Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cannabis Britannica: The rise and demise of a Victorian wonder-drug (Lecture)

With a title like that, how could I resist watching this lecture by Professor James Mills at Gresham College? And Mills did not disappoint! Curiously enough, it would seem that the public campaign against marijuana and its eventual prohibition in Britain closely mirror the perverse incentives and series of events that led to the plant's prohibition in America.

Overview:

"In 1800 cannabis preparations were almost entirely unknown in Britain as only the medical men of the period had any interest in them and few had access to samples of the plant. However, by the 1840s cannabis was being touted as one of the wonder-drugs of the age, as doctors out in the Empire reported excitedly that it was a ‘powerful and valuable remedy in hydrophobia, tetanus, cholera and many convulsive disorders’. The Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal seized on these reports and devoted its front-page to the new medicine, and in subsequent decades the plant was used to treat everything from tetanus, to period pains and mental illness. Yet by the 1890s the House of Commons heard that 'The Lunatic Asylums of India are filled with ganja smokers' and the Government of India was ordered to conduct an enquiry into the use there of what one MP called 'the most horrible intoxicant the world has yet produced'. This lecture considers the curious career of cannabis in Victorian Britain and explores the medical entrepreneurs, the moral anxieties and the political agendas behind it."

Transcript of the lecture.