The hidden history of Cannabis

Many people think of cannabis as evolving in the mid to late 20th century, a product of the liberal 1960s. But cannabis is depicted in early cave drawings and has been written about since the third century BCE. This versatile plant has been used throughout history for textiles, medicine and spirituality. This is the hidden history of cannabis.

Early history of cannabis

The first mention of cannabis in recorded history is in China’s “Meterice Medica” in 2,800 BCE. This medical text touts the benefits of cannabis (called “ma” in Chinese) for treating gout, rheumatism, malaria and about 100 other illnesses. “Ma” is also believed to have been an essential ingredient in early Chinese anesthesia, developed centuries before Western medicine’s version. Even Confucius mentions “ma” in his “Book of Odes.” Cannabis was also used in early Asian burial rituals, as proven by the stash of green cannabis buds recently unearthed in a 2,700 grave in the Gobi desert.

Cannabis travels the Trade Routes

Like other herbs and products of Asia, cannabis eventually found its way to other parts of the world, via the well-traveled trade routes that connected China with India, the Middle East, North Africa and Western Europe. In India, cannabis, called “bhang” in Hindi, is mentioned as one of the five sacred herbs in the Sanskrit Veda spiritual texts. To this day, devotees of the Hindu god Shiva smoke cannabis daily to bring them closer to their spirituality. Cannabis also plays a key role in other early religions, such as Zoroastroism and Tantrism.

In Buddhism, hemp seed and cannabis helped nourish Buddha himself before he ascended into nirvana, and in ancient Egypt, there is strong circumstantial evidence that suggests the priests and upper classes used hemp and cannabis.

Cannabis and western culture

Cannabis was introduced to the west via the Ancient Greek culture. In fact, the word “cannabis” has Greek origins. The Greeks depicted smoking and growing hemp and cannabis in their art and in their literature. There are some that even believe that the anointing oils mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible were made using cannabis.

In the Middle East, cannabis is believed to have been used by early Islam devotees and it’s known that coffee houses flourished in that region and, until modern times, served cannabis (smoked in hookahs) along with the fresh brews. Middle Eastern warriors often used hashish before battle to help them better focus on the task at hand, becoming known as “hashishians”. Our modern word, “assassin” is derived from this word.

The Roman Empire brought news of the medicinal powers of cannabis to western Europe. In the Middle Ages, however, cannabis was considered harmful and hemp was used primarily for textiles and rope. Gradually, hemp became an important cash crop in Europe. So much so, that the Pilgrims brought hemp seeds to North America on the Mayflower.

Cannabis and Europe

In Europe, it was the creative communities that eventually brought cannabis’ hallucinogenic properties back to light. Artists, including William Shakespeare, smoked cannabis, as is proven by the numerous pipes with cannabis resin that have been unearthed in his former property. Later, Napoleon’s armies brought cannabis seeds and Hashish plants back from Egypt during their military campaigns, leading to the re-emergence of cannabis use in Europe in the 19th century. American jazz musicians and ex-pat writers of the “Lost Generation” continued to popularize marijuana into the mid-20th century.

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Cannabis in the New World

Hemp continued to be an important crop in America after its introduction by the pilgrims. Many of the founding fathers of the United States were hemp farmers, and George Washington used cannabis for its medicinal properties to combat chronic toothaches. The crackdown on unlicensed medicine and “elixirs” led to cannabis being gradually banned in U.S. states. However, interestingly enough, in states where it was still legal in the early 20th century, there was notably less alcohol abuse. Eventually, marijuana became illegal in all 50 states, that is, until 2012, when Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational marijuana use once more, setting off a movement across the country.

Today, CBD products, such as cannabinol and CBD hemp oil are widely available and used to treat a variety of ailments, from nausea to joint pain. Look for CBD oil online or at a CBD dispensary near you.

To learn more about the history of cannabis, we invite you to view our YouTube video by clicking here.