marijuana 
1 AD Ancient Chinese Text Recommends Cannabis for More Than 100 Ailments

"In a compendium of drug recipes compiled in 1 AD [Pen Ts'ao Ching], based on traditions from the time of Shen Nung, cannabis is depicted as an ideogram [pictorial symbol] of plants drying in a shed. This ancient text... recommends cannabis for more than 100 ailments, including gout, rheumatism, malaria, and absentmindedness."

Marijuana as Medicine: Beyond the Controversy, 2001 Janet Joy, PhD and Alison Mack

30 AD Jesus Allegedly Uses Anointing Oil Made with Cannabis

"In the Bible’s New Testament, Jesus... anointed [his disciples] with [a] potent entheogenic [psychoactive substance] oil, sending out the 12 apostles to do the same [around the year 30 AD]... 

Likewise, after Jesus' passing, James suggests that anyone of the Christian community who was sick should call to the elders to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus..."

"Was Jesus a Stoner?," High Times Magazine, Feb. 10, 2003 Chris Bennett

"So, did Jesus use cannabis? I think so. The word Christ does mean 'the anointed one' and Bennett contends that Christ was anointed with chrism, a cannabis-based oil, that caused his spiritual visions. The ancient recipe for this oil, recorded in Exodus, included over 9lb of flowering cannabis tops (known as kaneh-bosem in Hebrew), extracted into a hin (about 11? pints) of olive oil, with a variety of other herbs and spices. The mixture was used in anointing and fumigations that, significantly, allowed the priests and prophets to see and speak with Yahweh.

Residues of cannabis, moreover, have been detected in vessels from Judea and Egypt in a context indicating its medicinal, as well as visionary, use. Jesus is described by the apostle Mark as casting out demons and healing by the use of this holy chrism. Earlier, from the time of Moses until the later prophet Samuel, holy anointing oil was used by the shamanic Levite priesthood to receive the 'revelations of the Lord'. The chosen ones were drenched in this potent cannabis oil."

"Did Jesus Use Cannabis?" The Sunday Times, Jan. 12, 2003 Carl Ruck, PhD

Illustration of a cannabis plant
from De Materia Medica
70 AD Roman Medical Text Cites Cannabis to Treat Earaches and Suppress Sexual Longing

"Pedanius Dioscorides (circa AD 40-90), a Greek physician who was a Roman army doctor and traveled widely on campaigns throughout the Roman empire, studied many plants, gathering his knowledge into a book he titled De Materia Medica (On Medical Matters). Published about AD 70 it became the most important medical tome of the next 1500 years. Irrefutably included in it was cannabis, both kannabis emeros and kannabis agria, the male and female respectively. Dioscorides stated bluntly that the plant which was used in the making of rope also produced a juice that was used to treat earache and suppress sexual longing."

Cannabis: A History, 2005 Martin Booth

79-90 AD Pliny the Elder Writes about Medicinal Properties of Cannabis Plant

"Pliny the Elder, an ancient Roman nobleman, scientist, and historian, author of Naturalis Historia (79 AD), [writes] that 'The roots [of the cannabis plant] boiled in water ease cramped joints, gout too and similar violent pain.'"

"Discovery and Isolation of Anandamide and Other Endocannabinoids," Chemistry and Biodiversity, Aug. 2007 Lumír Ondrej Hanuš, Doctor of Sciences, CSc, RNDr  

200 AD Chinese Surgeon Hua T'o Uses Cannabis Resin and Wine as Anaesthetic

Chinese surgeon Hua T'o performed surgeries such as "organ grafts, resectioning of intestines, laparotomies (incisions into the loin), and thoracotomies (incisions into the chest)... rendered painless by means of ma-yo, an anaesthetic made from cannabis resin and wine."

Marihuana, the First Twelve Thousand Years, 1980 Ernest L. Abel, PhD

800-900 AD Cannabis Used as Medicine in Arabic World by Some, Labeled "Lethal Poison" by Others

"Cannabis was used medicinally across the Arabic world in Roman times, applied to a wide variety of ailments (from migraines to syphilis) and as an analgesic and anaesthetic. 

The great ninth-century Islamic physician Rhazès... prescribed it widely; a contemporary, the Arab physician Ibn Wahshiyah, warned of the potential effects of hashish which he wrote was a lethal poison."

Cannabis: A History, 2005 Martin Booth

1500 AD Muslim Doctors Use Cannabis to Reduce Sexuality

"After the 1500s, once Islam spread to India, Moslem doctors used the Persian theories to guide their use of cannabis. Their applications tended to stress the late effects, rather than the early ones, so they used it, for instance, as a means of reducing sexuality rather than increasing it."

"The Religious and Medicinal Uses of Cannabis in China, India, and Tibet," Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Jan.-Mar. 1981 Mia Touw

1538 AD Hemp Used During Middle Ages

"During the Middle Ages, hemp was central to any herbalist's medicine cabinet. William Turner, the naturalist considered the first English botanist, praises it in his New Herball, published in 1538."

Cannabis: A History, 2005 Martin Booth

1578 AD Chinese Medical Text Describes Medical Uses for Cannabis

"A Chinese medical text (1578 AD) [Bencao Gangmu Materia Medica, by Li Shizhen] describes the use of cannabis to treat vomiting, parasitic infections, and hemorrhage. Cannabis continues to be used in China as a folk remedy for diarrhea and dysentery and to stimulate to appetite."

Marijuana as Medicine: Beyond the Controversy, 2001 Janet Joy, PhD and Alison Mack