cannabis history

Cannabis history

The Ancient History of Cannabis

Discover the secret wisdom of the sacred cannabis plant

Ruby Deevoy

Of all the plants in the world, hemp (also known as cannabis sativa) is irrefutably one of the oldest and most famously cultivated…

History of Cannabis

The Cannabis plant (which is also known as hemp and marijuana) has been used medicinally, spiritually, recreationally, nutritionally and even structurally in buildings, clothing and more dates back at least 5000 years. The history of cannabis is extraordinarily rich.

The ancient uses of cannabis are nothing short of astonishing. Through ‘real world’ experience, we know cannabis has incredible array of applications unlike any other species in the plant kingdom. And now, through a rapidly developing body of research, we’re learning all about its inner workings and the unique interaction it has with the human body. 

But due to nearly a century of prohibition, the history of cannabis (and now, the vibrant future of cannabis too) has been swept under a hefty blanket of propaganda-induced misconceptions. The result is more than a loss of sacred, ancient knowledge among the people of the world – it has also resulted in the suffering and persecution of many who may have (and still can) benefit from hemp in a vast number of ways.

cannabis prohibition

Photo by herbadea Berlin on Unsplash cannabis-prohibition

Shifting Perceptions: Cannabis Education with Dermactiva

If you take a look at the story behind our brand, Dermactiva, you’ll find that the cannabis issue is one very close to our hearts and the history of cannabis inspires us every day.

Our cannabis seed oil products may have never come to be, if it wasn’t for the sheer determination of our original Colombian supplier, Herman Patiño winning the hearts and changing the minds of Colciencias - a national scientific body in Colombia that supports fundamental research. The history of cannabis prohibition presented seemingly endless obstacles, which he defeated time and again.

Today, the mission to transform our understanding of cannabis and spread awareness of its uses and the history of cannabis is ongoing, not just by us, but by the millions of people worldwide who have retained this wisdom through the ages, or educated themselves to realise this wonder-plant’s true potential.

You’ll find plenty of solid, cannabis information written by our experts here at Dermactiva, all of which will hopefully give you all you need to pique your curiosity and start digging deeper – beyond the anti-cannabis rhetoric which still affects the world today. But to truly grasp the brilliance of cannabis, and all of the cannabinoid and terpenes within, you must first take a look at what we have learned from history books from almost every country in the world…

8000 BCE: Cannabis in China

No, that’s not a typo. One of the earliest examples of cannabis use really does date back to the stone age!

hemp facts

Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash hemp-facts

Cannabis Made History in China

In what’s now known as Taiwan, archaeologists unearthed fragments of pottery and twisted rope strands made of hemp as well as tools very much like examples found at a later date which were created to loosen cannabis fibres from their stems.

Well ahead of many other areas of the globe, the Chinese were using hemp (a strain of cannabis often grown for its fibrous stalks and now, CBD laden flowers) to make cloth, marking the end of their reliance on animal skins for clothing and shoes. This stuck in China through dynasties, with hemp even being crushed to make the first paper and grown as an ‘agricultural war crop’ after the discovery that its fibres could be made into far superior bow strings. 

Cannabis in China was used for:

  • Clothing
  • Rope
  • Paper
  • Bow Strings
  • Shoes
  • Pottery

The Chinese so revered hemp (a cheaper and stronger alternative to another favourite – silk) that they would often refer to their country as the "land of mulberry and hemp".

2700 BCE: Cannabis and Traditional Chinese Medicine 

Jumping forward, the ancient uses of Cannabis became vitally important to almost every aspect of life in China, including medicine

ancient cannabis history

Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash  ancient-cannabis-history

Cannabis Was Used As Ancient Medicine

Although much of this was ‘magic based’ at the start, using hemp stalks to beat out demons and carve protective images into, it wasn’t long before the ingestion, inhaling and topical application of cannabis began. 

One of the earliest documentations of this is in notes written by emperor Shen Nung, who was also affectionately know as ‘the divine farmer’ and ‘the Father of Chinese Medicine’ for his introduction of agriculture to China and his investigations into 365 herbs. 

Cannabis and The Father of Chinese Medicine

According to his notes, it’s clear that Shen Nung frequently prescribed marijuana tea for the treatment of rheumatism, malaria, poor memory, gout and many more ailments besides. It was also written that cannabis can help you see ghosts and that “prolonged consumption frees the spirit light and lightens the body.” 

Shen Nung was famous for trying out the medicinal benefits of plants on himself before offering to his patients, and rumour has it this is how he met his end! Although not from using cannabis, whose sole use has not directly killed a single person - unlike plenty of our modern medicine cabinet staples, like paracetamol.

Cannabis was used for:

  • Spiritual protection & exploration
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Topical application
  • Edibles
  • Marijuana Tea
  • Inhaling

Cannabis and hemp use remained significant in China for millennia, and in 207 AD, Hua T’o became the first recorded physician to use a mix of cannabis and wine to anaesthetize patients before surgery.

2,000 – 1,000 BCE: Cannabis in Ayurvedic Practice

Ayurvedic and Hindu religious texts from this thousand-year stretch are full of cannabis references…

cannabis use ayurveda

Image by Adobe  cannabis-use-ayurveda

Ancient Ayurvedic Text is full of Cannabis History

In ancient written history of cannabis, the plant is described as a “source of happiness”, “joy-giver”, and “bringer of freedom” and documented for its medicinal and spiritual uses in Ayurvedic practice.

Cannabis was smoked as a ceremonial practice

It’s believed that cannabis was smoked daily by religious people in India as a key part of ritual, offering and devotion to the Gods. This, unsurprisingly, opened up the plant for wider medicinal exploration and use.

Cannabis in Ayurveda was used for:

  • Ritual use
  • Offerings
  • Ancient Ayurvedic medicine
  • Mood lifter
  • Religious practice

2,000 – 440 BCE: Cannabis in Ancient Siberia

There are few written records of The Scythians history (a nomadic tribe of warriors, originally hailing from ancient Siberia). But Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote of their unusual use of cannabis as part of their rituals for the dead.

hemp history

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash  hemp-history

Cannabis in Burial Rituals

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe of warriors, originally hailing from ancient Siberia, who over time spread over the whole of central Asia. They were feared by many, as well as celebrated for their astounding horsemanship and fighting skills. 

Cannabis for Grief

According to his notes in ‘Nine Books of History’ the Scythians would enter into a sweat lodge during their burning of the dead and throw cannabis seeds and resin onto the fire for inhalation. Herodotus wrote ‘This gives the Scythians such delightful satisfaction that they shout with joy’ – presumably aiding with the grief and trauma of the death of a loved one.

Cannabis was used for:

  • The grieving process
  • Weaponry 
  • Nutrition
  • Ritual use

Ancient Egypt is home to an extensive medicinal, spiritual and ritualistic history – and cannabis makes up a large part of that.

Ancient use of Cannabis in Egypt

Ancient texts have shown that cannabis salves were made and used to treat eye sores and glaucoma in 2000BCE, as well as gynaecological issues. In the book ‘An Ancient Egyptian Herbal’ by Egyptologist, Lise Manniche, it says that several texts dating back to the 18th century BCE encouraged readers to “plant medicinal cannabis”.

Cannabis Was Used in Religious Practice

It’s fairly common knowledge that Egyptian Pharaohs and others well up in spiritual matters used cannabis ceremonially. A lot of mummified Egyptians have been found to contain traces of cannabis, including the remains of Ramses the Great (Pharao in 1213 BCE). Cannabis use for all its known purposes continued throughout the ages in Egypt.

Cannabis was used for:

  • Ritual use
  • Ancient Egyptian medicine
  • Burial offerings
  • Eye treatment
  • Religious ceremony

450 – 200 BCE: Cannabis in Ancient Greece

Cannabis culture was also widespread in ancient Greece and Rome and is pretty well recorded.

cannabis use around the world

Photo by Nils on Unsplash  cannabis-use-around-the-world

Cannabis Use for Animals

Greek writers documented cannabis in treating horses and livestock as well as humans, explaining how it was used to heal sores and how dried cannabis leaves could help stop a nosebleed.

Cannabis Use as Medicine in Ancient Greece

Further texts suggest that and cannabis seeds were used to treat tapeworms and turned into cannabis seed oil to instil into the ear as a remedy for blockages, pains and inflammation.

Cannabis in Ancient Greece was used for:

  • Natural wound remedy
  • Treating animals and humans
  • Ear blockages 
  • Tapeworms and gut issues

1000 AD: Cannabis First Used for Epilepsy

Today, medical cannabis is prescribed in the UK, US and Holland as a treatment for epilepsy - and it all started 1000 years ago…

cannabis for epilepsy

Photo by David Gabrić on Unsplash cannabis-for-epilepsy

Although modern scientific study has of course given us a much deeper understanding of cannabis and epilepsy, it’s thought that the first discovery of using cannabis for epilepsy actually came from Arabic scholars al-Mayusi and al-Badri in 1000AD.

Cannabis was used for:

  • The treatment of epilepsy - still one of the most famous uses of medical cannabis today.

1535 – 1700AD: Cannabis in Tudor England

By 1535AD, the amazing uses of cannabis were so well known that Henry VIII would actually fine farmers if they didn’t grow an acre of hemp for the country’s industrial and medicinal use for every 60 acres of agricultural crops!

UK cannabis history

Photo by GreenForce Staffing on Unsplash  UK-cannabis-history

As with all things medicine, it took a long time for the Western world the catch up with thousands of years of ancient knowledge, but when they did they made up for lost time! Medieval England was full of hemp - the historic uses of cannabis include clothing, food, building materials, sails for ships, medicine and more!

Just like the enforcement Henry VIII brought in, this encouragement came around again hundreds of years later as part of the war effort in WWII. By the early 18th century most physicians prescribed cannabis and included it in their medical formulations.

Cannabis in Historic England was used for:

  • Cloth for sails, clothing, shoes and more
  • Weaponry
  • Nutrition
  • Medieval medicine 
  • Trading
  • The war effort

History of Cannabis Prohibition: A Brief Overview

Of course, this is only a fragment of the near-inexhaustible history of cannabis – it wouldn’t be possible to cover it all in one, easily digestible article! But hopefully it’s enough to give you some idea of the widespread use and reverence of the plant. 

This continued up until 1906, that is, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created.
  • In 1914 drug use was defined as a crime for the first time, and cannabis was lumped into the drug category. 
  • In 1928 the new US legislation made it to the UK, although at that point, cannabis remained legal for medicinal and industrial use, just with ‘marijuana tax’ added.
  • Despite thousands of years of safe, medicinal, ceremonial and recreational use, President Richard Nixon put the final nail in the coffin with his infamous ‘war on drugs’ campaign, at which point cannabis (even hemp strains with no psychoactive properties) was rescheduled as a drug with no medicinal benefits, alongside extremely dangerous drugs such as heroin. 
  • The UK followed America’s lead and listed all cannabis and hemp as a Class B drug with the passage of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. 

History of Cannabis Science

Years of extreme anti-cannabis rhetoric followed, and research into the plant was seriously hindered. But even in the face of that, the ancient secrets of cannabis could only be kept quiet for so long. 

  • In 1930, the first cannabinoid was discovered. 
  • In 1940, CBD and THC were identified. 
  • Finally, in 1996, the breakthrough discovery of the endocannabinoid system – one of the most important physiological systems in the human body which cannabis directly interacts with – was made. 
  • Cannabis science has progressed at great speed ever since!

Want to Know More About Cannabis?

Want to know more about the modern history of cannabis and its hidden cannabinoids? Read all about it, here. 

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