Skip to main content
Check Bryn Mawr's, Haverford's, or Swarthmore's library websites for additional resources during COVID-19.

The 420 Experience: Resources and Research on Cannabis

This research guide aims to both summarize resources on campus and to provide resources for further reading based on multiple frames of analysis: health/medicine, economics, (de)criminalization, among others.

Approaches to Historical Research

  1. Determine your scope, both in time and place. The 1990s? The 1890s? Pennsylvania? The United States?
  2. Find your keywords. Look for slang from the time period you are researching--a slang dictionary may help you find the appropriate keywords for your era. The Oxford English Dictionary may prove especially helpful when looking for etymology.
    • Remember: keyword searching alone is not the same as doing research! Were American hemp farmers in the 1700s cultivating a plant for its psychoactive properties, or for its utility as a fiber?
    • Suggested keywords by date:
      • Hemp (1500s - )
      • Cannabis / canabis (1700s - )
      • Marjiuana (1970s - ). Try spelling variations for earlier uses: mariguan, mariguana (1800s - 1930s), marihuana (1900s - 1960s), mariahuana (1930s).
  3. Google can't help you find everything. Try searching in specific databases for your subject area, especially when looking for primary source documents.

American History

Header for article linked below

Opium, Cocaine and Marijuana in American History, by David F. Musto. (1991). Scientific American.

War On Drugs

CQ Researcher: War on Drugs
"Should nonviolent drug users be subject to arrest?"


Streaming documentaries available through Swarthmore College Libraries:

The War on Drugs: Winners and Losers (1999)
"Is the war on drugs in the U.S. causing greater societal harm than the problem of drug abuse itself?"

War on Drugs and Human Rights (1996)
"Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs in 1971 and dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies."

Earliest Mentions

"Canabis is called in Englishe Hemp..." Page 16 of William Turner's "The Names of Herbes."

This page depicts the earliest recorded mention of cannabis as noted by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Screenshot of the page defining "canabis" from "The Names of Herbes"


If you're seeking even earlier mentions, ditch "cannabis" for "hemp": John Taylor wrote an ode to hemp in 1623 in "The Praise of Hemp-Seed," long before THC was discovered:

Screenshot of "The Praise of Hemp-Seed" by John Taylor, 1623.