Nowadays, there aren’t many heads of state which have a documented record of cannabis use. Things used to be different in the past though! Queen Victoria of England (1819-1901) as well as “Sissi”, Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) of Austria are both known to have been prescribed and regularly use cannabis. They consumed it by preparing alcoholic extracts of the plant, though during Victoria’s reign another popular consumption method was to make tea1. The Queen’s physician had read O’Shaughnessy’s works (mentioned in the previous newsletter) and identified cannabis as a suitable medicine to treat Victoria’s painful illnesses. Sissy, on the other hand, was an advocate of natural medicines and treated a persistent cough with it2.
Despite this initial acceptance of cannabis in modern times, things started to change quickly. With the prohibition of cannabis in the 19th to 20th century, ironically started by the country whose declaration of independence was signed on hemp paper, scientific research on the plant was made practically impossible2. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act gave sole authority over drug related studies in the USA to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics1. Moreover, private production or consumption of cannabis was made illegal. Following the example of the USA, many countries in Europe and Asia started to enforce prohibition laws. The Netherlands prohibited its trade in 1928 and finally criminalized the plant in 19533. Cannabis was quickly replaced in the medical sector by other substances with sedative or analgesic (pain relieving) effects such as aspirin.