If any plant on the planet were in need of a good PR agent, it would be cannabis. In a few centuries, cannabis has gone through many evolutions of social opinion. The mystical plant could cure pain or help you spirit walk for an existential experience to the evil “Devil’s Lettuce.”
On the pendulum of social opinion, cannabis has swung once more, to a favorable view. Not just in America, but around the world. The World Health Organization in 2020 moved to reschedule cannabis. And then, in a historic vote, the United Nations moved to do the same. This marks an evolution to viewing cannabis still as a controlled substance, but more in the category of alcohol or tobacco products. And not in the same category as dangerous drugs, with high overdose potential.
If we take a step back into history (way back), we see ample evidence of the cannabis plant being venerated. Worshipped in some ways and essential both to medicine and spiritual wellness. Before pot became politicized, it was revered by ancient civilizations. Our ancestors used cannabis for many of the same reasons that patients with medical cards use it today.
Toke Like an Egyptian: How Ancient Physicians on the African Continent Used Cannabis
Hundreds of years of study into ancient Egypt’s culture have taught us more than a few things. The Egyptians were a far advanced culture in terms of architecture and science. But it wasn’t just the pyramids and giant statues that made Egypt a progressive society. They were world-leading practitioners of mystical and medical treatments.
Egyptians recorded their wisdom of the ages on papyrus, a paper made from the pulp of the papyrus plant. Among the volumes of medical procedures and techniques documented on ancient scrolls, the word “Shemshemet” appears often. And although we’re not 100% sure, many Egyptologists believe this was the word practitioners used for cannabis.
MarijuanaDoctors.com shares some of the ways that Egyptians used cannabis included:
- Treatment for glaucoma. Cannabis seeds were combined with a celery paste and placed as a topical compress on the eyes daily to reduce vision loss.
- Cannabis seeds were ground and then combined with honey to be used to “cool” inflammation in women’s pelvic areas.
- Honey, ochre, hedjou resin, the ibou plant, and cannabis seeds were combined and frequently applied to treat skin wounds and infections. An ancient nod to both the analgesic and the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis.
One ancient papyrus is called “The Ramesseum,” and historians believe it was written around 1750 BC. In this medical text, there are specific illnesses and treatments where Shemshemet is used as a medicinal. Often a topical, rather than ingested.
Don’t blame weed for making people “Walk Like An Egyptian.” The culture didn’t recognize it as a recreational drug. They much preferred opium and actively cultivated it as a crop for affluent families. So, when you see old movies of Cleopatra puffing on something, it wasn’t weed.
Cannabis Makes an Appearance in the Ancient Greek Pharmacopeia
An ancient text thought to be the first formal compendium of pharmaceutical herbs and extracts was called the “De Materia Medica.” It was written by a man named Pedanius Diocorides, who was a physician and botanist in Greece. He wrote the five-volume pharmacopeia from 50-70 AD.
Of the 600 plants included in herbs and medicines’ extensive anthology, it appears “Kannabis.” If the Kardashians were to start their dispensary brand, that would be the perfect name. But interestingly, the references in the De Materia Medica by Diocorides doesn’t talk about cannabis flower or bud; it only discusses the value of seeds.
One of the most interesting notations about Kannabis in the compendium is that the seeds could reduce sexual desire. First, the idea is a little humorous; was it a problem in ancient Greece? Not a bad problem to have. And who was it used for? Some historians say that ground cannabis seeds may have been given to Greek soldiers to innervate them for battle. Or to sedate them and force them to rest and rejuvenate without heading to the nearest town for some action. Kind of like an anti-Viagra.
On the medicinal side of things, there was another famous Greek physician and philosopher. His name was Galen, and he was one of the first celebrity physicians in Rome. He also wrote volumes about his medical research and referred to cannabis as beneficial for physical health and emotional well-being. Galen also wrote extensively about pastes and tinctures made from ground cannabis seeds used to dress severe burns and treat cancerous tumors.
Ancient Chinese Medicine Referenced Cannabis for Several Health Benefits
In ancient China, nothing was legalized unless the Emperor of the day approved of it. That included food, drink, agriculture and medicine. In 2700 BC, Emperor Shen-Nung was known as the ‘Red Emperor.’ Shen-Nung became historically known as the “Father of Chinese Medicine.” And he is the first historical leader from the Chinese culture to experiment medically with cannabis.
Using the oral tradition, Chinese medicine’s medicinal practices and wisdom were passed down through the generations. Finally, 3,000 years after Emperor Shen-Nung’s rule, a volume called the Pen Tsao (The Great Herbal) was created in 50 AD.
Included in the Pen Tsao were recommendations to use cannabis to treat women’s menstrual and reproductive pain (including during childbirth). It was also referenced for the treatment of gout, malaria, and rheumatism.
Later, a surgeon named Hua T’o started to use medicinal cannabis and successfully document treatments with marijuana. Cannabis leaves and flower were dried, ground up, and then mixed with wine as a surgical sedative and analgesic. The word for anesthesia in Chinese is mázui (cannabis intoxication). In the second century AD, cannabis was also used to treat tapeworms and blood clots.
Was Cannabis Used Recreationally by Early Chinese Civilizations?
The Chinese culture didn’t document the recreational use of cannabis. But that changed in the Han Dynasty that started in 206 BC. The practice of religious Shamanism started to decline. Yet the Pen-Tsao ching (fruits of cannabis) stated that it would “produce visions of devils and allow someone to communicate with spirits.”
A site excavated in 2019 by archaeologists Yang Yimin and Ren Meng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing reported some interesting new evidence. As they uncovered burial chambers of affluent leaders, there were braziers or wooden bowls with cannabis residue. Mourners would place heated stones with cannabis leaves among mourners to alleviate feelings of anxiety and sadness.
The bowls were only found in tombs of the most elite citizens. Along with other relics that indicated that affluent family members were buried there. This makes sense as only important or elite members of society back then would have large burial ceremonies. Undoubtedly a small feast would follow after tears were shed and marijuana was inhaled. If cannabis gives us the munchies today, it probably would have done the same for our ancestors.
However, some historians have rebuked that assumption. They claim that the THC levels of cannabis plants were so low during that period, it would be unlikely to produce any psychoactive effects at all. And the pungent smell of burning cannabis may have been for another purpose; to mask the smell of a decomposing loved one. That makes a lot of ‘scents’ too.
When in Rome? Toke Like a Gladiator Because Ancient Romans Loved Weed
Oh, those Roman party animals. For all the bravado of the Roman Empire, Italians back in the day were a frisky culture. Ancient Rome was built on dictatorship ideologies, great food and wine, military superiority, slavery, and sex.
Promiscuity wasn’t a problem in ancient Rome. The concept of monogamy wasn’t accepted at the time, particularly among the affluent. Sex parties? You bet. You could hire a few gladiators to make a special guest appearance for your stagette party. The wine flowed, and so did the cannabis. It was commonly infused into wine or used to make desserts.
The goddess of flowers was Flora. She wasn’t a major goddess, more like a nymph but a good enough reason to have a big party from April 27th to May 3rd annually. Archaeological evidence points to the celebration of Flora as being an almost week-long community smoke session. Complete with private and public parties, theatrical performances, religious rites, and weed.
Cannabis Was Celebrated from Babylonia to Bonaparte
We now know that almost every ancient culture used cannabis for medicinal (and recreational) purposes. Other civilizations like the Babylonians talked about it legally, in the 1800 BC volume called Hammurabi’s code. It was cultivated and imported from what is now known as AfghaniLike.
When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, the Islamic region had banned alcohol consumption. That didn’t sit well with French troops. Instead, the French were permitted to smoke cannabis and use hashish. That is how weed and hash were introduced to French society.
If ancient civilizations could talk to us now, they would be puzzled about our complicated legal relationship with cannabis. The laws and social opinion about cannabis are swinging back to what was always understood about marijuana; it helps, and it’s fun.