5 Fab Finds at the Hash Museum in Barcelona

By David Jenison

5 Fab Finds at the Hash Museum in Barcelona

In 2012, the Cannabis Culture Awards took place in Amsterdam and Barcelona at the affiliated Hemp Museums in both cities. At the Spanish event, winner Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group) declared that cannabis legalization is the answer to Spain’s economic crisis. Barcelona’s Hash Marihuana Cáñamo & Hemp Museum, which opened that same year in a stunning 15th-century building, certainly supports the cause with one of the world’s most impressive collections of cannabis artifacts. The following are five items on display that represent different showrooms inside the Barcelona museum.

Cultural Room: Was Popeye a Pothead?

Thanks to his tins of spinach, the muscles of the famous cartoon figure Popeye achieved enormous proportions. But did Popeye really get his green stuff from the greengrocers? When he was created by the cartoonist Elzie Segar in 1929, “spinach” was slang for cannabis, and Popeye has been known to consume spinach through his pipe. Anti-marijuana lobbyists claimed that cannabis made you supernaturally strong, and Popeye sang, "I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach!" As a sailor, Popeye was also familiar with exotic herbs, and sailors were the first people in the U.S. to adopt the practice of smoking cannabis. In the 1960s, Popeye's dog was called Birdseed. At that time, hemp seeds were a well-known source of nutrition for birds, as they are today.

Medical Room: Medicinal Cannabis in the 19th Century

In 1839, the genius Irish scientist Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy (1809-1889) introduced the western world to the centuries-old medicinal use of cannabis and hashish in India. As a result of his publications, cannabis extract started to be added to tinctures (alcohol-based liquids), and it was combined with other opiates and herbal extracts—sometimes even with cocaine. Recipes were prescribed by doctors for young and old for the most diverse range of ailments: A few drops mixed with warm water were a good remedy for pain in childbirth, hysteria or menstrual complaints. In the mid-19th century, almost every local pharmacist made his own tincture, but by the end of the century, this was taken over by pharmaceutical businesses which are still famous today, such as Parke-Davis & Co. and Eli Lilly. These firms advertised in leading magazines and published catalogues of medicines. After opiates, cannabis was the second-most commonly used ingredient in medicines offered by European and American pharmacies.

Botany Room: Cannabis Sativa L.

In 1753, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus gave the name Cannabis sativa Linnaeus to the common variety of hemp found in Europe, which was mainly grown for its fiber and seeds and usually contained low levels of THC. Sativa simply means 'sown' and refers to the domesticated form of this versatile plant. Sativa strains have thin-bladed leaves, and they are generally tall and produce long branches with wide space (or internodal gaps) between their flower-clusters.

Old Masters Room: Pipes

Over the years, cannabis has been smoked in pipes by many different cultures. The oldest known pipes, discovered in a graveyard in Laos, are about 3,000 years old, and they were probably used to smoke cannabis. In the 17th century, the practice of smoking pipes of tobacco and hemp spread throughout Europe. Of the several hundred pipes in the museum's collection, the best are exhibited in Barcelona. There are richly decorated African pipes and typical Flemish pipes made of white chalk dating from the Dutch Golden Age. Simple Asian pipes are presented side by side with hookahs, the iconic eastern water pipes, and the chillums used by Indian sadhus.

Industrial Room: Hemp Paper

Hemp pulp makes the strongest, most crease-proof and longest-lasting paper that exists. Hemp paper was first produced in China during the 1st century. The papermaking technique was a Chinese state secret, and it took more than 1,500 years for this knowledge to reach Europe. Hemp was abundantly available in the West because it was already being cultivated for textiles. When the Chinese method of papermaking reached Europe, hemp was employed to make stronger, cheaper paper than ever before.

The ready availability of hemp paper and the invention of the printing press allowed the printed word and literacy to spread throughout Europe. From about 1850, lower quality, disposable paper made from wood pulp became increasingly common. Turning wood into paper requires a chemical-heavy production method which has far higher environmental costs than the hemp paper process.

In addition to the five rooms represented above, the museum also has the history, prohibition and anti-prohibition rooms.  

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