Cannabis is the plant that most influenced art above all others. On one side because the first paper that replaced old papyri was made from cannabis, which allowed a strong first expansion on writing. After this Chinese invention, cannabis played a main role on paintwork development, as oil paintings were made on cannabis fabric, that's why they are called "canvas".
Cannabis plays a role as an inspiration subject in many paintings. Since old Flemish painters, even Picasso, to contemporary forms of abstract art and surrealism.
Little we know in the West of cannabis influence that affected Chinese, Indian and Islamic literature. We know that cannabis makes appearances in Indian sacred texts y Chinese chants, meantime in Bagdad, roughly 1000 years behind, on a much more liberal environment, plays were written, comparing the effects of wine and hashish.
In the West, the most obvious influence starts at the beginning of the XIX century. Alteration of the conscious states of the mind as a source of creativity was already approached by British poet William Blake. And because of this former example, maybe, rest of the European intellectuals shown to be more willing to walk the path of self-discovery.
Cannabis arrival to intellectual European groups was a consequence of Napoleon's invasions in Egypt, where hashish usage was very common. That way works, such as Baudelaire's "Les Paradis Artificiels", were created, which made other writers of the XIX century realize about cannabis use. Published in 1860 the essay contains a poem called "Le Haschisch". Before that, in England, poet and painter William Blake (1757-1827) had already discovered the interaction between creative and botanic exploration.
Cosmopolitan nature had surely given England the chance of making contact with the plant beforehand. William Shakespeare's cannabis use is well documented. Analysis of his pipes has confirmed the presence of cannabis and it is considered he wrote a sonnet in honor to the plant.
Sonnet 76, refers to a "noted weed", the "noted weed sonnet", where he seems to be saying this previously mentioned weed inspired his creativity:
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
This hypothesis is maintained, besides, by the fact that his family worked on the, not always legal, commerce of products such as wool.
Another works of his make references that may be related with the plant.
Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595) turns on a magic flower:
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
But it's France where the cannabis influence is seen as stronger and more generalized. Haschisch eater's club ("Club des Hashischins") was formed there, in which a group of literates and famous artists gathered once a month to explore creativity on altered states of consciousness.
Baudelaire was part of this club that gathered artists in Paris. Amongst them Eugene Delacroix, whose painting Les Femmes d'Alger shows 2 Algerian women consuming cannabis with a water pipe.
The Haschisch Consumer club worked actively between 1844 and 1849 and had among its members, besides the former mentioned, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas. Another member, Jacques Joseph Moreau, can be considered the first cannabis effects' researcher. After traveling through Asia and Egypt, he published a study about Haschisch and mental alienation ("Du Hachisch et de l'aliénation mentale"), in which he compares dreams, hallucinations and cannabis effects.
Since Paris, European literature was influenced in other parts of Europe. Poet William Butler Yeats met cannabis in 1890 through another writer Arthur Symons. The experience influenced his work and he portrayed his sensations himself. With opened doors by Romanticism, another artistic movement, explorers of new paths were born influenced by the use of cannabis, among other drugs, such as Surrealism, Dadaism, among others. Since then many artists have been influenced by cannabis in their creations, painting, writing, photography, etc.
Beyond European literary movements, in America, Mexico is perhaps the country where the interaction between cannabis and plastic arts is most obvious, through Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In fact, one could say that cannabis is the most influence that Mexico, and therefore Latin America, had on USA's culture.
In the 60's, cannabis changed music, after the famous joint that famous Nobel Prize awarded Bob Dylan shared The Beatles with. Since then, cannabis goes along with and influences a great deal of artists in every field.