Scientists like Carl Sagan have theorized that the cannabis plant may have encouraged the age of agriculture. In fact, it’s often been wondered if nomads and other foragers opted to farm cannabis permanently rather than aimlessly traveling throughout the world. While it’s impossible to prove this (especially since Carl Sagan was a known cannabis lover), historians have discovered that cannabis was used as far back as 10,000 years ago. So just when did this eager and enthusiastic use of cannabis flip flop so wildly into a villainized dangerous drug? Let’s take a stroll down history lane and see how cannabis played important roles throughout the course of time.
Ancient Uses for Cannabis: To The Tombs! (China 500 BC)
Cannabis and low-THC plants were used as food, textures, medicine, and other industrial uses, quite similar to how hemp is used today. It’s unclear exactly who was the first to discover that smoking cannabis can get you high or even when it was first inhaled; all we know is that, at some point around 3,000 years ago, someone got the bright idea to smoke it! This fact has only recently been discovered by a group of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. These researchers discovered several pieces of charred wood in a Western Chinese tomb (circa 500 BC) that were tested and confirmed to have residual traces of THC on them. This suggests that funerals were attended by mourners who respectfully lit up and grieved the deceased by getting high, often accompanied by somber music and a solemn farewell.
First Known Proliferation & Prosecution of Cannabis (Egypt 1253 AD)
The tombs in Western China were located in the Pamir Mountains, adjacent to the Silk Road trade routes that connected Asia to Europe and the Middle East. It has been theorized that cannabis made its way throughout the world via these trade routes, along with many other herbs and spices that are commonly found in households today. Since cannabis grows easily in nearly all climates, many consumers were willing to risk jail time or worse to smuggle the hallucinogenic plant into their home country. Egypt was the first known country to prosecute those growing and consuming cannabis; cannabis growers were subjected to capital punishment, while consumers had all of their teeth forcefully removed.
Early References To Cannabis As “Medicinal” (China 2727 BCE)
In early Chinese history, there was an emperor by the name of Shennong (also “Shen-Nung) who was (and still is) deeply respected and renowned as being the father of both herbal medicine and modern agriculture. Additionally, he also is one of the first powerful figures to be recorded as referring to cannabis as a medicinal plant. Emperor Shennong earned the name “The Divine Farmer” and personally consumed hundreds of wild plants in search of any that contained holistic properties. He recorded his findings in what’s referred to as one of the world’s first pharmacopeia, “Divine Farmer’s Herb Root Classic.” His remarks on cannabis, particularly the female flowers, include praises for successfully treating gout, rheumatism, constipation, ‘female weakness,’, absent-mindedness, and malaria. Cannabis is specifically named as the “supreme elixirs of immortality.”
Using Cannabis In Spiritual Sacraments (1200 BCE, India)
India is credited with having the first documented use of cannabis in the form of spiritual sacraments. The scriptural Hindu texts are composed of four “vedas,” one of which is known as The Atharvaveda. Cannabis is mentioned specifically in this text, along with four other sacred plants that are often associated with the Hindu god Shiva, and is specifically praised for its ability to relieve uneasiness and bring joyful euphoria.
For those not that familiar with the Hindu god of transformation, Shiva is renowned for being enamored with a cannabis drink called bhang. This particular drink is made by grinding cannabis into a thick paste and infusing the paste with a milky beverage called bhang lassi. The result is a flavorful milkshake-like drink that is flavored with spices and the familiar earthy flavor of cannabis. Bhang is a part of Ayurvedic medicine used to alleviate digestive problems, fever, immune system support, and interestingly enough, a lacking libido! Check out our articles involving sex called, "Stoned Sex: How Cannabis Can Improve Your Sex Life" and “Best Cannabis Products for Stoned Sex" in your spare time, but it’s fascinating to learn that the cannabis drink bhang has been used since ancient times for both spiritual and medicinal purposes. In today’s times, parts of India still sell bhang in shops run by the government and the drink is heavily consumed during festivals and holidays involving the Hindu god Shiva.
First-Documented Instance of the Hotbox (800 BCE, Scythia)
In our last article, we discussed in great detail what hotboxing is and whether or not it works. Herodotus, the Ancient Greek dubbed “the father of history” is thought to be the first European to specifically mention cannabis in his writing. His travels are well documented and explored the unique cultures and customs he came across. In regards to hotboxing, Herodotus studied a nomadic group of traders known as the Sycthians. One of their personal grooming techniques was to make a teepee-tent (three sticks leaned to the center and covered with thick felt) and then laid a dish in the center. Red-hot stones would be placed on that dish as well as several cannabis seeds. The smoke that arose from the baked seeds (no pun intended) was inhaled, causing those that inhaled to become joyful and delighted. Aside from hotboxing, the Sycthians were also known to smoke cannabis out of bongs fashioned from solid gold!
Cannabis: Used In Burials For The Afterlife (500 BCE, Siberia)
There’s no question that cannabis was used for centuries by the living, but there are also cases where it was used for the deceased. A 1993 expedition into the Altai Mountains located in Eastern Russia discovered a mummified body of a young Siberian woman, complete with a pouch of cannabis and several valuable treasures inside her coffin. The thick ice had preserved the body so well that even after 2,500 years, the tattoos on the “ice princess” were still distinguishable. Researchers speculate that she descended from wealth or royalty, given the expensive craftsmanship of both the jewelry and clothing she wore as well as the coffin she was buried in. Yet one detail remained a mystery: the mummified woman was thought to be in her early 20s. Why? Thanks to the marvels of medical technology, the corpse was scanned with MRI machines and made a startling discovery: she had breast cancer. Perhaps the royal family thought that cannabis could have helped her travel into the afterlife despite her disease, or she may have been a shaman that required the use of cannabis in ceremonial plant-healing sessions.
Did Someone Say…Edibles? (1000 CE, Morocco)
Edibles are arguably one of the most popular forms of cannabis, but did you know where the very first edible originated from? The Berber villages in the Rif mountains of Morocco are credited with the first recorded edible known as “mahjoun” (or “majoun” or “majoon”) that dates almost 1000 years ago. This confectionery sweet is powered with hashish and can be crafted in a variety of ways. There’s no one recipe for mahjoun, but is more of a secret family recipe that is passed down from generations. The traditional recipe involves a chunky paste of dates, figs, butter, ground nuts, and hashish. The paste is then coated with a variety of spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, sea salt, rosewater, lavender, and honey. We’ll be discussing exactly what hashish is and how it ties into cannabis, but in short, it is a potent concentrate of cannabis that is encouraged and wildly enjoyed throughout Morocco. In fact, the United Nations recognizes Morocco as the world leader in the production of cannabis, the majority of which is still produced in those Berber villages in the Rif Mountains.
The world has undergone a tumultuous relationship with cannabis for several centuries. It’s not clear why so many countries either villainized or embraced it, but we continue to see this love/hate relationship with both hemp and weed today. Many countries encourage its use, while other countries enforce imprisonment for even possessing it. Multiple states within the US have legalized the recreational and medicinal use of both marijuana and hemp, while other states are staunchly against anything that is not hemp-derived. There may never be a day when the world unanimously agrees on its legality, but it is intriguing to see how cannabis placed such a large role in history from countries around the world.
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