The History of Cannabis

3 mins read

When was the first recorded use of cannabis?

Whilst ancient artefacts found in the far east point towards humans cultivating and using hemp (to produce textiles and as a food source) from as early as 8000 BCE, the first recorded use of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent wouldn’t come until a good few thousand years later…

, The History of Cannabis, ISMOKEEmperor Shennong was a significant figure in ancient China, revered for being a heroic leader who would end up gifting numerous ground-breaking discoveries to his people.

This legendary ruler would later become known as the ‘Divine Farmer’, as well as the ‘Emperor of the 5 Grains’: monikers that were not given lightly…

Whilst he has been credited with developing the practices of agriculture, herbal medicine and acupuncture, Shennong also wrote the book on cannabis: literally!

Back in 2737 BCE, Emperor Shennong detailed many treatments for a range of ailments which involved the use of cannabis, in his pharmacopeia: ‘Shennong Bencao Jing’;

This early account of cannabis as a medicine would lay the foundation for the naturally occurring herb to become one of the ‘fundamental’ ingredients in traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

Whilst this ancient emperor’s contributions to the world of medicine give us one of the earliest written accounts of cannabis use, some recently uncovered physical evidence also points towards the use of the plant for medicinal, spiritual or recreational use thousands of years ago;

A grave dating back some 2700 years was located in north-western China which contained the remains of a shamanic individual: this resting place included, among its many artefacts, a remarkably well-preserved container packed with THC-laden psychoactive cannabis preparations.

Early cultures that used cannabis

Whilst we have established that weed enjoyed popular use in ancient China, it was also a regular fixture in other cultures across the globe:

, The History of Cannabis, ISMOKE

  • Ancient Indian Hindu Vedas describe cannabis as the ‘food of the gods’ and provide evidence that the herb’s psychoactive properties were well known and, as a result, exploited by physicians and holy men alike, to treat medical conditions and induce transcendental states; the herb was typically smoked or made into a drink, known as ‘Bhang’.
  • Ancient Egyptian Papyrus texts indicate that marijuana was cultivated and used for medical purposes, where its analgesic effects were exploited.
  • Scythians from the Eurasian steppes were known to use cannabis in their steam baths, to exploit its mind-altering properties: The herb was also used in funeral ceremonies, as a means of ritual purification.
  • Ancient Germanic pagans cultivated cannabis as part of religious festivals devoted to the love goddess, Freya; during such events, the herb’s flowers were typically ingested, as these were believed to hold divine powers.
  • The ancient Greeks used marijuana for medicinal purposes, primarily for pain relief.

Read about Hua Toa – an ancient Chinese doctor who pioneered anesthesia using a concoction containing cannabis –