Cannabis in times of War

Cannabis in times of war: when soldiers smoked hash

What if we told you that many soldiers used cannabis in times of war? And not just any war, we're talking about most conflicts since the dawn of time... Used to face the horrors of the front, to be more aggressive or even to attack the enemy indirectly, cannabis is only one of the many substances used in wartime throughout history... for Remembrance Day, we take stock together.


Cannabis in times of war: a substance with a variety of uses

Cannabis in times of war: a way to relax

When we look at the role of cannabis in times of war, we notice that it was used in many ways, to survive the various realities of the front. 

In particular, the plant helped soldiers to decompress after the fighting. The soothing and relaxing effects of CBD and other cannabinoids made it easier for them to deal with difficult, even traumatic experiences. Cannabis has since been shown to help reduce the subjective experience of trauma for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress when administered regularly. 

Protecting the soldier's mind from the memory of the atrocities in which he participated can even be strategic: he will be less reluctant to take part in new battles. 

In Europe, this calming role was historically taken over by alcohol. But in other regions, for example in Muslim countries, drinking was replaced by hash for religious reasons. That's why Napoleonic soldiers, who were struggling to get alcohol during the Egyptian campaign, also started to consume it. A very powerful substance that strongly displeased the Emperor, pushing him to ban it. 

We also find this use of cannabis in times of war 1914-1918, when some WWI French soldiers found comfort in hashish. A little too much, if we believe the staff, which ended up banning it in 1916. A ban that may seem slightly hypocritical today, when we know that in parallel, the army provided a lot of alcohol to the soldiers, including the Mariani, a wine that contained between 6 and 7 mg of cocaine per bottle of half a liter...


A trend that has continued until recently, if we believe a report of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse published in 1973, which established that 69% of American soldiers consumed cannabis during the Vietnam War.

Beyond the effects, it is noted that substances such as alcohol or cannabis strengthened the group cohesion and the feeling of brotherhood between soldiers. 

Soldats français dans uneFrench WWI soldiers in Argonne, Agence Rol, 1915 - source​​: Gallica-BnF

A stimulant to attack

It is a reason that seems less obvious, and yet it is the use of cannabis in times of war that has most marked history. For an army, the priority has always been to produce soldiers who can resist fear. 

Even though they help to decompress, the soothing effects of CBD contained in the plant also allow to better manage stressful situations and to start the fight with a more serene mind. Far from provoking violent impulses as suggested by many prohibitionists - for more information, you can read our article on the prohibition of cannabis in France - the substance allows more to calm the anxieties. 

That's why the Scythian warriors, present in Asia and Europe between the 9th and 1st century BC, used cannabis regularly. It is the same for the Indians, who mention the ganja like a drink of warriors. An association inscribed in language: the ganja is nicknamed there "vijaya", meaning "victorious" or "invincible". This custom was also present on the African continent, with the Zulus, who, known for their courage and determination, used dagga, a South African variety of cannabis, as a stimulant. 

Stimulating virtues that are not surprising, when we know that CBD improves performance and concentration. That's why David Livingstone, a Scottish explorer who rubbed shoulders with the Sothos, another African tribe, wrote "They sat down and smoked (cannabis), their intention being to accomplish an effective attack."

A weapon to destabilize the enemy?

Mais l’usage du cannabis pendant la guerre ne se limite pas à l’entretien physique et moral du soldat. Bien que plus marginal que les deux premiers, on trouve également certains cas d’utilisation de la plante à des fins offensives. 

L’objectif est souvent de mettre l’ennemi hors d’état de nuire en rendant disponible une substance qui perturberait sa capacité à combattre. On retrouve notamment ce cas de figure pendant la Guerre Froide, qui fut le théâtre de nombreux travaux sur la dispersion de drogues. En 1949, le scientifique Luther Wilson Greene listait 61 substances pouvant être utilisées comme des armes incapacitantes. Le cannabis figurait en haut de la liste.

C’est ainsi que pendant la guerre d’Afghanistan, les moujahidines abandonnent régulièrement des stocks d’opium et de cannabis pour affaiblir les soldats soviétiques, qui consommaient ces substances de manière déraisonnée, ce qui réduisait leurs réflexe et leur capacité à se concentrer. 

Cannabis in times of war: one substance among many drugs

Drugs, an omnipresent actor in conflicts

When one looks at the use of cannabis in times of war, one quickly realizes that in reality, drugs have always been present on every battlefield in history. This is the thesis defended by the Polish researcher Lukasz Kamienski in his book Shooting Up: a History of Drugs in Warfare, published in 2012. 

Thus, all drugs and other psychoactive substances have frequented the ranks of the army. Cannabis is far from having a special status. 

As mentioned earlier, alcohol has often emerged as a way to build up courage, and has done so throughout history. Where the hoplites, the ancient Greek foot soldiers, went into battle after drinking copious amounts of wine, the Aztecs drank pulque, an alcohol with herbs and spices that produced narcotic effects. In modern times, Napoleon distributed brandy to his troops, while his opponents in the British Royal Navy preferred rum. This was perfectly summarized by Marshal Pétain who said that "of all the supplies sent to the army during the war, wine was certainly the most expected and appreciated by the soldier".

Amphetamines were also a must on the battlefields. Hitler was one of its biggest supporters, consuming up to 150 pills a week. Their advantage? Reducing the need for sleep and food and helping to manage pain. During the war, he even distributed methamphetamine chocolate bars to pilots (Fliegerschokolade) and tank drivers (Panzerschokolade).

States wishing to limit their consumption

But this massive consumption of substances naturally raises the question of their control, with in particular the fear of seeing them spread among civilians. 

Until the 1930s, their use was generally tolerated in society. Their use by the army gradually became taboo as the governments of many states began to ban them. During the First World War, the British were particularly concerned that veterans would spread cocaine throughout the country. The same concern was expressed during the Vietnam War, when press reports of soldiers' addiction prompted President Nixon to launch a testing campaign.  

Today, the French army prohibits the use of drugs and cannabis, reducing the latter to its psychoactive version. Indeed, nothing is mentioned about CBD... 

We hope this retrospective on the place of cannabis in military history has been of interest to you. Feel free to check out our blog for more historical content related to CBD and cannabis, and on our side, it's time to pack up our gear for a new assignment...

Cake it easy,