Brief history of marijuana in Mexico

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This story originally appeared on Unknown Mexico

Brief history of marijuana in Mexico
Brief history of marijuana in Mexico

Editor’s note: In the “Negocios Icónicos” series from our sister site México Desconocido, we will be reviewing the history of products, companies and brands that made history every week.

Surely you know an aunt, a neighbor or even your grandmother who, for example, cures rheumatic pain and uses alcohol fortified with marijuana. We have heard with increasing frequency that this controversial plant has many beneficial properties for health, but how much do we know about its history and how is its use for medicinal purposes regulated in Mexico?

Let’s start at the beginning.

How did marijuana come to Mexico?

For a long time it was believed that marijuana was Mesoamerican, but its origin is indeed Asian. This plant has traveled all over the world and arrived in Mexico with the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who brought it in his boats on hemp ropes. It was Hernán Cortés who imported various plants from Europe and Asia, including cannabis sativa and indica, to stimulate the economy in New Spain.

Hernan Cortes
Hernan Cortes

Originally, hemp seeds were imported to make textiles, which made marijuana growing rapidly. In 1532, the Second Royal Audience by the Governor Don Sebastián Ramírez de Fuenleal officially approved the planting of hemp for textile use. It was King Carlos V who gave permission and ordered the natives to be taught to spin and weave them. The flesh of God or teonanácatl (mushrooms) and peyote, the toloatzin (seed of the virgin) and the picietl or yetl known as rustic nicotine (tobacco) were also included. All of these substances have been used to get into a trance and have visions or dreams. Despite the fact that its consumption was violently persecuted by the conquerors, it was never forgotten.

The use of marijuana in Mexico

It is said that the Franciscan Bishop Juan de Zumárraga claimed that marijuana was what the indigenous people needed to “be happy”.

According to Juan Pablo García-Vallejo, in his book The Scattered History of Marijuana in Mexico, he refers to Jesuit priests as the first to spread the medicinal use of hemp in northwestern Mexico.

García-Vallejo also says that cannabis use was also transmitted by African slaves who never gave up their ritual medicine and cults. It was the shamans and healers who accepted this knowledge.

The peyote cut
Jacqueline Castellón Fuentes

The indigenous people of Mexico already had a tradition of ritual and medicinal use of natural substances such as God’s meat or teonanácatl (mushrooms), peyote, toloatzin (seeds of the virgin), and picietl or yetl, known as rustic nicotine (tobacco). When marijuana first arrived in Mexico, they quickly discovered the benefits of consuming it for both daily living and religious use.

It is possible that smoked marijuana was also consumed at the time, as Viceroy Luis de Velasco and Ruiz de Alarcón restricted its use in 1550 because “the natives began to use it not just to make strings”.

On its medical use, centuries later, texts such as that of Juan de Esteyneffer in his treatise Medical Florilegium of All Diseases from 1712 He claimed that hemp seeds were used in horchata for gonorrhea, or that rubbing and bathing were used to regulate the menstrual cycle or decrease the amount of milk after giving birth. Years later, in 1772, José Antonio Alzate entered Reminder of the use that the Indians make of the pipiltzintzintlis describes that this plant has a calming effect and can be used against muscle and toothache.

European doctors spread the word about the pharmacological use of cannabis. In fact, Queen Victoria used it to relieve menstrual cramps. When the news reached Mexico, Mexican doctors included various marijuana compounds in their recipe books to cure various ailments such as hemorrhoids, colic, bowel moods, bleeding, and joint pain.

In a story by Guillermo Prieto from 1857, he ethnographically describes the unusual customs of an indigenous Otomí community in the municipality of San Juan del Río, Querétaro, whose caciques – in a ritually divine experience – smoked marijuana to get into a cannabis trance to judge whether the marriage of their children should or should not be realized.

Around 1860, the Mexico City press advertised “Indian cigars out Cannabis indica‘, Marketed by Grimault and Company, Paris Pharmaceuticals.

The 20th Century and Prohibition

The use of marijuana was popular until the 20th century. The famous for the Mexican Revolution Barrel of the spoonthat “he can’t walk because he hasn’t, because he lacks marijuana to smoke.”

It was 1920 when the manufacture, marketing and use of the facility was banned and the Regulations on the trade and cultivation of products that degenerate the breed.

Woman smokes marijuana. INAH media library

Luis Astorga documents in his book “Drugs Without Frontiers” that the US Congress passed the marijuana tax bill in 1937, against the advice of the American Medical Association, making it expensive and difficult to obtain. As a result, and under pressure from the United States, he also banned marijuana in Mexico, regardless of whether President Antonio López de Santa Ana was firmly against it.

A year later, Dr. Leopoldo Salazar Viniegra wrote his article The myth of marijuana, in which he affirmed that the use of marijuana did not cause unconsciousness or criminal impulses and considered the penalties for crimes against health already prescribed by Mexican law to be excessive and unjustified.

The time of legalization

Salazar Viniegra’s words were studied and in 1940 drug use was legalized in Mexico for almost five months during the government of Lázaro Cárdenas. But this stimulating decision did not please the American authorities and soon had to be exterminated.

In 1947 it was decided that control of substances would be transferred to the attorney general’s office and penalties for crimes against health increased. This consolidated the security approach to drug control and consequently criminalized sellers and users of cannabis.

Despite the ban, consumption, planting, and marketing of the plant increased in both Mexico and the United States in the decades that followed.

The last few decades

Over time, the regulations have changed.

In 1984, Article 235 of the General Health Act stated that sowing, cultivation, harvesting, elaboration, preparation, conditioning, acquisition, possession, trade, transport in any form, medical prescription , the supply, the employment, the use, consumption and in general any act related to narcotics or products containing them. “

Ten years later, in 1994, reforms of the Penal Code were changed and the number of years of punishment for trade, traffic, traffic and supply increased. and the penalties for sowing, growing and harvesting have been reduced.

Medical use today

Regarding the medicinal use of cannabis, the problem didn’t reach the authorities until 2015. The case was that of the Least Graciela Elizadle, a little girl diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In the absence of treatments for her illness, a judge gave a poppy flower so that the girl’s father could import cannabis oil, which is high in cannabidol (CBD), for his daughter to treat the 400+ seizures she had a day.

The family that created little Graciela Foundation By Grace, dedicated to the education about medical cannabis and the use of cannabidiol in epilepsy.

On January 7, 2017, the Constituent Assembly of Mexico City amended the Magna Carta to expand the rights to use the plant and its derivatives for therapeutic purposes.

On April 29, 2017, the Chamber of Deputies approved the medical and scientific uses of cannabis and its derivatives. Two months later, on June 19, 2017, Congress of Mexico approved the new ordinance decriminalizing the medical and scientific uses of marijuana.

There are currently associations that, through their network of lawyers and doctors, are responsible for providing advice to those interested in the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

One example is that Anand Foundationto, an interdisciplinary civil association that connects patients with health professionals to promote cannabis medicine in Mexico, as an alternative option under safe protocols for the treatment of various diseases or degenerative diseases.

This place aims to combat the social stigma of cannabis use in alternative medicine and to assert its position through national and international scientific dissemination of the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and its alternative uses to treat diseases such as Tourette’s Syndrome, Huntington’s Disease ,
Fibromyalgia, cerebrovascular seizure, withdrawal syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, depression, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, muscle cramps, rash, and pain.

Without a doubt, this is a new stage in the history of this plant that has been used as a remedy for the prevention and cure of diseases for centuries.


  • Astorga L. Drugs Without Borders. Mexico: DeBolsillo; 2015.
  • Leonardo Oliva. Lessons in pharmacology, 1853. Crescencio García. Fragments for Mexican Materia Medica, 1859.
  • Official Journal of the Federation.

We want to know your opinion. What do you think about the use of medical cannabis?

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