With laws changing and more and more influential people having their say, there’s no denying that cannabis is a very hot topic at the moment. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget that cannabis has been around for thousands of years. Stories of its many uses have been passed down in historical texts and oral lore. It’s not surprising that this brave plant found its way all over the world.
Cannabis is a flowering plant indigenous to Central Asia. For millennia, it has been considered useful. Our ancestors turned it into precious medicine and lengths of rope. They used it in important religious rituals. They even used it to get high. In fact, cannabis is one of the earliest plants cultivated by humans.
In Japan, there is archeological evidence to suggest that the use of cannabis dates back to around 8000 B.C. In Siberia, burned cannabis seeds have been discovered in the tombs of ancient nobles. During the Neolithic Age, the Chinese were using fibres from the cannabis plant to make textiles and paper. It was also regarded as a major food crop.
Based on oral traditions passed down from around 2700 B.C., the medicinal use of cannabis was mentioned in the world’s oldest pharmacopoeia (an official list of medicines, their side effects and directions for use). Back then, cannabis was used as a treatment for a broad range of ailments, including gout and arthritis.
Egyptian medical records from 1550 B.C. recognise cannabis as a treatment for inflammation. In ancient Rome, it was used as a remedy for toothache and earache. The Indians used it to alleviate anxiety, and the Vikings used it to soothe labour pains. In some circles, it was even considered sacred.
In 1000 A.D., Arabic scholars explored cannabis as a treatment for epilepsy. This is of particular significance if one time-hops to June 2018, when the United States Food and Drug Administration approved an oral solution containing CBD (cannabidiol) for the treatment of certain epileptic seizures.
But bygone cannabis wasn’t just medicine. An ancient Greek historian named Herodotus observed a group of Scythians (Iranian nomads) inhaling cannabis smoke in steam baths to get high. Around 800 A.D., hashish (made from the resin of the cannabis plant) became popular throughout the Middle East. In Ethiopia, archeologists discovered cannabis-laced pipes that date back to around 1320 A.D.
Because it was fast-growing and had so many uses, Cannabis grew increasingly popular with traders and settlers. And so, in 1500 A.D., cannabis made its way to the Americas. Centuries later, in 1914, cannabis would be declared illegal in the United States by the Harrison Act.
If you consider the value placed on cannabis over thousands of years, negative perceptions are a relatively recent development. This begs the question: has promising historical evidence been overshadowed by power struggles and politics?
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