For many decades in the U.S., marijuana has been painted as the psychedelic drug of hippies and stoners who lay around smoking dope to the detriment of their cognitive function. This image of marijuana use can certainly be attributed to one aspect of its culture, but Cannabis — a category of plants that include three species and seven sub-species — have been used in medicine for thousands of years.
Ancient and medieval physicians mixed the plant into medicines or teas to treat pain and other ailments; back then, it wasn’t a highly controlled substance the way it is today, where in the U.S. it’s listed as a Schedule I drug along with LSD and heroin. Here’s a brief history of medical cannabis to better understand the level of its efficacy in treatments and therapies.
In the ancient world, hemp was a common agricultural crop — harvested for its high-protein seeds, oil, and fiber used for rope and clothes. Hemp is one variety of the Cannabis plant, but it doesn’t have the same mind-altering effects as marijuana.
In ancient China and elsewhere in the world, however, hemp was grown for food and had hundreds of other uses — so it was only natural for people to discover that other types of the Cannabis plant could be used medicinally. The spread of medicinal cannabis first started in China, then traveled throughout Asia into the Middle East and Africa. In ancient times, cannabis was used to alleviate pain and treat various conditions. But doctors also warned against using it too much, as they believed it could cause people to “see demons.”
2737 B.C. According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Neng was one of the first major leaders in the ancient world to officially prescribe marijuana tea to treat various illnesses — including gout, rheumatism, malaria, and poor memory, according to Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence.
2000-1400 B.C. Compared to the Western world and even other parts of Asia like China and Japan, India had always remained closely tied to cannabis use — medicinally, religiously, recreationally, and spiritually. Cannabis was and continues to be mixed into special drinks that are used for simple enjoyment but also for medical reasons. One of the most popular of these drinks is bhang — a mix of cannabis paste (made from the buds and leaves), milk, ghee, and spices.
In the fourth book of the Vedas, known as the Atharvaveda which means “Science of Charms,” ancient Indian writers refer to bhang as one of the “five kingdoms of herbs… which release us from anxiety.” Later, as the drink became more popular, it was defined as having the ability to make people happy, warm, and improve “mental powers,” as well as “remove wind and phlegm.”
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