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1930: What Was Cannabis up to BEFORE Reefer Madness?

Emily Robertson
Indica plaster for corns and bunions vintage

Seven times citizens of the 1930s knew more about cannabis than you.

In the United States, cannabis medicine was labeled, by law, as a poison as early as 1906. Prohibition movements began in the 1920s and by the mid 1930s, cannabis was regulated as a drug in every state.  It was then outlawed for use of any kind with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Up to this time, use of the plant in a variety of medicinal and recreational forms was commonplace. But what were its uses? How did people in 1930s America use cannabis? You’ll recognize some of its functions, but others may seem right out of the blue.

Tea Pad Record A Place Where Marijuana is Smoked

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Tea Pad Was Another Name for Cannabis Lounge

Passing a joint around a circle is by no means a modern invention. ‘Tea Pads’ of 1920s/1930s Harlem were inspired by Jazz culture, and could be thought of as a more innocent and less addictive form of an opium den. Rooms consisting of cozy sofas and chairs hosted anyone who wanted to share a good blaze with others while listening to music.

And even these were by no means the first time smoke rooms were used. French writers and intellects of the 1840s, including Dumas and Baudelaire, began Le Club des Hashishins to enjoy cannabis.

Indica plaster for corns and bunions vintage

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Bunions and Corns Healed By Cannabis Plaster

While you may generally associate bunions and corns with your granny’s feet, these uncomfortable foot ailments affect all ages of people. And back in the 1930s, cannabis was a common treatment for them.

In modern times, we still use cannabis creams to treat the pain and inflammation that accompanies these foot conditions.  Cannabis also has antibacterial properties that are recommended for psoriasis and eczema treatments.

Indian Asthma cigarettes with cannabis

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‘Cannabis Cigarettes’ for Easing Asthma

It may seem counterintuitive to smoke in order to help your asthma, but in the early twentieth century ‘Indian Cigarettes’ by Grimault Corporation were believed to help asthma. While there may be a lot of issues with with this treatment, Grimault may have been onto something.

A study conducted in Israel has since hinted at the ability of some cannabinoids to reduce the inflammation caused by asthma. Of course, we don’t recommend smoking cannabis to treat lung disease, but tinctures and oils could certainly help.

Cannabis powder in vintage medicine bottle

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Cannabis for Gonorrhea?

One of the strangest uses for medical cannabis is its treatment of gonorrhea. Wm. S. Merrell of Ohio produced a range of medical cannabis products, some of which included licorice and orange peel. While it sounds like it may have smelled or tasted lovely, the product, Bromo-Chloral, also contained the potent sedative and hypnotic chemical called chloral hydrate. Additionally, it doesn’t appear that cannabis actually can treat gonorrhea, but merely relieved symptoms. Cannabis was the go to medicine before the prominence of sulfur drugs and penicillin. We’d recommend sticking with modern medical treatments for this sexually transmitted disease.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Before Antibiotics

Similarly to gonorrhea, there’s actually no proof that cannabis can treat UTIs. That didn’t stop physicians from recommending its use for UTIs in the 1930s. Cannabis tinctures were believed to treat this – as well as many other conditions of the genital regions.

Vintage cannabis medicine called female remedy

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Women’s Issues Erased By Cannabis

Those pesky women – always complaining of PMS, stomach pain, ‘nervous depression’, melancholia, hysteria, and tormenting society with their over active sex drives. Fortunately, cannabis in the form of Lloyd Specific Medicine can help! Really any problem that made women ‘crazy’ could be cured with cannabis in the form of this brand tincture. At least they got the treatment for PMS and depression right…

Sedative and Antispasmodic Properties of Cannabis

This may be the one use for cannabis of which most people are familiar today. Eli Lilly and Company created a Cannabis Fluid Extract that was to be used as a narcotic, sedative, or antispasmodic. However this extract is no laughing matter. Being 80% alcohol, their Cannabis Fluid Extract was labeled as a poison. You certainly can’t find anything like it today, but cannabis is still viewed as an effective antispasmodic for those who suffer seizures. It’s sedation qualities are also well established.

Old Cannabis Medicine Bottle

While they may not have completely harnessed the medicinal prowess of cannabis, people of  1930s America really did know how to appreciate cannabis.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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