Hemp is one of the earliest crops known to man (Sagan, 1977). Pottery discovered from an ancient village site c. 7000 BC in Taiwan revealed its use to make hemp cord. Hemp fiber wrapped around a baby skeleton was found at Catahoyuk in Turkey c. 9000 BC.

Cannabis seed and oil were probably used as food in China since at least 6000 BC. The earliest use of hemp in medicine goes back to the Chinese emperor Sheng Nung c. 2727 BC. It was popular as it possesses both yin and yang properties (Deitch, 2003). Excavations in the Yanghai tombs in the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of China have uncovered a 2700-year-old grave in which cannabis was found. Cannabis was probably used as medicine or for its psychoactive properties (Russo, 2008).

There are references to marijuana in the Chinese pharmacopeia that go back to 1500 BC (National Institute of Drug Abuse – Marijuana Research Findings – 1976, 1977). The Chinese were said to use cannabis to treat diarrhea dysentery and stimulate appetite.

The use of cannabis in India probably goes back to the Vedic times (c. 1800 BC onwards), as mentioned in the Atharvaveda.

The Zend-Avesta, the Holy Book of the Zoroastrians (composed around 700-600 BC), has numerous references to bhang (local Indian name for recreational marijuana). It is referred to therein as the good narcotic. Sushruta Samhita mentions the use of cannabis as an anti-phlegmatic and as a cure for leprosy.

Pliny the Elder refers to the use of the plant both for rope-making and as an analgesic (23-79 AD). Dioscorides lists it as a medicine (c. 70 AD).

While some scholars believe that cannabis was an ingredient in the Holy Anointing Oils used by the ancient Jews c. 1450 BC, my analysis of the plants and spices used in the Anointing Oil does not support this conclusion (Holy Herbs, Sudhir Ahluwalia, 2017).

Ancient Jews used cannabis both as an intoxicant and in medicine. It was a popular medicinal plant in Pharaonic Egypt too. Pollen of cannabis was discovered in the nostrils of the mummy of Ramesses II. Ancient Egyptians said the plant was used to treat glaucoma, for cooling the uterus, and as an enema.

Additional reading:

Asian Herbs and their wondrous health-giving properties

Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants

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Sudhirahluwalia, Inc