Cannabis or marijuana has been accompanying mankind for more than 10,000 years, which has found the myriad of uses of this plant, either at recreational, medicinal or industrial level. The first evidences of cannabis were found in Asia, so it is not strange that the first written references we have about cannabis come from this area, especially from China and India.
Although the first traces of the use of hemp date back to about ten thousand years before Christ, the first written reference to its medicinal use is found quite later, around the year 2737 BC. Still, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the therapeutic traits of cannabis had been discovered discovered rather earlier.
Ivory statue representing Shen Nung (Photo: Wellcome Images)
First medicinal uses of cannabis
As we mentioned about the therapeutic use of hemp, we know that it was already contained in the pharmacopoeia of Shen Nung, Chinese emperor and father of the Chinese medicine, who compiled his knowledge of medicinal plants in a book written in 2737 BC. The legend says that, apart from discovering the medicinal properties of cannabis, Shen Nung also investigated the properties of ginseng and ephedra. The first written reference of the medicinal use of cannabis is also found in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the Rh-Ya, in 1500 BC.
From this point, we found a series of cases in which this plant is recognized as an effective remedy for many ailments. The Ebers Papyrus, dated about 1500 BC and written by the Egyptians, mentions the medicinal properties of marijuana, for example, describing how to use it on a suppository to relieve hemorrhoids. In 1450 BC, in the Book of Exodus, a sacred ointment made of Kaneh-Bosem – a word that numerous and reputable specialists have identified as hemp – is mentioned. But, back to Egypt, traces of cannabis pollen have been also found in the tomb of Ramses II, who died in 1213 BC. We also know that Bhang was used in India since the year 1000 BC, a drink made of milk and marijuana used as anesthetic or anti-phlegmatic.
The medicinal use of hemp soon spread westwards, leaving clear evidence of this fact: in the Middle East, the Persian prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra) wrote the Zend-Avesta in the 7th century BC, a religious text strongly influenced by the Vedas, in which Bhang is mentioned and cannabis is classified as the most important among 10,000 medicinal plants in one of its volumes, the Venidad. The first detailed written work explaining the properties of the hemp in India dates back to 600 BC, the Treatise of Ayurveda medicine in Sushruta Samhita.