Cannabis Culture 101 – Everything You Need to Know

Though cannabis has been around for millennia, many are only just beginning to join cannabis culture.

Cannabis culture is broadly defined as a social setting where conduct is dependent on cannabis consumption, whether through recreational or medical purposes.

This culture began in various parts of Asia and Africa. But in the modern world, it’s become a staple of western civilization. Since the countercultures of the mid-1900’s, such as the beatniks and hippies, marijuana has slowly crept its way into the mainstream.

Now, we are seeing a fight for cannabis to no longer be so much a culture as much a normal part of everyday life.

Throughout this article, we’re going to observe cannabis culture’s history and, from there, see how it plays out in today’s role. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Society and the Arts

Within American history, cannabis was seen as a recreational drug used by those of a lower class. Usually sold in clubs labeled “Teapads” where jazz was popular.¹

Up until the early 1930’s, cannabis consumption was (for the most part) legal. However, after it was outlawed, many people began consuming in secret.

Part of the culture in today’s society goes against this past secrecy by smoking cannabis in public settings. Such culture events can be seen on cannabis holidays, such as 420 (April 20th). Stoners from across the country gather to a public place and consume cannabis together (especially, at the time of 4:20 pm).²

Since cannabis has psychoactive effects, through the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), many claim it increases their ability to be creative. This claim is furthered by many popular artists, from musicians to painters to writers, and isn’t just pinpointed to influencers of the drug-culture.

The Cultures of Cannabis

One fascinating aspect of cannabis culture is it’s seen throughout the world in various forms. In modern terms, cannabis is the third most used psychoactive substance in the world, right behind tobacco and alcohol.

Vera Rubin, an anthropologist who studied cannabis, claims that there are two distinct complexes when it comes to cannabis culture:

  1. Cultural traditions
  2. Contemporary configuration

In the first complex, cannabis would be grown on a small-scale for the sake of using in both sacred and secular traditions. Sometimes, being religious.

In the second complex, cannabis is grown on a much more commercial scale. A good example of “contemporary configuration” is hemp cultivation efforts made during World War II. A period where hemp was grown in mass amounts for the sake of providing materials for the necessities of the war.

To better understand these complexes, we’re going to take a deeper look at a few specific areas of the world where cannabis use is prevelant.

United States of America

Cannabis in America can be primarily seen as a “contemporary configuration.” Most people who used it were doing so out of movements taking place in that time period.

Take the beatniks as an example. They were a subculture consisting of writers and poets who used cannabis as a means of exploring their creativity.⁴

The beatnik movement eventually led to the hippie movement.⁵ A period of time when young people were using a number of psychoactive drugs, such as cannabis and LSD, for the sake of:

  • Self-exploration
  • Religious exploration
  • Spiritual exploration

Though hippies were using cannabis as many ancient traditions had, they were contemporary in terms of America.


Since cannabis grows naturally in the Indian subcontinent, it comes as no surprise that it’s been used through ancient Hindu traditions. Initially called “ganja,” many Hindu traditions use cannabis as a means for the sake of religious enlightenment.⁶

Nowadays, parts of India form cannabis into something known as bhang – a mixture of marijuana buds, leaves, and flowers.

Many Hindus claim that bhang has a number of medicinal properties, including:

  • Appetite
  • Bodily alertness
  • Digestion
  • Dysentery
  • Fever
  • Phlegm
  • Speech imperfections (such as lisping)
  • Sunstroke


Some time before the 8th century, cannabis was brought to Central and Southern Africa by Arab traders. These Africans used cannabis so religiously, they referred to the plant as “the healing of the nation.”⁷

However, it wasn’t these Africans that settled in the Caribbean.

Rather, cannabis was introduced by the thousands of Hindus and Muslims that settled in the area. When African settlers arrived in Jamaica, they held onto their above-mentioned cannabis traditions.

Through this, the religion of Rastafarian was born.

Cannabis in Modern Culture

The modern culture of cannabis can be directly linked to the counterculture of the 1960’s – at least, in America and other parts of the Western world.

With the hippie movement came a pop culture dominated by rebellion. And what better way to rebel than to smoke a highly prohibited plant?

Though, it was only rebellion that made cannabis mainstream. As time went on and science has developed, more and more people have been waking up to the simple fact that cannabis really isn’t all that bad. In fact, it actually has a lot of good medicinal properties.

The combination of scientific discovery and popular media is moving cannabis away from a subculture of individuals. And making the plant what it always should’ve been, a medicine with the potential for spiritual and self-exploration.

Your Questions

Still have questions surrounding cannabis culture?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have further knowledge on cannabis culture, we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ Masscan/Norml: Society History of Marijuana

² The Huffington Post: 420 Meaning: The True Story Of How April 20 Became “Weed Day”

³ Congressional Research Service: Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity

JSTOR Daily: How the Beat Generation Became “Beatniks”

⁵ Stockton: The Hippie Movement 1960-1970’s

⁶ SOMA: The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances

⁷ Barry Chevannes, Rastafari and Other African-Caribbean Worldviews, pp. 35, 85; Edmonds, p. 52.

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