Cannabis in Canada (and the Confederacy)

Wikipedia

Earlier on this blog I suggested that a slight change in the lyrics to “O Canada” might end up being Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most lasting legacy. I had forgotten about the legalization of cannabis use, which is likely to be of much greater importance. As of October of last year, the recreational consumption of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, has been legalized – not just decriminalized, but legalized. Thus an entire above-board industry has sprung up, which includes trade journals like TheGrowthOp.com (get it?). This journal, run by Postmedia, recently published a story of local historical significance, which I excerpt:

Did the South lose the Civil War because they were too high?

Union general Ulysses S. Grant famously fought the civil war in an alcoholic haze.

The North is believed to have won battles for the singular reason that, unlike the blockaded South, they could get their troops absolutely blasted on coffee.

The war also left an estimated 400,000 injured soldiers addicted to morphine. One of them, John Pemberton, would later try to kick smack by inventing a cocaine-laced tonic named Coca-Cola.

But amid the drifting musket smoke of the War Between the States, there is evidence that at least a few of the blue and the gray may have been high on cannabis.

The evidence is a series of 1860s American newspaper advertisements for “Hasheesh Candy.” “A pleasurable and harmless stimulant,” read one 1862 ad in Vanity Fair.

One particularly long-winded advertisement in the Good Samaritan and Daily Physician touted hasheesh candy as a cure-all beloved by both sides of the bloody conflict.

The company claimed they had received a letter from Ulysses Grant praising hasheesh candy as “of great value for the wounded and feeble.”

Grant’s Confederate rival, Robert E. Lee, even praised hash as a strategic advantage. “I wish it was in my power to place a Dollar Box of the HASHEESH CANDY in the pocket of every Confederate Soldier, because I am convinced that it speedily relieves Debility, Fatigue and Suffering,” he allegedly wrote.

There were no advertising standards councils in the 1860s, so these quotes should be accepted with a hefty dose of skepticism. For one thing, they appear in no official biographies of either Lee or Grant.

And, with a civil war to fight, it seems unlikely that either general had time to be sending fan mail to an obscure candy drug company.

But hasheesh candy was just one of a handful of patent medicines from the era boasting about the benefits of “extract of cannabis indica.” A product called James’ Extract of Cannabis Indica claimed to purify “all the fluids of the human system.”

Meanwhile, it’s entirely likely that some raw cannabis was getting into military ranks, particularly in the Confederacy. The South was the only side of the warring states that shared a border with Mexico, where “marihuana” was already being rolled into cigarettes.

A century later, cannabis would emerge as a much more influential factor in the Vietnam War. According to a 1971 U.S. Department of Defense report, more than half of the Vietnam-era U.S. military had used marijuana.

A major difference in the 1860s is that nobody would have seen cannabis as a bad thing. The United States of 1860s at the time had some incredibly suffocating social strictures by the standards of today. But when it came to drugs and privately owned weapons almost everything was fair game.

There’s a bit more at the link, although the headline is as stupidly sensational as the “Native Genocide caused the Little Ice Age!” story noted below. I doubt that some drugstore elixir had much effect on the outcome of the Civil War one way or the other. Still, it’s interesting to note just how far back the use of these drugs goes.

My Canadian contacts inform me that not much has changed in the country, which I suppose is understandable. A lot of people smoked pot when it wasn’t legal; now that it is they are simply continuing their habits. But since smoking anything in public is pretty much banned, non-users do not have to endure the smell of pot smoke as they walk down the street. And I should think that the vast majority of people who did not smoke pot before did so for other reasons than the drug’s lack of legality, and there has been no great stampede of people anxious to try it out. 

I feel compelled to state that I am much more chary of marijuana than its fans are. No, it doesn’t make you violent like booze can, but it seems to me that smoking pot messes with your brain in a way that alcohol doesn’t. There’s the whole connection to schizophrenia thing, and the fact that the daily smokers I’ve known generally appear humorless and not very bright – like they’ve lost the spark of life. Don’t do it – or if you simply must, “please smoke responsibly.”

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