My question is whether tobacco and marijuana were ever competing products in Europe. It occurred to me that marijuana is an Old World plant, whereas tobacco is a New World plant, and therefore had to be introduced after 1492—by which time I guess marijuana would already have been available in Europe. So it is curious that of two broadly similar products, tobacco was the one that caught on. (I've never tried marijuana, and I have never had a smoking habit, so I'm not sure whether the products are directly comparable, but the general idea of smoking a dried leaf seems similar.)

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    So we are looking at something like a Tea vs Coffee sort of comparison here right?
    – NSNoob
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 13:52
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    Yeah, exactly that sort of thing. (Except that both of those are Old World, and presumably more similar in their psychotropic effects!)
    – adam.baker
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 6:07
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    Everyone has forgotten the mandatory link: youtube.com/watch?v=_XDxAzVEbN4 Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


No. Although it is true that hemp was grown and harvested in Europe,

...is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its derived products. It is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants to be spun into usable fiber 10,000 years ago.

its(hemp) use as a drug would have been minimal:

Although cannabis as a drug and industrial hemp are both members of the species Cannabis sativa and contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), they are distinct strains with unique biochemical compositions and uses.[6] Hemp has lower concentrations of THC and higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), which decreases or eliminates its psychoactive effects.[6]

Cannibas was known and used predominately in Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures(from History of smoking):

Cannabis was common in the Middle East before the arrival of tobacco, and is known to have existed in at least 5000 BC. Early consumption of cannabis was a common social activity involving the type of water pipe called a hookah.

In general, the public activity of smoking was introduced to Europe on an industrial scale, from the colonies. The level of production by the revolution:

After war broke out in 1775, the General Assembly voted to cease sending tobacco to Britain. Many planters switched to growing food crops, especially wheat, to support troops. In the first year of the war, tobacco production dropped from 55 million pounds to 14.5 million

So, when tobacco became available, it would have had no competition from the limited use of cannabis in comparison.

--Update: Concerning the history of Tobacco Use.

I found an excellent discussion of The Antiquities of Tobacco from Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review, Volume 7, published in 1859! The discussion lists first occurrences of tobacco use in Spain, Europe and England, and speaks of people being so surprised by smoke coming from people that

... they never seeing the like wondered at it and seeing the vapour come out of Tarlton's nose cryed out fire fire and threw a cup of wine in Tarlton's face.

showing that smoking was indeed uncommon before tobacco's arrival.

  • There's actually at least one tribal Sub-Saharan African group (wish I could find the link) that appears to have evolved a special receptor for Cannabis. That implies they've been using it long enough for natural selection to come into play.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:09

I would argue not. Though the two products are frequently combined, their psychotropic effects are different enough that neither can substitute for the other.

  • As far as I can tell (going from memory of teenage experimentation) tobacco simply has no noticable psychotropic effects. I wonder, though, if Europeans really smoked anything before tobacco came along? IIRC, they used tobacco as snuff long before smoking it became popular.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:47
  • There's got to be something psychotropic for it to have caught on... youtube.com/watch?v=_XDxAzVEbN4
    – adam.baker
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 3:28
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    @Aaron But is there any historical evidence one way or the other?
    – adam.baker
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 3:28
  • @adam.baker if there were evidence of them being interchanged, my claim would be wrong. Of course, no evidence can ever substantiate the absence of same. That's why I can offer no citation here. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 4:26
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    @jamesqf, inhaling smoke isn't really in the same category of activity as eating and wearing clothing. But I can't dispute that some things are done just to be fashionable.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 5:45

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in certain parts of Europe (most notably the Netherlands) hemp was widely grown as an industrial crop, but tobacco was a relatively expensive import. So the amount of tobacco smoked was probably small in comparison to cannabis (hemp) grown. Smoking in general was disreputable, possibly even more so in the case of tobacco since it was more exotic and poorly understood.

So why did tobacco come to dominate the market? Tobacco, like a lot of things, would have become much more cheap and abundant over the course of the nineteenth century due to colonialism, the steamship, etc. Then prohibition in the twentieth century made cannabis expensive and illegal.

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