Part One (2900 BC to the 1850’s)
Cannabis has been used since 2900 BC for numerous medical purposes. The herb itself has been used in ancient times by sects within Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism and other religious groups for religious and spiritual purposes. The earliest writing on medical cannabis was found in the Chinese Pharmacopeia, also known as the Rh-Ya, around 1500 BC. It was recorded that the herb was used for ‘healing purposes’. Cannabis has been used since 3000 BC and has continued to be used in various ways and forms by the human population despite the fact that it is illegal. During recent years, cannabis is being used recreationally, mainly by the young adult population.
Hundreds of medicinal purposes have been discovered around the world for the herb cannabis. Archeologists have discovered cannabis pollen on the body of Ramesses II, a king who passed away in 1213 BC, showing that individuals in high power consumed this herb. In Ancient Egypt, prescriptions to treat glaucoma, inflammation, cooling of the uterus and enemas were given to patients. Around 1000 BC, a drink of cannabis mixed with milk known as ‘bhang’ became a popularly used anesthetic in India. After further usage of the herb, India has figured that they could use cannabis to treat a large variety of human illnesses. Around 600 BC, they also found that cannabis is a cure for leprosy and believed that it could allow individuals to think faster, live longer, aid sleep and improve their judgment.
The ancient Persian religious text written around the seventh century BC, Zend-Avesta, mentioned ‘bhang’ and further lists cannabis “as the most important of 10,000 medicinal plants” (Historical Timeline). The fact that it was categorized as the most important out of ten thousand plants shows how important the use of marijuana was back then and should still be so. An ancient Roman nobleman, scientist, and historian named Pliny the Elder wrote about the cannabis plant boiled in water easing violent pains around 79 AD. The Arabic World used it medicinally to treat a wide variety of ailments, two of them being migraines and syphilis. Even during the Middle Ages, no herbalist would find themselves without hemp in their medicine cabinet.
During 1611, the Jamestown Settlers brought marijuana plants along with them to North America. In 1762, Virginia had a large export for hemp fiber. The hundred year gap allowed Virginia to repopulate their plants and grow a vast amount. The government actually taxed or penalized anyone who did not produce hemp – quite the opposite of what happens today. The Jamestown Settlers weren’t the only ones to grow hemp. George Washington’s diary entries show us that he grew hemp for 30 years on his own plantation located in Mount Vernon. One of his diary entries dated August 1765 says that he “Put some Hemp into the Water about 6 Oclock in the Afternoon – note this Hemp had been pulld the 8th. Instt. & was well dryed, & took it out again the 26th.” (Historical Timeline)
A popular English Mental Health Book called The Anatomy of Melancholy stated that cannabis can be used to treat depression, yet drugs such as SSRI’s that create more problematic side effects are used today rather than a natural plant. In Europe however, hemp and cannabis were not part of people’s daily lives. Not only did Napoleon and his team discover the Rosetta Stone around 1799 and bring it back to France, they also brought cannabis back with them. The herb was researched and investigated for its sedative and pain relieving effects on the individual, which caused it to be highly accepted by Western medicine. This had a great impact on the medicine available at the time. By the 1840’s, marijuana finally became a popular medicine in the Western part of Europe. Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a French doctor, discovered that cannabis suppresses headaches, increases appetite and aids people to sleep. The United States finally added marijuana to the US Pharmacopeia (in 1850), allowing it to be prescribed by doctors.
History of Marijuana as Medicine – 2900 BC to Present