Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2023

Course Description

Of the approximately 391,000 species of plants cataloged by Western science, perhaps none has been as controversial as Cannabis sativa L. Likely originating in central Asia, Cannabis has co-evolved with humans over the millennia and is now found on every continent, thanks, in part, to its weedy nature, versatility, and demonization. Given Cannabis’ longstanding use by humans (perhaps as long as alcohol), its demonstrated versatility (as a source of food, raw material, medicine, and psychoactive effects), its economic value, its central role in demarcating and persecuting the Other, and changing legal status, Cannabis, in much of the world, has moved from a topic readily discounted or stigmatized by worn clichés and stereotypes, to a field of rigorous and systematic study with the potential for profound sociocultural implications. In this course, we will explore these long-standing utilitarian and controversial relationships between humans and Cannabis, from small-scale societies to nation-states, through time and into the future. Using an anthropological approach, we will examine Cannabis’ role in culture-specific contexts, engage in ethnological comparison, and question long held assumptions and myths. Is Cannabis, as opponents have claimed, reallythat bad so as to warrant prohibition and persecution? Do the claims and promises of Cannabis’ properties and virtues, as espoused by its proponents, really hold up to scrutiny? As with most things in life, cultural context matters and the truth likely lies somewhere in between these dichotomous positions.

Student Outcomes

This is not a course in which we will be watching Cheech and Chong films or feeling music and good vibes, and this is not a forum for retelling ‘drug stories’ or how much you have dabbed, even though such experiences and narratives do potentially constitute relevant, legitimate anthropological data. I do anticipate that we will have a great deal of fun during this course, but I have designed it to be an academically rigorous and balanced exploration of the topic – there are, in fact, both arguable benefits and pitfalls to Cannabis cultivation and use. I want you to be informed. I want you to approach this course with both enthusiasm and skepticism. And, when someone cracks a joke about or criticizes the merits of this course I want you to be able to respond with sincere, evidence-based arguments as to why this is, in fact, a legitimate and needed topic of study.

During this course, you will learn about and understand the following topics related to Cannabis:

  • learn about the history and development of anthropology’ study of Cannabis,
  • botany – origins, morphology, phytochemistry, evolution, and taxonomy,
  • linguistics – folk taxonomy and nomenclature, o material culture, o prohibition, shifting legal status, and criminal justice concerns/issues, sexism and racism in the Cannabis world,
  • CBD vs. THC/medical vs. recreational, o the effects on/from the environment and globalization, and
  • sociocultural uses and impacts around the world and through time.

These objectives will be achieved through:

  • critical reading and analysis of the literature, film, and material culture from culture-specific examples,
  • lectures, class discussions, and activities, o short writing assignments, and
  • the completion of an independent research project on a relevant topic of your choice.

To be successful in these objectives you are expected to:

  • attend class regularly,
  • actively participate in class discussions, activities, readings, and assignments, and
  • complete research and assignments in a timely manner.