As of now, the earliest records of cannabis use are associated with the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. Estimated to date back to 2727 B.C., it was thanks to Emperor Shen Nung’s order for the compilation of a Chinese pharmacopeia listing the medicinal uses of various plants that the oldest written record of cannabis use has been uncovered.
But for those who carry a curious mind hungry for revealing more ancient cannabis mysteries, it may be exciting to consider another intriguing theory introduced by archeologists regarding the earliest records of cannabis use.
According to experts from the Free University of Berlin and the German Archaeological Institute, cannabis has been used in both Asia and Europe as early as between 11,500 and 10,200 years ago.
The experts’ conclusions on that matter were based on a systematic review of both paleo-environmental and archeological records of cannabis achene, pollen, and fibers found all across Europe and East Asia.
While the most popular theory claims that cannabis was first used and domesticated in Central Asia or China, the experts’ explicit study showed solid evidence that the herb was well-known and used in both East Asia and Europe at the very same time (11,500 – 10,200 years ago).
The experts went as far as to claim the Yamnayanomad tribe (Yamnaya being considered the founders of the European civilization), may have been the very first weed dealers, being responsible for the first transcontinental trade of cannabis.
The nomad tribe came from the eastern Steppe region (modern-day Russia and Ukraine), entering Europe about 5,000 years ago, and bringing along their herding skills, Indo-European languages, and metallurgy.
Did we already manage to grab your attention and sparkle your curiosity? Join us below on a magnificent journey through the ancient cannabis mysteries!
Cannabis in Ancient Egypt
Believe it or not, cannabis was so widely used and popular in ancient Egypt that the Roman Emperor Aurelian imposed a tax on it!
Ancient Egyptians were well-familiar with cannabis. They uncovered and used the medicinal properties of marijuana thousands of years ago.
What’s more, their holistic understanding of the medicinal applications of cannabis went far beyond what modern-day medical science has managed to reveal up to the present day.
Solid evidence on that matter comes from the Ebers Papyrus. The Ebers Papyrus was written around 1550 BC. It possesses an unparalleled value for it is the oldest finished medical textbook to be ever discovered.
A number of formulas on the use of hemp are mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus. Therefore, it is indisputable that the ancient Egyptians recognized the medical benefits of cannabis and used it for the alleviation of both pain and inflammation caused by various injuries and/or diseases.
Ancient Egyptian women further used marijuana as a powerful means for waiving off depression, as well as other mental-related issues.
In fact, experts believe that the earliest medicinal use of cannabis in the Egyptian region may date back to 2000 BC. Back then, cannabis was supposedly used to treat vaginal bleeding, cancer, glaucoma, cataracts, and hemorrhoids.
Nowadays, the science behind the medical benefits and uses of marijuana is still at the very beginning of its progress. However, even though yet few in number, explicit studies have started to shed more light on their marketable health properties of cannabis when it comes to the treatment of otherwise considered non-treatable disorders and conditions, including but not limited to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Interestingly, the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II was found to contain traces of cannabis. These traces were quite shocking to the archeologists and experts involved in uncovering and examining the remains of Pharaoh Ramses II in 1881. However, since then, numerous other uncovered mummies have been found to share similar cannabis traces as in the case with the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II. These important discoveries confirmed that cannabis was an intricate part of the culture in ancient Egypt.
But what’s more, the Egyptian goddess of wisdom Seshat was often depicted with a leaf of the cannabis plant which has been regularly painted right above her head thousands of years ago.
Meanwhile, the feline goddess of war Bastet is also believed to have been related to the use of cannabis in ancient Egypt.
With Bastet’s example, though, experts dare to relate the goddess and cannabis use in terms of religious practices and/or even witchcraft, as opposed to medicinal properties of the herb, further signifying that cannabis was long used for its intoxicating effects. Experts also point out to the fact that worshipers in ancient Egypt may have consumed marijuana during certain religious rituals and/or festivities.
Cannabis in Hinduism
Cannabis has a very special place in Hinduism teachings and beliefs.
According to an ancient Hindu religious description, the god Shiva created cannabis from his own body in order to purify the “elixir of life” (known as “Amrita”)
Based on the Samudramanthan description regarding the creation of Amrita, the elixir was first produced from the churning of the ocean before god Shiva purified it with cannabis. As a result, a common epithet for cannabis appeared. The epithet is “angaja,” literally translated as “body-born.”
The legend regarding the way cannabis plants sprang on planet earth, based on ancient Hindu beliefs, is no less intriguing. It revolves around the idea that cannabis plants first appeared after a drop of the elixir of life dropped on the ground.
Up-to-date, cannabis is still a highly cherished herb in India. During the colorful festival of Holi, people consume a cannabis-infused drink known as bhang.
However, it is also important to note that according to Hinduism, bhang drinking should be approached with consciousness and moderation. If consumed properly in accordance with religious rites, bhang is believed to unite worshipers with god Shiva and help them avoid the miseries of hell when reborn in their future incarnations. Bhang is believed to cleanse sins. Nevertheless, bhang is praised for its medicinal benefits.
But on the other hand, foolish, negligent, and/or irresponsible drinking of bhang in the absence of religious rites is regarded as a sin.
Cannabis in Judaism
Numerous debates have risen ever since some writers theorized there is a huge probability that cannabis may have been used ritually in early Judaism. Many mainstream scholars confronted these theories and the associated claims were “widely dismissed as erroneous“. In 1967 Sula Benet claimed that the plant mentioned five times in the Hebrew Bible (a plant is known as kanehbosm קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם), is actually cannabis, despite other theories suggesting that this plant is either Cymbopogoncitratus or Acorus calamus.
The highly disputed kanehbosm plant which Benet believes to have been cannabis was also used in the making of holy anointing oil mentioned in the Book of Exodus. In 2013, Orthodox rabbis Efraim Zalmanovich stated that medical marijuana is kosher, based on Jewish laws.
In fact, Israel is one of the countries that have made the most spectacular progress in cannabis scientific research not merely on a national but on a global level. The first man to have separated THC from other active cannabinoids was none other than Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University.
Cannabis in Ancient Asia
A goddess with many forms and representations that was praised by the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Japanese alike is known as the immortal hemp maiden. Above all, the goddess Magu has different names, powers, and manifestations depending on the different cultures and languages where she is present. Thus, her name can mean maiden, priestess, ‘cannabis’, or a fusion of all of these terms.
In different cultures, the stories associated with the hemp maiden goddess do differ but do also share important similarities, as with most stories regarding the manifestations of divine deities.
In China, the goddess was referred to as Ma Gu, (“Ma Gu” is literally translated as “cannabis/ hemp” – “aunt/maid”). Ma Gu was known as the goddess of health, healing, and spring in some parts of China.
In Korea, the goddess was referred to as Mago and was considered the originator and administrator of the earth’s unfolding. Meanwhile, in Japan, the goddess is known as MaKu.
It is good to keep in mind that cannabis was one of the most historically important crops in ancient Korea. It was so important that the mighty deity Mago was sincerely prayed to in order to protect the harvest. With this in mind, Magu represents the importance of the profound relationship between hemp plants and Korean agriculture.
Even though Mago and her invaluable role in ancient Korean history remain relatively little-known (or at least relatively little discussed) up-to-date, the Korean Mago goddess is considered the equivalent of the Supreme Goddess of Daoism (Xinwangmu) and the Sun Goddess of the Japanese imperial family (Amaterasu). Both Xingwanmu and Amaterasu are the very pantheon of East Asian cosmic goddesses.
The immortal hemp maiden Maguwas regarded as “the ancestor of all races”; the one who takes care of “everything on earth through the equilibrium of cosmic vibration.”
Amazingly, the ancient Asian mysteries regarding cannabis use are merely endless.
Hongen Jiang from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with a team of archeologists, found approximately two pounds of dried cannabis which remained hidden underground for thousands of years. Found inside a 2,700-year-old grave from the Yanghai Tombs, the dried cannabis plant material turned out to be the oldest marijuana in the world, as published in a 2008 study in the Journal of Experimental Botany.
The oldest marijuana stash in the world was located close to the head of a 35-year-old Caucasian shaman. Experts also found out that the shaman was blue-eyed, while the cannabis plant material was placed among other objects intended to be used in the afterlife such as bridles and a harp.
Most noteworthy, the importance of the 2,700-year-old grave from the Yanghai Tombs excavations is related to the fact that THC, the active cannabinoid in charge of the intoxicating effects of cannabis, was present in the oldest marijuana stash in the world. Therefore, scientists believe that the Caucasian shaman and his community most probably used cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Furthermore, Dr. Ethan B. Russo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany noted that someone had intentionally picked out all the parts of the cannabis plant that are less or non-psychoactive before placing it in the shaman’s grave. With this in mind, there is little doubt whether the buried shaman grew hemp for the mere purpose of making his clothes or other important necessities that can be made out of hemp; instead, Dr. Ethan Russo’s revelations point out that the shaman and his community were, indeed, well-aware of the psychoactive effects of the herb
Cannabis in Islam
Even though the first attested cannabis ban in the world is associated with the Emir of the Joneima in Arabia who prohibited cannabis in 1378, the history of the Islamic world is intricately related to cannabis.
Islamic religious laws regarding the use of intoxicating substances are very strict. However, cannabis is not directly forbidden according to the Quran. In fact, the Islamic world was not merely involved in the process of hashish production and consumption but has also been a major crossroad for international hashish trade for centuries.
However, Muslim scholars share different views on cannabis use. Some deem the effects of cannabis consumption quite similar to the effects of a traditional alcoholic drink known as khamr. Because of the similar effects of cannabis and khamr consumption, some Muslim scholars believe that cannabis should be regarded as forbidden (locally referred to as “haraam.”)
On the contrary, based on Bukhari laws, some Muslim scholars do consider cannabis consumption permissible (locally referred to as “halal.”)
According to Sufi tradition, the discovery of cannabis is attributed to Sheikh Haydar (Jafar Sharazi). Jafar Sharazi was a Sufi leader in the 12th century. However, others associate the very origin of cannabis in the Islamic world with the apocryphal Khidr (“Green Man”). The Sufi movement allows the use of cannabis in religious context up-to-date.
Shakespeare on Cannabis?
Many weed aficionados have heard at least once that Shakespeare used to be a cannabis connoisseur himself. But while this information was widely regarded as merely a fancy rumor for quite some time, evidence proves that Shakespeare was, indeed, well-familiar with cannabis consumption.
William Shakespeare’s historic property in Stratford-upon-Avon, England was the exact spot where a grouping of tobacco pipe pieces dating back to the 17th century was found.
Anthropologists and botanists teamed up in order to investigate the tobacco pipes fragments with the use of sophisticated methods for precise investigation. It turned out that cannabis was present on a total of eight of the fragments.
In fact, four of these pipes fragments were excavated directly from Bard’s garden, so there is very little doubt that these did belong to Shakespeare.
But what’s more, the anthropologist Francis Thackeray from the University of the Witwatersrandbrought the suggestion that Shakespeare may have referred to cannabis use in some of his notorious works.
According to Thackeray, what is referred to as “noted weed” by Shakespeare is open to being interpreted as a clear indication of the author’s willingness to use cannabis for the purpose of creative writing (“invention”). Researching this sonnet even further, experts believe that Shakespeare might have been also aware of the effects of cocaine. However, he dismissed cocaine and preferred cannabis as a creative stimulant instead.
Cannabis in Ancient Greece
The Ancient Greek civilization has played a crucial role in the development of society as we know it today. When it comes to cannabis use in ancient Greece, there is solid evidence that the herb was widely popular throughout the Greek and later on, the Roman Empire.
Interestingly, experts believe that the culture of cannabis use has been introduced to the ancient Greeks by Scythian and Thracian shamans. In fact, Greek ritual practices were highly influenced by the Scythians and Thracians, so the case with cannabis use was pretty similar. The Thracian shamans are known as Kapnobatai or “smoke-walkers” used to fumigate themselves with cannabis smoke, thereby, achieving a state of trance or ecstasy.
Little by little, the ancient Greeks started to use cannabis in religious practices, too, and there is solid evidence relating the cults of Orpheus (legendary poet, prophet, and musician) Aphrodite (the goddess of beauty, love, beauty, passion, procreation, and pleasure), Apollo (considered one of the most complex and important of the Olympian deities in both Greek and Roman mythology), Dionysus (the god of wine, wine making, grape-harvest, fertility, religious ecstasy, and ritual madness), Hera (Zeus’ sister-wife and goddess of marriage, family, and childbirth), and nonetheless, other Greek deities who are related to the use of cannabis at the Oracle of Delphi.
The Oracle of Delphi keeps mesmerizing and puzzling experts from all over the world up to the present day, as it continues to be embraced in spiritual mystery. The highest priestess (known as Pythia) of the Oracle of Delphi followed strict and complex rituals.
For instance, once a month the oracle would undergo special purification rites. These rites included fasting in order to ceremonially prepare the priestess for communications with the divine through the mystical Oracle. Nevertheless, on the seventh day of each month, the Pythia would be led by two oracular priests, her face veiled in purple, while the attended priests would declaim a sacred text.
Furthermore, the purported archeological find of ancient hashish at the Nekyomanteion on the River Acheron has been discussed in the book “Mysteries of the Oracles.”
The Nekyomanteion is a place where the ancient Greeks consulted the dead while the River Acheron is one of the most famous entrances to the netherworld. In fact, Acheron was described as the river of Hades (king of the underworld and god of the dead) in Homeric poems. Those who passed away would be ferried across the Acheron by Charon before finally entering the Underworld.
There is no doubt that ancient Greeks made use of cannabis-infused incenses and wines, and they were well-familiar with cannabis-infused lotions and ointments (some of which applied vaginally, which is still a rather unknown way of cannabis application in our modern-day world).
Not the least, some experts suggest the theory that there is a high probability that the mythical substance mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey, and referred to as “nepenthe” might have been made with the use of cannabis.
Nepenthe is described as a mood-shifting substance that can cause sorrow and anger to be forgotten.
Keeping in mind that the Iliad and Odyssey are two major literary sources that provide essential information on various phenomena regarding human knowledge and experience, it is only fair to state that cannabis mysteries and the history of ancient Greece are interconnected in ways that give plenty of food for thought, as well as big hopes for mind-blowing discoveries on that matter in the foreseeable future.
Ancient Cannabis Mysteries: Final Thoughts
Who knows what tomorrow will bring when it comes to revealing ancient cannabis mysteries? There is so much yet to be discovered, so much yet to be discussed, especially since cannabis accessibility and associated research was brutally blocked for centuries.
It might be amazing to learn that in 1997, a hemp rope that was proven to date back to 26,900 BC was found in Czechoslovakia. This important discovery has made the 1997-year uncovered hemp rope the oldest known object associated with cannabis.
Regardless of when and who is to be associated with the earliest records of cannabis use, there is no doubt that hemp has played a key role in the development of humanity. For thousands of years, cannabis plants were considered a major crop among various ancient civilizations. Apart from having high economic value, cannabis was also praised and used for its commercial, medicinal, and nonetheless, spiritual benefits.