Did you know that ancient people everywhere from China and India to Greece and Rome used cannabis for wellness purposes? In this article, Jointly will briefly explore the fascinating history of cannabis wellness.
Did you know that the earliest record of people using marijuana for pain relief is almost five thousand years old from the ancient Chinese jade stone ‘oath documents’?
In modern times, the Mandarin character for ‘anesthesia’ (麻醉) is composed of the characters for ‘hemp’ (麻) and ‘intoxication’ (醉). But even around 2700 B.C.E., the character for ‘hemp’ carried a negative connotation of numbing, stupefying or senseless. Scholars argue that this linguistic evidence shows that humans have known about cannabis’ narcotic properties for at least five thousand years.
Jointly users indicate they use cannabis more frequently to relax, relieve stress, and reduce anxiety more than any other reason, including pain relief. This data should come as no surprise to pot historians, as it turns out that cannabis has been recommended to relieve stress and reduce anxiety for at least three thousand years.
The Atharva Veda, a Hindu text from around 1000 B.C.E., listed cannabis as “one of the five sacred plants…which release us from anxiety.” There is even record of ancient peoples seeking out the euphoric effects of marijuana. Herodotus, the classical Greek historian writing in the fifth century B.C.E., described how the Scythians would build a fire inside of a tent, throw handfuls of seedy cannabis flower onto the coals and stick their heads inside. They would fall out “delighted” and “shouting for joy.”
The Greeks and Romans were aware of cannabis’ medicinal and intoxicating properties. In the first century CE, the famous Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote about the “gelotophyllum” or “laughing leaf” from Bactria (another name for Scythia), and recommended the plant for gout and joint pain. Dioscorides, a Greek physician writing around the same time as Pliny the Elder, recommended juicing the cannabis plant and using the liquid to alleviate earaches.
A century later, the Greek physician Galen wrote that it was customary after a banquet in southern Italy to serve treats that were made with hemp seed. The after-dinner snacks were “eaten for pleasure,” and the toasted seeds would “send up to the head a hot and medicinal vapor,” which has typically been interpreted to mean that the Romans ate cannabis “to promote hilarity and enjoyment.”
Many of these Greek and Roman texts on cannabis were eventually translated and spread around the Old World, so physicians throughout Europe and the Middle East have used cannabis to treat a range of ailments since the Middle Ages. For example, Nicholas Culpeper, an English botanist and physician from the 1600s, wrote about how the roots of the cannabis plant could ease pain and inflammation anywhere in the body.
After Napoleon and the French army were ejected from Egypt in 1798, hash flooded into Europe as the French troops returned home, sparking an interest in cannabis as a psychoactive substance. In the 1850s, Jacques-Joseph Moreau, a French psychiatrist who had been exposed to hash on his travels throughout the East, was experimenting with using cannabis to treat mental illness.
He wrote a book describing how he used cannabis to cure seven patients of mental illness. The book was celebrated by physicians around the world and ushered in the modern era of cannabis as medicine. After Moreau’s book was published, marijuana became an increasingly common ingredient in the various tinctures and nostrums and cure-alls that were sold in the mid-1800s to early 1900s when medicine was still less than scientific.
One of the most famous tinctures was Piso’s Cure, which was sold as a cure for tuberculosis. The original recipe contained opium, various morphine derivatives, chloroform, cannabis, and alcohol. Of course, this combination did not cure tuberculosis, and the company eventually had to remove all of these ingredients from its formulation as progressive prohibitions made each illegal.
It is clear that humans have used cannabis to improve the quality of their lives for millennia, so why aren’t more people using cannabis or CBD for wellness purposes today? The answer is that cannabis has an image problem. A century of misinformation and prohibition has distorted the public’s perception of marijuana users.
For decades if you had pictured someone who used cannabis, you might have imagined the stereotypical pot smoker glued to his couch, wiping Cheetos-dusted fingers on his blanket as he blows out a bong rip. He isn’t exactly the picture of health. But now that thirty-three U.S. states have medical marijuana programs and eleven states have recreational marijuana programs, our collective image of cannabis users is evolving.
Enter any legal marijuana dispensary in the United States and you might find old folks seeking a natural sleep aid, young fathers who found that eating 3mg of THC before playing with their children allows them to be more present and imaginative, and wellness-oriented women using CBD for muscle recovery after a workout. Cannabis use has become so acceptable that people are opening up about how it helps them relax, improve sleep or enhance a social experience.
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