Visual Culture & Cannabis With the WSPA

On Saturday Bill Griesar, Ram Kandasamy, and Jeff Leake joined the Washington State Psychological Association to talk about the science, history, and art of cannabis use.


Artists have depicted (and used) cannabis for thousands of years. Examining this visual history both ancient and contemporary can tell us a great deal about what we have used cannabis for, how we have viewed it’s use, and how that use has informed our current views and policies.


Joos van Craesbeeck “The Smoker” 1635

“When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter – to quit paradise for earth – heaven for hell! Taste the hashish, guest of mine – taste the hashish!”
Alexander Dumas, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, 1844

So…what was cannabis used for..?


Shennong as depicted in a 1503 painting by Guo Xu

The mythical figure of Shennong, one of the five celestial emperors of ancient China purported to have lived around 2700 BCE, is supposed to have taught the ancient Chinese their practice of agriculture including the use of cannabis as a medicine.

In fact historically cannabis has been used to treat a startling array of conditions!


Although attitudes towards cannabis use vary over time and in different cultures, historically prohibition is very uncommon.

In India it was viewed as integral to the culture.


In much of Europe recreational use was seen as normal if not encouraged.


Gaetano Previati: Las Fumadoras De Hachis. (Women Smoking Hashish, 1887)

In Japan cannabis was often celebrated.

Basho the 17th century Haiku Master writes:

The cannabis- How wonderful it is!
The summer drawing room.
Trees and stones, just as they are.
Ah, how glorious!
The young leaves, the green leaves,
Glittering in the sunshine!

Even in North America it was readily available as a medicine.


Until the 1930’s…

Under Harry Anslinger’s watch as the head of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Marijuana Stamp Act was enacted and a campaign of demonization began…


Many of the claims made appear to be racially motivated.

Some of these claims still persist today.


Such as this ad against the unsuccessful amendment 2 for medical marijuana legalization in Florida earlier in 2016.

Despite this many artists and musicians continued advocating marijuana use and legalization.


“We always looked at pot as a sort of medicine, a cheap drunk and with much better thoughts than one that’s full of liquor.” Louis Armstrong


Fred Tomaselli, Super Plant, 1994. Psychoactive plant material, acrylic and resin on wood panel, 74 x 54″

However even after at least 10,000 years of history with this complex plant we know surprisingly little about its mechanisms, how it affects the human body and brain, and what real benefits and harms it can potentially have. All of which only underscores the need for more research…



Comments are closed