Cannabis in Ancient Times
It is considered one of the first cultivated crops and was found to have medicinal and therapeutic properties that have long been exploited for both human and domesticated animal use. Let us review some of these bygone eras and how cannabis played a significant role in different facets of their societies.
The Ebers Papyrus that dates back to 1500 B.C., lists over 800 treatments that make use of more than 500 plants. Cannabis and hemp seeds are listed among them as remedies for gonorrhea and inflammation. The Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus (1570-1200 B.C.E.) also mentions cannabis as a pain reliever for colorectal cancer and headache sufferers. The medical knowledge of Ancient Egypt's physicians was so renowned that many were invited to ancient Greece and Greeks themselves traveled to the region to learn more.
Traces of cannabis were found on the remains of Pharaoh Ramesses II and many other mummies. The hieroglyphic symbol of shemshemet is believed to refer to hemp and cannabis. It has often been used in various ancient medical texts including the ones just mentioned. Depictions of the Goddess of Wisdom, Seshat, often included a hemp leaf in her headdress. Its popularity may also be attested to by the special tax imposed on its supply from Egypt by the Roman Emperor Aurelian (214-275 A.D.).
Several medical texts that date back almost 2000 years ago from renowned Greek physicians and botanists do mention the use of cannabis. The earliest known is the De Materia Medica penned by Pedanius Dioscorides. In it, he describes the plant ‘Kannabis’. He details its ability to make for strong ropes, its strong scent, and its seeds. The boiled root could be used for treating inflammation and gout, while the green seeds were a component used in relieving earache.
Inspired by Dioscorides' work, another Greek physician known as Galen also wrote of cannabis in two of his texts. These were the De Simplicium Medica and De Alimentorum Facultatibus. In them, he mentioned its ability to treat ear pain and how the seeds could encourage an atmosphere of warmth and hilarity amongst party guests. He is also said to have traveled to Egypt during the era of Cleopatra to study his craft.
The Hippiatrica is a compilation of ailments and treatments for horses that draws upon the work of many medical authors from the byzantine era. In it, cannabis is mentioned as being useful in the treatment of tapeworms and its leaves as an ingredient in wound dressing.
The presence of cannabis in China is not surprising given that it is on the slopes of the Himalayas, where it is believed the plant evolved. It is from Asia that the plant then spread to Europe and the rest of the world. More information is easily found on hemp. It was a valued textile plant, its fibers used in making clothing, ropes, bowstrings, and paper. Many would grow it alongside food crops for commercial purposes.
A Chinese physician named Hua Tuo (110-207 A.D.) is reputed to have been the first to use cannabis as a numbing agent during surgeries. He would administer it in alcohol. Emperor Shen-Nung is also said to have carried out research on the plant and prescribed the use of its female plant for treatment of conditions like malaria, constipation, and rheumatism.
In archeological sites in western China that date back to about 500 B.C., there has been found evidence of smoked cannabis. Today cannabis is typically smoked using rolling papers or through the use of paraphernalia like bongs. Based on a search of the Jirzankal Cemetery, wooden braziers, or bowls, were likely used to create a smoke that could be inhaled.
It appears that the cannabis was being used as part of funeral rites. Traces of cannabis were found in braziers in several tombs of noblemen. The THC levels detected were high, indicating that the plant was being used for its mind-altering properties. The high levels of THC that would be uncommon to wild-growing cannabis suggest that some cultivation of the plant may have been done to increase its potency.
Fast forward to today, the cannabis buds are widely used around the world for a myriad of uses. In some cases, the leaf itself is used to roll the buds for smoking. In the United States, its form of production and transportation ranges from tinctures, chocolate edibles, concentrates, pre-rolls and so much more.
What’s your favorite way of consuming your cannabis?