The best books about the history of cannabis

Chris S. Duvall Author Of The African Roots of Marijuana
By Chris S. Duvall

The Books I Picked & Why

Cannabis: Global Histories

By Lucas Richert, Jim Mills

Cannabis: Global Histories

Why this book?

Although this book is written by and for professional historians, it’s really accessible and provides a great geographic range of chapter-length cases of the plant’s past. This book is where to go for a sound knowledge of the plant’s worldwide past. The chapters cover places and times ranging from 19th-century France to apartheid-era South Africa and post-revolutionary Iran—and many of the studies aren’t published elsewhere.


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Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise

By Lina Britto

Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise

Why this book?

The association between Colombia and cocaine is strong in popular culture, but the cocaine economy rose upon the country’s experience with marijuana production and trafficking starting in the 1970s. Britto completed remarkable research, on the ground with people who were involved in marijuana trading. This is one of a few books that offer such a window into the illegal world of cannabis.


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Hashish

By Robert Connell Clarke

Hashish

Why this book?

This is a fascinating book, for two reasons. First, Clarke is a founder of modern cannabis studies. His knowledge of the plant’s history, botany, horticulture, and processing is vast, and arose through hard work starting in the 1970s, when “cannabis research” was a joke. Academics can find much to quibble about this book, but it gives an enjoyable and pretty sound history of hashish, which is a high-potency form of psychoactive cannabis. Second, for those who have no knowledge of drug production, the photos and descriptions of cannabis processing are a remarkable window into a hidden world.


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Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West

By Nick Johnson

Grass Roots: A History of Cannabis in the American West

Why this book?

Two books entitled Grass Roots were published in 2017. I recommend the other one too (by Emily Dufton), but for this list I chose Nick Johnson’s book because it’s less well known. Dufton provides an excellent social history of cannabis in the U.S. Johnson gives us an environmental history of the western U.S. that is remarkable because of its many facets, including migrant labor in the 1920s, indoor horticulture starting in the 1970s, and pollution in national forests in the present. Today’s marijuana is hugely damaging to the environment, and Johnson argues that federal legalization, and the regulation that would accompany it, are necessary to make marijuana sustainable.


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Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission 1893-94 Volume 1 Report

By W. Mackworth Young

Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission 1893-94 Volume 1 Report

Why this book?

If you’re interested in cannabis history, you should read original accounts of people in the past who used the plant. There is a huge source of literature, but this book is the most thorough study of cannabis in past society. When it was written by a colonial government commission in the 1890s, India had a centuries-old cannabis economy that supplied the world. Indian farmers, processors, and consumers had incredible expertise, and the British authorities couldn’t decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Read this and decide for yourself. And don’t try to buy this book—you’ll find a full copy on Google Books.


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