Cannabis is an ancient plant that has been used by various cultures throughout human history. Its presence in traditional Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic medicine, and Europe has been well documented. Despite its long history of use and numerous medicinal properties, cannabis has faced prohibition and stigmatization in modern times. In this article, I will explore the journey of cannabis through time and space and how it has influenced medicine and culture around the world.
The Origins of Cannabis and Its Spread Across the World
Cannabis is believed to have originated in Asia, primarily in China, India, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. The origins of cannabis can be traced back to the beginnings of agriculture. Agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, and various research indicates that cannabis started to be cultivated approximately 5,000 or 6,000 years ago. From Asia, cannabis began to spread to the Middle East and Africa. Eventually, it reached Europe and America years later. Due to this extensive migration of the plant, different types of cannabis began to evolve in various regions of the world, each with new and exciting characteristics for each culture.
Medicinal Cannabis in China
In China, one of the oldest medical texts, the Pen-ts’ao Ching, refers to the use of cannabis in over 100 different remedies. This text is attributed to Emperor Shen-Nung, considered the father of Chinese medicine. The Pen-ts’ao Ching, dating back to 2000 BC, mentions the use of female cannabis flowers to restore the balance of yin in patients. According to the text, some of the diseases treated with cannabis included rheumatic pain, constipation, gynecological disorders, and gout. Additionally, cannabis had a significant influence in China, and several linguists have determined that words like damping, narcotics, or paralysis are derived from the word cannabis.
Cannabis in India
Through Sacred Ayurvedic Medicine Cannabis has a significant presence in ancient Indian texts, such as the Atharva Veda, dating back at least to 800 BC. In this collection of sacred scriptures, cannabis is revered as one of the five sacred plants, offering happiness, joy, and freedom. It is also mentioned in the Susrita Samhita, a fundamental text of Ayurvedic medicine, highlighting its various healing properties, including its use as an appetite stimulant, painkiller, anesthetic, anticonvulsant, and antiparasitic, among others.
Cannabis in Europe
Cannabis likely arrived in Europe through the Scythians of Central Asia, possibly traveling east to west along the Silk Road. Since the arrival of Cannabis in Europe, several cultures have found evidence of hemp in religious burials, such as those of the Germanic culture dating from 500 BC. From the 8th to the 15th century AD, it is believed that Arab traders spread the plant through North Africa and Spain. On the other hand, the Old English Herbarium, written in the 11th century AD, documented the use of cannabis in Europe, describing its use as an anesthetic, painkiller, and treatment for various ailments.
Cannabis is also mentioned in 12th-century medical texts by German physician Hildegard von Bingen. The plant was also used for paper and canvas during the Italian Renaissance, and its medicinal use was recorded in England during the reign of the Tudors in the 16th century. The popularity of smoking cannabis, especially hashish, grew in Europe after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt in 1798, leading to its widespread use for treating various ailments throughout the continent.
Cannabis Spreads to America
Cannabis is believed to have arrived in America through different routes, the first being through the Spanish after their invasion of America beginning in 1492. Hemp is thought to have first appeared in North America in the early 16th century when Hernán Cortés and his Spanish soldiers invaded Mexico. Soldier Pedro Cuadrado and a friend started a successful hemp-growing business there. However, in 1550, a Spanish governor restricted production because locals were using the plant to get high rather than for ropes and textiles.
Cannabis in Western Medicine and Modern Prohibition
Interest in cannabis intensified during the 19th century, and the plant caught the attention of Western medicine in 1839 when Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy published «On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah.» Following this publication, interest soared, and in the second half of the 19th century, over 100 studies on the plant were conducted. Concurrently, pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Europe began to develop and market cannabis tinctures.
Medicines containing cannabis became widely available to the general public, and many brands claimed to cure a variety of ailments. However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, perceptions of cannabis began to change, and many countries started to ban the plant, with the United States being the most notable.
The Rebirth of Cannabis in the 21st Century: Decriminalization and New Medicinal Uses
In the 21st century, cannabis is experiencing a renaissance thanks to advances in scientific and medical research. These discoveries have shed light on the medicinal properties of the plant, such as its anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and anticonvulsant effects, among others. As a result, numerous countries and states are reconsidering their position on the plant, leading to the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis in some regions.
As cannabis becomes more accessible and its use becomes more common, it is essential that education and personal analysis accompany this cultural shift. Proper education about cannabis can help individuals make informed decisions about its use and ensure they make the most of its therapeutic and recreational benefits while minimizing the risks associated with its consumption.
By recognizing and respecting the rich history of cannabis and its impact on different cultures and traditional medicines, we can learn to use this plant responsibly and beneficially in our current society. Following the path of our ancestors and adopting an informed and conscious approach to cannabis use, we can continue to harness its benefits and potential to improve our quality of life.