The Marketing of "Cannabis Americana"

Michael Krawitz, founder and curator of the Cannabis Museum, has obtained via ebay a promotional booklet attesting to the widespread medical use of cannabis in the U.S. a century ago. The handsomely designed and printed 16-page booklet was published by Parke, Davis & Co. to market its “Cannabis Americana” to doctors and pharmacists. Just as drug companies nowadays do when they have a potential “blockbuster” emerging from the pipeline, Parke, Davis knocked the competition (“Cannabis Indica”) and invoked science to peddle its wares in 1910.

Under a first-page headline defining Cannabis Americana as “Cannabis Sativa Grown in America,” the text gets right to the point:

“Much has been written relative to the comparative activity of Cannabis Sativa grown in different climates (Cannabis Indica, Mexicana, and Americana). It has been generally assumed that the American-grown drug was practically worthless therapeutically, and that Cannabis Sativa grown in India must be used if one would obtain physiologically active preparations.

“Furthermore, it has been claimed that the best Indian drug is that grown especially for medicinal purposes, the part used consisting of the flowering tops of the unfertilized female plants, care being taken during the growing of the drug to weed out the male plants. According to our experience, this is an erroneous notion, as we have repeatedly found that the Indian drug which contains large quantities of seed is fully as active as the drug which consists of the flowering tops only, provided the seed be removed before percolation.” This may reflect the crudeness of their testing system, which the booklet will describe as state-of-the art.

“Several years ago we began a systematic investigation of American grown Cannabis Sativa. Samples from a number of localalities (sic) were obtained and carefully investigated. From these samples fluid and solid extracts were prepared according to the Pharma-copoeal method, and carefully tested upon animals for physiological activity, and eventually they were standardized by physiological methods. Repeated tests have convinced us that Cannabis Americana properly grown and cured is fully as active as the best Indian drug, while on the other hand we have frequently found Indian Cannabis to be practically inert.

“Before marketing preparations of Cannabis Americana, however, we placed specimens of the fluid and solid extracts in the hands of experienced clinicians for practical test; and from these men, all of whom had used large quantities of Cannabis Indica in practice, we have received reports which affirm they have been unable to determine any therapeutic difference between Cannabis Americana and Cannabis Indica. We are, therefore of the opinion that Cannabis Americana will be found equally as efficient as, and perhaps more uniformly reliable than, Cannabis Indica obtained from abroad, since it is evident that with a source of supply at our very doors proper precautions can be taken to obtain crude drug of the best quality.”

“Nomenclature The proper botanical name of the drug under consideration is Cannabis Sativa. The Indian plant was formerly supposed to be a distinct species per se, but botanists now consider the two plants to be identical. The old name of Cannabis Indica, however, has been retained in medicine. Cannabis Indica simply means Cannabis Sativa grown in the Indies, and Cannabis Americana means Cannabis Sativa grown in America …

“Physiological Action The physiological action of Cannabis Americana is precisely the same as that of Cannabis Indica. The effects of this drug are said to be due chiefly to its action upon the central nervous system …

“Therapeutic Indications Cannabis Americana is employed for the same medicinal purposes as Cannabis Indica, which is frequently used as a hypnotic in cases of sleeplessness, in nervous exhaustion, and as a sedative in patients suffering from pain. Its greatest use has perhaps been in the treatment of various nervous and mental diseases, although it is found as an ingredient in many cough mixtures. In general, Cannabis Americana can be used when a mild hypnotic or sedative is indicated, as it is said not to disturb digestion, and it produces no subsequent nausea and depression. It is of use in cases of migraine, particularly when opium is contraindicated. It is recommended in paralysis agitans to quiet the tremors, in spasm of the bladder, and in sexual impotence not the result of organic disease, especially in combinations with nux vomica and ergot.

“Dosage Extractum Cannabis Americae, 0.01 gramme (1-5 grain), Fluidextractum Cannabis Americanae, 0.05 Cc (1 minim). The dosage of Cannabis Americana is the same as that of Cannabis Indica, as from our experiments we find there is no therapeutic difference in the physiological action of the two drugs.

“Advantages Cannabis Sativa, when grown in the United States (Cannabis Americana) under careful precautions, is found to be fully as active as the best imported Indian-grown Cannabis Sativa, as shown by laboratory and clinical tests. The advantages of using carefully prepared solid and fluid extracts of the home-grown drug are apparent when it is considered that every step of the process, from the planting of the drug to the final marketing of the finished product, is under the supervision of experts. The imported drug varies extremely in activity and much of it is practically inert or flagrantly adulterated.

“Packages Extractum Cannabis Americanae is put up in jars containing one ounce; Fluidextractum Cannabis Americanae is put up in bottles of one-quarter pint and one pint, respectively.”

There follows a centerfold -graceful drawings of the male and female plants, reproduced by a four-color process on one page, and a black and white photo of Parke, Davis’s laboratory of medical research, a four-story brick building on the bank of the Detroit River. Built in 1902, it was the first lab dedicated to drug-company research and reflects Parke, Davis’s stature as industry leader.

The second half of the booklet reprints an article entitled “A Pharmacological Study of Cannabis Americana (Cannabis Sativa)” by Parke, Davis researchers E.M. Houghton and H.C. Hamilton, which ran in the American Journal of Pharmacy January, 1908. It is, shall we say, lacking in rigor. Houghton’s specialty was testing drugs on animals. His method:

“consists essentially in the careful observation of the physiological effects produced upon dogs from the internal administration of the preparation of the drug under test. It is necessary in selecting the test animals to pick out those that are easily susceptible to the action of cannabis, since dogs as well as human beings vary considerably in their reaction to the drug…

“In preparing the test, the standard dose (in the form of solid extract for convenience) is administered internally in a small capsule. The dog’s tongue is drawn forward between the teeth with the left hand, and the capsule placed on the back part of the tongue with the right hand. The tongue is then quickly released, and the capsule is swallowed with ease. In order that the drug may be rapidly absorbed, food should be withheld 24 hours before the test and an efficient cathartic given if needed.” In other words, the poor dog would be given a large dose of hash and then starved.

“Within a comparatively short time the dog begins to show the characteristic action of the drug. There are three typical effects to be noticed from active extracts on susceptible animals: first a stage of excitability, then a stage of incoordination, followed by a period of drowsiness. The first of these is so dependent on the characteristics of the dog used that it is of little value for judging the activity of the drug, while with only a few exceptions the second, or the stage of incoordination, invariably follows in one to two hours: the dog loses control of its legs and of the muscles supporting its head, so that when nothing occurs to attract its attention its head will droop, its body sway, and when severely affected, the animal will stagger and fall, the intoxication being peculiarly suggestive and striking.

“Experience is necessary on the part of the observer to determine just when the physiological effects of the drug begin to manifest themselves, since there is always, as in the case of many chemical tests, a personal factor to be guarded against. When an active extract is given to a susceptible animal, in the smallest dose that will produce any perceptible effect, one must watch closely for the slightest trace of incoordination, lack of attention, or drowsiness. It is particularly necessary for the animals to be confined in a room where nothing will excite them, since when their attention is drawn to anything of interest the typical effects of the drug may disappear.”

“The influence of the test dose of the unknown drug is carefully compared with that of the same dose of the standard preparation administered to another test dog at the same time and under the same conditions.

“Finally, when the animals become drowsy, the observations are recorded and the animals are returned to their quarters.

“The second day following, the observations upon the two dogs are reversed, i.e. the animal receiving the test dose of the unknown receives a test dose of the known, and vice versa, and a second observation is made. If one desires to make a very accurate quantitative determination, it is advisable to use, not two dogs, but four or five, and to study the effects of the test dose of the unknown specimen in comparison with the test dose of the known, making several observations on alternate days. If the unknown is below standard activity, the amount should be increased until the effect produced is the same as for the test dose of the standard. If the unknown is above strength, the test dose is diminished accordingly. From the dose of the unknown selected as producing the same action as the test dose of the standard, the amount of dilution or concentration necessary is determined. The degree of accuracy with which the test is carried out will depend largely upon the experience of the observer and the care he exercises.

“Another point to be noted in the use of dogs for standardizing Cannabis is that, although they never appear to lose their susceptibility, the same dog cannot be used indefinitely for accurate testing. After a time they become so accustomed to the effects of the drug that they refuse to stand on their feet, and so do not show the typical incoordination which is its most characteristic and constant action.” Did the test animals learn the drill, get bored, or go on strike?

“Previous to the adoption of the physiological test over 12 years ago, we were often annoyed by complaints of physicians that certain lots of drugs were inert; in fact some hospitals, before accepting their supplies of hemp preparations, asked for samples in order to make rough tests upon their patients before ordering.” Or did they just want some freebies?

“Many tons of the various preparations of Cannabis Indica have been tested and supplied for medicinal purposes.”

“Since the adoption of the new test we have not had a well authenticated report of inactivity, although many tons of the various preparations of Cannabis Indica have been tested and supplied for medicinal purposes.

“A dog weighing 25 pounds received an injection of two ounces of an active U.S.P. fluid extract in the jugular vein with the expectation that it would certainly be sufficient to produce death…

“At the beginning of our observations careful search of the literature on the subject was made to determine the toxicity of the hemp. Not a single case of fatal poisoning have we been able to find reported, although often alarming symptoms may occur. A dog weighing 25 pounds received an injection of two ounces of an active U.S.P. fluid extract in the jugular vein with the expectation that it would certainly be sufficient to produce death. To our surprise, the animal, after being unconscious for about a day and a half, recovered completely. This dog received not alone the active constituents of the drug but also the amount of alcohol contained in the fluid extract. Another dog received about 7 grammes of Solid Extract Cannabis with the same result. We have never been able to give an animal a sufficient quantity of a U.S. P. or other preparation of the Cannabis (Indica or Americana) to produce death.”

Solid Extract Cannabis is also known as hashish. Seven grammes = 1/4 oz.

“There is some variation in the amount of extractive obtained, as would be expected from the varying amount of stems, seeds, etc., in the different samples. Likewise there is a certain amount of variation in the physiological action, but in every case the administration of 0.01 gramme of the extract per kilo body weight has elicited the characteristic symptoms in properly selected animals. “The repeated tests we have made convince us that Cannabis Americana properly grown and cured is fully as active as the best Indian drug. “Furthermore, we have placed out quantities of fluid extract and solid extract in the hands of experienced clinicians, and from eight of these men, who are all large users of the drug, we have received reports which state that they are unable to determine any therapeutic difference between the Cannabis Americana and the Cannabis Indica.

“Conclusions 1. The method outlined in the paper for determining the physiological activity of Cannabis Sativa by internal administration to especially selected dogs, has been found reliable when the standard dose of extract, 0.01 gramme per kilo body weight is tested on animals, the effects being noted by an experienced observer in comparison with the effects of the same quantity of a standard preparation.

“2. Cannabis Sativa, when grown in various localities of the United States and Mexico, is found to be fully as active as the best imported Indian-grown Cannabis Sativa, as shown by laboratory and clinical tests.”

Evidently Parke, Davis owned land in Mexico or contracted with farmers there to produce Cannabis Americana.

Michael Krawitz, who lives in Virginia, competes on ebay for cannabis-related artifacts with Paul Stanford (who runs clinics in several Western states for the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation), Ethan Russo, MD, the well-known neurologist, and ex-pat researcher David Watson (co-founder of Hortipharm, whose genetic library jump-started GW pharmaceuticals), among others. Krawitz is the son of an auctioneer, so he’s highly knowledgeable about antiques. A disability check from the Air Force (injured his back in a helicopter crash) helps sustain his activism, which in this case is truly collectivist. Krawitz has boldly declared his collection to be “The Cannabis Museum.” He hopes to have 100,000 artifacts online at by 2008. He also brings artifacts to display at various venues -conferences, trade shows, etc. His explanations are informative and insightful. Krawitz gave a talk at the NORML conference in San Francisco last month at which he said, in reference to a photo of Louis Armstrong: “Louis Armstrong was very outspoken about smoking marijuana. Louis Armstrong was the first activist.”

Krawitz asked Tod Mikuriya, MD, to autograph a copy of “Marijuana Medical Papers,” the anthology of pre-prohibition literature Mikuriya published in 1973. It includes the result of Mikuriya’s inquiry into Cannabis Americana -a letter from L.M. Wheeler, PhD, Director, Department of Product Development, dated June 19, 1968:

“Dear Dr. Miuriya,

Your letter of May 21 inquiring further into the role that Parke-Davis played in the early teens and twenties with respect to the stabilization of cannabis extracts is at hand. Fragmentary information has come to our attention by virture of a recent visit to Detroit from his home in Florida of one of the individuals active on our staff at that time.

“This individual informs us that Parke, Davis & Company and Eli Lilly Company did cooperate in the development of a standard cannabis preparation in the form of a fluid extract, a tincture, a solid extract, and a powdered extract. We originally used Cannabis Indicate but later standardized on a strain of Cannabis Americana which we grew at our biological farm, Parkedale, near Rochester, Michigan.

“Our retired employee gave us the following description, as best he could reconstruct it from memory, of the standardization procedure used in experimental animals at that time. The test method is as follows:

1. Select medium-sized short-haired dogs weighing less than 15 kilos, of fair degree of intelligence, preferably fox terriers. Do not feed for 12 hours prior to the test.

2. Determine susceptibility of the dogs by administration of minimum dose of standard preperation. The standard preparation is obtained from the food & Drug Control Laboratory at Washington.

3. The dose of sample to be tested is determined by multiplication of the weight of the dog by the standard dose per unit weight.

4. Dose is administered in capsule.

5. The results of administration are apparent in about one hour. Muscular incoordination and drowsiness indicate activity.

6. The activity of the sample is dependent upon the degree of reaction and susceptibility of the dog. Do not use the dog oftener than once every three days.

7. The standard dose for various preparations is as follows:

Fluid extract 0.1 cc. per kilogram Tincture 1.0 cc. per kilogram Solid extract 4.0 mg per kilogram Powdered extract 40 mg per kilgram

8. Retest the sample following adjustment on the basis of the first assay.

“Our interest in standardizing cannabis extracts was discontinued in 1938 when the “New” Drug Regulations called for the proof of safety of agents distributed for drug purposes. With this intermediate clarification of the description of drug, cannabis extracts fell into disuse by the medical profession since they provided no medical need [sic] that was not available in a more carefully standardized form from the more advanced work on natural alkaloids.

“Since the current New Drug Regulations require both safety and efficacy to be clearly demonstrated in the hands of qualified investigators, it seems even more remote that cannabis might find a useful role in human medicine.”

Mikuriya says, “Safety and efficacy have been clearly demonstrated. The plant hasn’t changed and neither has human physiology. Cannabis should be grandfathered into the national formulary, just as aspirin was after the new regulations were established in 1938.”

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at:



Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at