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Patterns of Marihuana Use in Brazil PDF Print E-mail
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Books - Cannabis and Culture
Written by Harry William Hutchinson   

The paper examines the type and sources of data concerning Cannabis sativa in Brazil, and presents the terminology used in the various regions of Brazil. The types of users of cannabis, methods of use, and a brief examination of the reasons offered for the use of cannabis are presented. The paper ends with suggestions and observations concerning future research in Brazil on this topic.

This work was supported by a grant from NIH # Sub 4, 5 S05 RR07022-07.

In a recent article Schultes (1973) pointed out that Cannabis saliva has been used throughout its history for five principal purposes: for hempen fibers; for its oil; for its achenes, or "seeds," which man has consumed as a food; for its narcotic properties; and as a therapeutic agent in folk medicine and modern pharmacopoeias. (Ten of the papers in the first session of this conference mentioned cannabis use for pleasure-escape, therefore I think we can add this to Dr. Schultes' list.) In its 400-plus years' history in Brazil it apparently has served primarily for fiber, its narcotic properties and in folk pharmacopoeia as well as pleasure-escape.'

Before going any further, I must make a few remarks concerning the data on Cannabis saliva in Brazil. There are two striking factors here: I) the paucity of data concerning the relationship of Cannabis saliva and the indigenous population, i.e., Tropical Forest and Marginal Indians: the entire Colonial and Imperial Period, 1549 through 1899; and contemporary Brazil, 1899 to the present. 2) the types of data available: these consist of medical, psychiatric, botanical, and "law and order" data. There is a conspicuous lack of social science data, written by either Brazilian or foreign authors. Furthermore most of the data is prejudiced against cannabis.

Let us first look at data concerning the use of cannabis by indigenous peoples. There is a general consenus that cannabis was imported to Brazil sometime in the early sixteenth century, probably by slaves brought from the west coast of Africa and particularly from Angola. This would indicate, and many authors have substantiated the fact, that cannabis is not a plant native to the New World, at least to South America. However, it must not be forgotten that South American Indians had a wide range of hallucinogenic drugs, especially tobacco, which they used in ritual and medicinal instances. There is very little mention of Tropical Forest Indians having adopted cannabis even much later on in the acculturation period. An examination of the Human Relations Area Files reveals little or no mention of cannabis use amongst Indians living in what is now Brazil. The same is true for the Handbook of South American Indians. One mention of the use of hashish is made by Wagley and Galvao (1949) in their study of the Tenetehara. For the remainder of this paper, we will have to disregard the use of cannabis among Brazilian indigenous peoples.

As for the Colonial and Imperial Periods, the data although scarce is interesting from a diffusionist point of view. The major stream of thought held by Brazilian authors on the subject, as exemplified by Rosado (1958), indicates that cannabis was brought to Brazil from Africa starting at approximately 1549, if not before. 1549 is the outstanding date used by most authors because of a decree issued by Don Joao III of Portugal authorizing newly established sugar cane planters to import to up 1200 slaves per sugar mill. Rosado (1958), quoting Pio Correa, indicates that cannabis seeds were brought to Brazil in cloth dolls which were tied to the rag tag clothing worn by the slaves. He further states, that cannabis was planted and adapted itself well to the entire area from the state of Bahia all the way up to the state of Amazonas. (This is, in part, because slaves went to the states of Bahia, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Pernambuco in great numbers. No explanation is offered for the implantation of cannabis in the states of Ceara, Rio Grande del Norte, Maranhao, Para and Amazonas. It should be noted that Maranhao, Park and Amazonas had exceedingly little African influence through the medium of slavery.) Most authors disclaim cannabis use in southern Brazil until this century, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

There are two other scraps of information pertaining to the Colonial Period which are of interest. The first is a brief piece of information cited by Lucena, Ataide and Coelho (1958). This concerns the work of one Garcia de Orta, a Portuguese writer who made one of the first descriptions of cannabis use in India as early as 1556. (I do not know where this was first published, however a second edition of his works was re-edited in 1872 by the National Press, Lisbon, Portugal.)

A second scrap of information is even more interesting. It concerns the use of cannabis in the Portuguese Royal Court in Rio de Janeiro and in Lisbon. The reference is brief; it concerns Dona Canota Joaquina, the wife of Emperor Don Joao VI, King of Portugal and Brazil. In 1808, the Portuguese Royal Court, threatened by Napoleon's invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, escaped to Brazil, settling in Rio de Janeiro. The court spent approximately six years in Brazil, returning to Portugal at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Queen Carlota Joaquina was dying in 1817. Her favorite Negro slave, Felisbino, who had accompanied her to Portugal, usually provided her with cannabis. On her death bed, she asked Felisbino to "bring me an infusion of the fibers of diamba do amazonas, with which we sent so many enemies to hell." Felisbino made an infusion of cannabis and arsenic and gave it to her. It is recounted by Assis Cintra (1934) that upon taking the infusion, Dona Canota felt no pain because of the analgesic action of diamba, "thereupon taking up her guitar and singing," later dying. (Her slave Felisbino had the same end, drinking diamba infusion with arsenic.)

Another interesting piece of information during the Colonial Period concerned the prohibition of "the sale and use of pito do Pango as well as keeping it in public establishments." This was an edict of the Municipal Council of Rio de Janeiro issued in October, 1830. Although most authors point to the concentration of cannabis use in northeastern Brazil, it would appear to have been in considerable use in Rio de Janeiro to have had the Municipal Council pass restrictive measures. The Edict of 1830 in Rio also prohibited the importation of marihuana but whether from other countries/colonies or Brazilian provinces isn't clear.

A last indication of the use of cannabis in Brazil during this Colonial Period is offered by Gilberto Freyre in his book 0 nordeste. He points out that throughout the northeast of Brazil in the principal period of the sugarcane engenho, during the yearly periods of inactivity between harvests, "the White man filled his empty days with perfumed cigars while the Black man smoked maconha for its dreams and torpor!" The senhor de engenho allowed the Blacks to plant and grow maconha in between the rows of sugarcane (Moreno 1958).

At this juncture, I would like to propose that cannabis perhaps had two routes of entry into Brazil rather than only one. It may well be that African slaves brought cannabis seeds to Brazil; perhaps even the Portuguese sailors brought it as well, and perhaps the habit did grow among slaves and spread to the free peoples in the northeastern part of Brazil.

Perhaps, however, the Portuguese themselves brought cannabis from India either directly to Portugal where it was already in use by the Portuguese Court; or else the Portuguese took it to Brazil and introduced it to the Court during its short stay in Brazil. If not, they probably would not have referred to is as diamba do amazonas.

In terms of what I'm calling contemporary Brazil, i.e., the twentieth century, the amount of data increases and becomes somewhat more specific. If we attempt to group the data for this latter period it seems to fall into four categories: 1) botanical, 2) medical, 3) psychiatric, 4) law and order.

The major source of data for this period is "A collection of Brazilian writings on Maconha," a compilation of original research and reports dating from 1915 through 1956. This collection was re-edited in 1958. The collection consists of 29 reports. Three things should be pointed out about this outstanding collection of materials:

1. It spans a long period during which maconha was taken for granted as being a "vice." The adjectives most used are "viciados," "criminosos," "vagabundos" and "maloqueiros" (crazy people).

2. A second trend demonstrated by this particular collection is that the works spanning the period 1915 through 1956 tend to be highly incestuous: i.e., to a great extent the authors of succeeding articles quote almost verbatim the authors who preceded them, each adding only a little to the gradual accumulation of knowledge.

3. A third phenomenon demonstrated by this collection of data is that interest in activities surrounding the growth and expansion of cannabis use has always come in cycles. We can see this starting in 1830.
Coming up to this century, there have been several cycles of interest in the phenomena surrounding cannabis. The cycles can be dated at 1915, the late 1930's, the mid-1940's and the 1950's. (Late materials available to us from the sixties and the early seventies follow the same pattern.) The cycles alluded to tend to follow periods of culture stress, such as war, depression and its aftermath, and rapid socio-economic development.

At this point, I would like to move on to a list of the terminology for cannabis found in contemporary Brazil. A list of thirty major synonyms follows, some of those synonyms carrying variations in spelling, such as a change from 'd' to `r' to '1' or to 't,' etcetera. These minor changes I would suggest are local dialect changes.


Here I must add a personal anthropological note: I was a member of the "foreign" group which allegedly used marihuana in the mid-forties, while I was in the northeastern part of Brazil with the U.S. Navy. (See below for further discussion.) Never during those two years was I approached nor introduced to cannabis use nor the vocabulary concerning it.

My first piece of anthropological fieldwork was done in a rural sugarcane planting community in the state of Bahia in 1950-1951. I have gone back over my original field notes and have found no mention of any of the synonyms used for cannabis in any of the folk pharmaceutical recipes which I collected. Nor did I knowingly smoke nor see anyone else smoke cannabis.

However, on the basis of the research for this paper and thinking back to my first field trip as well as to subsequent field trips, I now understand why the inhabitants of the interior regions of the state of Bahia and other northeastern states used to smile knowingly at my constant smoking of a pipe. In fact, the pipe was consistently referred to as "um pito." Little did I know! (Pipe smoking of tobacco was most unusual.)

Earlier this year, while in Brasil on a short field survey in connection with the preparation of this paper, I specifically asked informants in the community which I have been studying for 23 years whether they knew of, about, or used cannabis in any form or under any circumstances, i.e., either medicinal or ritual (Afro-Brazilian cultism). The answer this year always consisted of a horrified "no!" It appeared this year that everybody questioned knew or had heard of cannabis but no one in "my community" ever used it. I should point out that denial would be the expected answer this year in view of the extraordinarily restrictive measures being taken by Brazilian law enforcement agencies.

Now let me pass to patterns of use of cannabis in Brazil. Here there are two categories of information: who and how. Who — we have already seen during the Colonial Period that marihuana had penetrated to the top-ranking social strata, i.e., the Royal Court. From that particular period up until the second half of the twentieth century, there is little or no information available. However, during the past few decades, it has been pointed out that upper class Brazilians have used cannabis. For example, the intellectual elite is obliquely charged with the use of cannabis. However, there seems to be little proof in terms of the research done. And, in fact, Dr. de Pinho has pointed out that in the late fifties he was indeed unable to gather data on cannabis use from this particular group.

Another group of "upper class" individuals who have used cannabis consists of those scientists interested in research on cannabis. In this century, a number of Brazilian scientists have experimented with cannabis, following the works of French, British, and American scientists in this particular phase of their activity.

Surprisingly enough (at least to me) at one point, i.e., primarily the forties, it was felt that "foreigners" of two types in Brazil were using cannabis: The first type were those foreigners who lived more or less permanently in Brazil (Cordeiro de Fanas 1958). The second type was considered to be composed of those servicemen who were stationed in Brazil during the Second World War (Cordeiro de Fanas 1958).

In contemporary times, the major use of cannabis is assigned to the lower class. By lower class is meant those who are unemployed or who are employed in certain specific physically difficult occupations, such as canoemen, fishermen, stevedores, as well as vagabonds, and "disturbers of the peace." The list can also be extended to include prostitutes (Moreno 1958). It is interesting to note that throughout all the articles in the collection, it is pointed out that women are not major users of cannabis. This is somewhat in contradiction to the star case of Dona Canota and to a rather numerous population of prostitutes. Apparently outside of the nobility and the prostitutes, women do not use marihuana: is this simply machismo?

At least two processes concerned with cannabis use seem to be at work here: pleasure (or escapism) and pharmaceutical use.

Marihuana is smoked, according to the literature, in the military barracks and in prisons, to alleviate boredom and despair. Other accounts talk of the Club de Diambistas (Pereira 1958) wherein individuals, not specified as to class, gathered weekly to enjoy the delights of marihuana. (The bibliographic insinuation is that these individuals are of lower class.) They functioned much in the way the French Club des Hachichins did in the middle of the last century in France. No explanation is offered in any of the literature for this particular phenomenon.

The use of cannabis in Afro-Brazilian cultism (variously known as Candomble, Xango, Macumba, and Umbanda) is disputed. Early accounts assumed it was used, even though cult leaders disclaimed it. Dr. Rubim de Pinho (see paper in this symposium) points out that it is not used in Bahian cultism. To this, I must add my own field experience, which indicates non-use of cannabis in cultism at least in Bahia, whether ritualistically or for pleasure.

Now let us move on to the methods of use of cannabis in Brazil. During the last century, in the northeastern part of Brazil, apparently the most common method of use of marihuana was in the pito, meaning at that time an adapted version of the water pipe, i.e., either using a calabash or a glass bottle as a water container which filtered and cooled the smoke from the marihuana going to the smokers' mouth. In this century, the pito or water pipe is less common, if at all existent. This observer has never seen one in more than twenty years in Brazil.

Today, the most common form is either a regular type with a single stem, in which marihuana is mixed with regular tobacco and smoked, or else the marihuana is rolled into a cigarette. In some instances, marihuana is actually chewed; however in the form of snuff it is almost unknown in Brazil.

When cannabis is used for medicinal reasons, the most common method of preparation is an infusion of tea, i.e., a mixture of marihuana leaves, in hot water which is then stirred and swallowed by the patient. Such an infusion is taken to relieve rheumatism, "female troubles," colic and other common complaints. For toothache, marihuana is frequently packed into and around the aching tooth and left for a period of time, during which it supposedly performs an analgesic function.

Another, and most pleasant way, of taking marihuana is in the form of a licor. This is simply placing marihuana leaves into a bottle of cacha ça and letting it "set." I do not know the extent, at the present time, of this mode of ingesting marihuana. I can report, however, that many who "play at" taking marihuana use this method and are quite apt to spring it on unsuspecting friends and relatives. One becomes "stoned" before one realizes that one has not consumed plain cachaça.

I would like to touch on one other point concerning contemporary Brazilian use of marihuana. That is the cultural pattern of the hallucinogenic visions as expressed by those who indulge in marihuana. After a thorough search of the literature, I find two differently patterned cultural responses to the hallucinogenic effects of marihuana among certain classes of Brazilians. First of all are those medical doctors, psychiatrists, and others who have themselves experimented with marihuana and have recorded their observations while under its influence (or rather I should say had others record their experiences). It would seem that the "scientific" circumstances of experimenting with marihuana lead the experimenter to experience hallucinatory states which previous experimenters have already outlined in the literature.

On the other hand, those same investigators interested in marihuana, observing the effects of marihuana on specific populations (meaning in Brazilian terms, individuals interned in prisons or mental hospitals) tend to see or to interpret the hallucinogenic "trip" of the patients or wards as being one which consists of a state of hilarity, disassociation from an overwhelmingly real (poverty) situation, a configuration which suggests it to be an adaptive mechanism employed when the total sociocultural conditions become too much to be borne by those individuals. Here, the lines of interpretation are split: either one calls these people depraved (viciados; maloqueiros) or one admits that they are not depraved but are "using" marihuana as a mechanism for survival.

The important point in this section is that I am suggesting that, depending upon the sociocultural status of the individual taking marihuana, the hallucinogenic visions which he or she will experience are quite definitely culturally patterned. I must admit that this statement will require considerable research in the future to see whether it stands up under systematic scrutiny.

In closing, I would like to attempt to make several tenuous points. Marihuana is just one of several crops which seem to have moved from restricted ritualistic and/or medicinal use to "consumer" use, during the history of mankind. Others are sugar, coffee, tobacco, heroin, coca, and alcoholic beverages. So far, only some of these products have been prohibited at certain times. Those are alcohol, cocaine and derivatives, heroin, more recently tobacco, at the present time marihuana, and most recently of all coffee (Maugh 1973). These have been singled out as either health and/or social problems and some escalated into the realm of law and order.

Earlier in time, these products have been labeled as producing craziness, vice, or criminality. Most recently, and especially in the case of stronger hallucinatory drugs, the argument most used against them is that organized crime (and sometimes even "Communism") is responsible for the spread of these agents and their deleterious effects. That is, looked at historically, the reasons for repression of certain plant and/or technological processes have been damned in the name of health, mental health, vice, law-breaking and general societal disintegration.

One wonders about the reasons advanced for the repression of most of these agents. It is difficult to make any sense out of what is presented to us by the various health-law enforcement agencies since their stance is usually strongly biased. We must ask not only the question of why the repression but also why the cyclism of use involved. In the case of marihuana, which has been part of mankind's baggage for a very long time, the cyclism seems to be related to periods of cultural stress, at least in historical periods. For example, certain sectors of populations tend to increase their use of marihuana or other hallucinogenic drugs when the going gets rough. It is quite possible, as Emboden (1972) has pointed out, that the conservative elements of the countries affected by such use realize the potential threat to authority in a liberated younger generation given over to using the exudate of hemp, and for this reason they inveigh against it.

In any country, it is difficult to know the parameters of drug use. For example, Parreiras (1958) points out that usually only those in health or penal institutions are countable. However, it is not difficult to know that periods of stress are upon us. There is, however, no specific link, statistically visible, between drug use and stress. I would hypothesize, however, that any governmental agency or inter-governmental agency, aware of the fact that the system is under stress will declare that drug use is on the increase, is deleterious, and therefore will take steps against it.

To bring this short paper to an end, I would like to suggest further research among populations which are habitual drug users and among populations which are simply "toying with drugs" (i.e., the most recent phenomenon, well described by Dr. R. de Pinho).

At the same time, I must point out the difficulties of unbiased research during a period of cultural stress, at which time forces of law and order seem to be in the ascendancy. Field research is extremely difficult if not impossible. One final note to this paper: I refer again to Schultes' article (1973) in pointing out that man and cannabis have had a very long period of interaction. My own feeling is that cannabis has been with us in spite of many cultural repressions at different historical periods and that because of its long association with man will always be with us as long as there is mankind.


1934 "Escândalos de Canota Joaquina," ed., Civilizacio Brasileira. Rio de Janeiro, cited by Heitor Peres, 73.

1958 "Relatorio Apresentado aos Srs. Membros da Comissào Nacional de Fiscalizacâo de Entorpecentes," 108, 112.

1972 "Ritual use of Cannabis sativa: a historical ethnographic survey," in Flesh of the gods. Edited by Peter T. Furst, 218. New York: Praeger Publishers, Inc.

1967 0 nordeste, 4th edition. Rio de Janiero: Olympio.

1958 "Maconhismo Crônico e Psicoses," 187.

1973 Coffee and heart disease: is there a link? Science 4099 (181):534-535.

1958 Maconha, coletânea de trabaihos Brasileiros, 2nd edition. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

1958 "Aspectos do Maconhismo em Sergipe," 156.

1958 "0 Problema Nacional do Canabismo," 387.

1958 "Contribuicoes para o Estudo das Plactas Alucinatôrias, particularmente da Maconha," 129.

1958 "0 vicio da Liamba no Estudo do Pari-Una Toxicose que ressurge entre nôs," 90.

1973 Man and marihuana. Natural History 7 (DOCXII):59.

1949 The Tenetehara Indians of Brazil, 41-42. New York: Columbia University Press

1 Although I have found references to use of cannabis in folk medicine, I have found none to indicate its use in modern medicine. However, it might still be a component in the prescriptions of Homeopathic Drug shops, an aspect I suggest be investigated.


Our valuable member Harry William Hutchinson has been with us since Tuesday, 21 February 2012.