The term “cannabis” can be used to talk about the whole plant and its many practical uses — not just the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that gets you high. Most ancient cultures didn’t even grow marijuana for its psychoactive properties — they used the plant as herbal medicine.
Where Does Marijuana Come From?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact location, but cannabis’ first recorded use was around 4,000 B.C. in ancient China.
Cannabis is an incredibly versatile plant that humans have valued for thousands of years. Its stalks, fan leaves, sugar leaves, flowers, and trichomes all have overlapping uses. Here are just a few of the traditional benefits of marijuana throughout history and up to the present day.
The first record of cannabis’ medicinal use is also its first-ever documented use. In 4,000 B.C., cannabis was used medicinally in China as an anesthetic during surgery, among other reasons. This type of use in China can also be traced to the second century A.D., when Hua Tuo formulated an herbal anesthetic by mixing cannabis with wine. Around the same time, Galen, the ancient Greek doctor, frequently prescribed cannabis to his patients as medicine.
Much later, in the 1830s, Irish doctor O’Shaughnessy observed that marijuana could help reduce vomiting and stomach pain in patients suffering from cholera. He’s credited with introducing the plant to Western medicine. At the time, O’Shaughnessy was studying in India, the country that created the popular medicinal weed drink bhang as early as 400 B.C.
Hemp, a fiber made from the stems of the cannabis plant, can be used for clothing, paper, building materials, and more. The strands are strong, durable, and great for insulating. In the 1600s, British, French, and Spanish colonizers encouraged farmers to grow plants for hemp. As the cannabis plant was hardy and grew fast, it could be used for ropes and sails on their ships.
The Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut colonies even required farmers to use a mandated amount of their land to grow hemp. Hemp plantations scattered across the U.S. maintained the rising popularity of cannabis well into the 1800s.
Although plants often had very low levels of THC, scattered evidence suggests that ancient cultures understood the psychoactive properties of the marijuana plant. It seems likely that they cultivated some strains to produce higher levels of THC for use in special ceremonies.
Hashish, a cannabis resin substance smoked with a pipe, was widely used after 800 A.D. in parts of Asia. The Quran forbade alcohol and some other substances but did not mention cannabis. You can trace weed’s growth in popularity alongside the rise in Islam throughout the Middle East.
Marijuana Use in Modern Life
The life-changing cultural impact of cannabis across time periods and locations is impossible to deny. And in the last 10 years, compelling scientific studies have shown potential for marijuana to treat glaucoma, the effects of chemotherapy, severe epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and more medical conditions.
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