Thousands of years before the continual ban on cannabis started to take place, mankind has made use of the multiple amazing properties of the herb. Highly valued for the production of strong fiber used in the making of ropes (and not only), but cannabis was also prized and well-known as both medicine and food.
When it comes to the psychoactive properties of weed, our ancestors cherished cannabis use for various religious and ceremonial purposes, and nonetheless, for recreation.
The human history of cannabis consumption is full of incredible, little-known facts that will not only sparkle your curiosity but may also help you gain a more profound understanding of the true value of cannabis for mankind.
Indeed, nowadays the public opinions regarding cannabis are highly polarized. Some continue to treat marijuana use as abusive behavior. Others praise the herb in terms of both medical, as well as recreational benefits.
Tracing back the human history of cannabis consumption proves that most cultures have realized and utilized the therapeutic properties of weed for centuries, even though cannabis somehow ended up being categorized right next to dangerous substances such as heroin.
Cannabis Consumption and Use: Early History (8000 BC– 1213 BC)
It is in the archipelago of Oki Islands located near Japan where an archeological site provided evidence dating back to as far as about 8000 BC signifying the use of cannabis. Archeologists discovered cannabis achenes (achenes being a simple form of dry fruits).
Furthermore, experts share that cannabis has a long history of cultivation and use in Japan, starting all the way back in the pre-Neolithic era.Back in those days, cannabis was widely used as a source of both food and fibers. But what’s more, experts point out there is a very high probability that cannabis was also used with the clear intention of reaping the psychoactive effects of the herb.
While there is plenty of evidence that the ancient Chinese, as well as the ancient Koreans treasured cannabis as one of the most important crops available to mankind (the earliest form of paper in China was also made from hemp!), the earliest written record of using cannabis as medicine is associated with the Chinese emperor Shennong (also known as Wugushen).
Back in 2727 BC, the Chinese emperor Shennong participated in the compilation of a full list of medicinal plants and their benefits for health, well-being and the treatment of various medical disorders and conditions. In this list, cannabis was pointed out as a treatment for over 100 ailments, including but not limited to malaria, rheumatism, gout, and absent-mindedness.
The Aryans (Indo-Iranian people) referred to cannabis as “qunubu” which literally translates into “way to produce smoke,” for cannabis was used during some of their religious ceremonies because of the desired psychoactive effects.
It was thanks to Aryans that cannabis was introduced to the Thracians, Dacians, and Scythians.
The Thracian Mysians(ancient Mysia is located in modern-day Bulgaria) were commonly referred to as “kapnobatai” or “capnobatae,” literally translated into “those who walk in clouds/smoke.” The kapnobatai were shamans, and they relied on the intoxicating effects of burned cannabis flowers for the purpose of inducing a state of trance and being able to communicate with the spirits of higher realms.
Meanwhile, in 2000-1400 BC the Scythians burned cannabis flowers as part of their burial ceremonies, and they also made use of cannabis’ therapeutic benefits when taking a steam bath.
It is important to keep in mind that evidence regarding the exact ways the ancient people consumed cannabis in the centuries before Christ is rather scarce due to the perishability of the materials known to mankind back in those days. But based on the solid evidence that signifies the ways the ancient people used cannabis in important religious ceremonies and as a major crop make it more than clear that they treated the herb with utmost respect and praise.
Hindu religious texts from the period 2000 BC – 1000 BC described cannabis as a “joy giver,” as well as a “bringer of freedom.” Experts have no doubt that during this period, cannabis was widely consumed by smoking during daily devotional services, apart from important religious rituals on a non-daily basis. One traditional form of cannabis consumption in India which was especially popular in 2000-800 BC but is no less popular nowadays is called Bhang.
Bhang was first mentioned in the sacred Hindu text Atharvaveda and referred to as “Sacred Grass.” In fact, the “Sacred Grass” is one of the five sacred plants in the country of India. Cannabis was used as a sacred ritual offering to god Shiva. This particular practice continues to up-to-date throughout India. Cannabis continues to be regarded as a sacred herb and is an integral part of local traditions and important national holidays, such as the Holi festival.
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Alongside the religious rituals-related consumption of cannabis, the Ayurvedic medicine made a tremendous advance in studying the medicinal benefits of cannabis consumption. Thus, in the period between 2000 BC – 1000 BC cannabis became widely used in India as a means for treating anxiety, bronchitis, rabies, and epilepsy, among others.
In 1550 BC, cannabis was listed as a suitable remedy for the treatment of inflammation based on an Egyptian medical papyrus known as the Ebers papyrus.
But what’s more, cannabis pollen was discovered in the top of one of the most famous and mysterious Egyptian pharaohs –Ramesses II, who was mummified right after his death in 1213 BC.
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Cannabis Consumption across the Globe: 900 BC – 1900AD
In 900 BC, the Assyrians were already well-familiar with consumption of cannabis for both medical, as well as recreational purposes. The way Assyrians discovered the psychotropic effects of weed is through the ancient Aryans.
As years passed by, cannabis consumption kept spreading across the globe. By 450 – 200 BC, the Greco-Romans employed cannabis for a wide range of conditions.
For instance, the women of the Roman elite consumed cannabis to alleviate labor pains. Pedanius Dioscorides who was a Greek pharmacologist, physician, botanist, and author of a 5-volume encyclopedia on herbal medicine prescribed cannabis for both earaches, as well as toothaches.
In fact, the Greek physician and philosopher Claudius Galen (born 130 AD and died 210 AD), who is considered one of the most important figures in the entire history of Medicine, noted that at the time of his being, cannabis was widely consumed throughout the entire Roman empire.
The first recorded use of cannabis for its analgesic properties dates back to 207 AD and is attributed to Hua T’o–a Chinese physician of the late Eastern Han Dynasty. HuaT’o created a mixture of wine and cannabis which he used prior to surgery to anesthetize his patients.
By the 900 – 1000 AD, cannabis consumption was so popular that it gave rise to debates involving Arabs scholars who raised the question over the pros and cons of eating hashish. During this period, cannabis consumption was spreading throughout Arabia as if by storm. By the time, cannabis was regarded as a powerful means in the treatment of epilepsy by the Arabs.
By 1025 AD, an encyclopedia consisting of five books known as“Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine” was compiled by the Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna. In Avicenna’s encyclopedia, cannabis consumption was regarded as an effective treatment for severe headaches, gout, infectious wounds, and edema. Avicenna’s work was explicitly studied from the 13th to 19th centuries. It had a profound and lasting impact on Western medicine.
In 1200 AD, just about two centuries after Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was first published, the legendary Arabian collection of tales1,001 Nights described the intoxicating and aphrodisiac properties of hashish.
In 1300 ADArab traders brought cannabis from India to Eastern Africa. Once cannabis was spread inland, it was used for the treatment of asthma, fever, malaria, and dysentery.
1300AD was also the time when Ethiopian pipes that contained marijuana were considered solid evidence that cannabis consumption has spread from Egypt to the rest of Africa.
In1532 marijuana’s medical effects were mentioned in the French physician Rabelais’s pentalogy of novels titled The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.
It is in1549 when Angolan slaves are known to have brought cannabis to the sugar plantations located in northeastern Brazil. The slaves were exclusively allowed to grow their cannabis plants between the rows of cane, as well as to smoke it between harvests.
In1563 Garcia da Orta who was a Renaissance herbalist, naturalist, physician, and nonetheless, a trailblazer of pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, and tropical medicine, reported on the medicinal effects of cannabis consumption.
By1578 the Chinese herbalist, physician, scientist, polymath, pharmacologist, and Ming dynasty’s acupuncturist Li Shih-Chen wrote about the antiemetic and antibiotic effects of marijuana.
One of the first recorded evidence discussing the mental benefits of cannabis consumption dates back to 1621 and is attributed to Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. In the Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton suggests that cannabis may treat depression.
By the year of1764, the term “medical marijuana” appeared in The New English Dispensatoryalongside other medicinal simples and fascinating remedies such as a non-alcoholic mint distillate and a saffron syrup made with sherry compiled by William Lewis.
By1794 medical marijuana also appeared in The Edinburgh New Dispensary.
Another amazing fact of the human history of cannabis consumption is related to the world-famous military leader and statesman Napoleon (Napoléon Bonaparte). In 1798Napoleon intentionally brought cannabis from Egypt to France. He ordered that the pain-relieving and sedative properties of cannabis would be thoroughly investigated. At the time, cannabis was already used for the treatment of jaundice, cough, and tumors.
In 1839William O’Shaughnessy made a tremendous step in the introduction of cannabis to Western medicine. The Irish doctor did not merely introduce the therapeutic uses of marijuana to the Western society but he also concluded marijuana had no negative effects as a medicinal. O’Shaughnessy firmly believed that the use of cannabis would boom in the foreseeable future in a pharmaceutical context.
By1840 medicinal preparations based on cannabis were available in America. Nonetheless, Persian pharmacies sold hashish at the time. Just a decade later in 1850, cannabis was officially made a part of The U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
In 1900 medical cannabis was available without prescription in medications such as “One day cough cure” and “Piso’s cure.” It was used to alleviate labor pain, nausea, and rheumatism. The active ingredients in “One day cough cure” consisted of“cannabis indica, F.E.,” alcohol (less than 1%), chloroform, and “morphia, sulph,” – a combination that modern-day cannabis connoisseurs would compare to “coma in a bottle.”
When Did Cannabis Consumption Become Illegal?
Under the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act introduced in 1914, cannabis consumption was slowly but steadily walking towards illegality. Drug use was officially declared a crime in the U.S., with no regards to marijuana’s profound medical benefits.
By 1928, Britain banned recreational cannabis use.
In1934-1935 the Chinese government banned all cannabis cultivation in Yarkand. The booming traffic of charas from Yarkand was also officially prohibited. Thus, hashish production was outlawed in Chinese Turkestan.
It didn’t take long for the Marijuana Tax Act to be released in 1937 following the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. As a result, both use and sales of cannabis across the United States were banned.
Just several years later in1941 cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Thus, the medicinal use of cannabis was no longer recognized in the USA.
However, 1941 was also the time when the Indian government considered cannabis cultivation in Kashmir. This decision was needed in order to fill the void of Chinese Turkestan hashish. During World War II, first-rate hashish in India was predominantly obtained from hand-rubbed charas made in Nepal.
By 1970 cannabis was categorized as a Schedule 1 Drug. Because of this classification, any further research of the plant’s medicinal benefits was blocked. Moreover, cannabis was listed as having “no accepted medical use”.
In 1988, a significant discovery was about to change the course of human history of cannabis consumption. It was then that CBD receptors were discovered.
Little by little, society was bound to learn that CBD receptors are some of the most abundant neuroreceptors in the human’s brain.
From the 2000s to present-day, tons of myths regarding cannabis consumption were busted. Cannabis legalization for medical purposes started to rapidly take place, while recreational marijuana legalization soon followed up.
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Human History of Cannabis Consumption: Final Thoughts
As Mark Twain beautifully stated, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.” Will we be the generation to repeat or rhyme the human history of cannabis consumption? Nowadays, we have the unique chance of becoming the generation of trailblazers who will pave the path towards better understanding and use of a plant that has served humanity for millennia.One thing is for sure: the history of mankind has always been and will forever remain intricately related to cannabis consumption.