ANCIENT MEDICINE: A SHORT HISTORY

date: 07 May 2020

From its practical uses for food and fibre, to its place as a venerated spiritual plant, cannabis has been a part of human life for a very long time. It was one of the first plants we cultivated, and our long history together has enabled us to unlock the incredible potential of this versatile plant.


IT ALL BEGAN A LONG TIME AGO


References to cannabis can be found in ancient texts, and these languages describe it in various ways too. The name ‘cannabis’ likely comes from the Greek word Kannabis, which is related to the root canna meaning ‘cane’ in Sanskrit. It’s also referred to as kanna-bosm or “fragrant cane” in the Old Testament. The name it’s most commonly known by, Cannabis sativa L., was decided in 1753 by botanist Carl Linnaeus, the pioneer of modern plant taxonomy.

The cannabis plant originated somewhere in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. We already knew that cannabis was used medicinally in this area, thanks to the pen-ts’ao ching, the world’s oldest pharmacopeia created by Emperor Shen Nung - the father of traditional Chinese medicine. In ancient times, the widespread use of cannabis earned China the name ‘The Land of Mulberry and Hemp’.

So, archaeologists expected to find evidence of cannabis use in this area dating back to at least 250 BC. What they found was evidence of cannabis use - as a medicine and for fibre - dating back to 4000 B.C. We now know that from 4000 B.C onwards, cannabis became a central part of life in Central Asia, being used to make everything from food to textiles, and even body armour.

 

THE PLANT THAT TRAVELLED THE WORLD

Cannabis then made its way across Asia via nomadic tribes from northern China. It arrived in India between 2000 and 1400 B.C and became an important part of their culture. This isn’t surprising, given that there are over 50 names for cannabis in Sanskirt and Hindu. Cannabis is also one of the five sacred plants of Atharva Veda - a collection of sacred texts revered by Hindus.

From Persia to Angola and eventually Europe, cannabis quickly spread across the world. Through trade routes and travel, it became widely known and sought after. In European literature, the first botanical illustration of cannabis was discovered in a Byzantine document dated AD 523. In this document, Dioscorides, a Greek physician and pharmacologist, recommends covering inflamed body parts with the soaked roots.

 

HEMP’S PLACE IN EUROPEAN LIFE

From then on, cannabis became an integral part of life in Europe. Its fibrous stalks were vital to the production of textiles. Hemp was used to make clothes, rope, ship sails and so much more. Sadly, hemp’s distant cousin ‘weed’ started gaining a troublesome reputation. Its place as a heavily sought-after textile wasn’t going to last.

After the invention of the cotton gin in the 18th century, hemp’s position as the top textile started to falter. As the textile industries turned away from hemp in favour of other materials, a new way of viewing cannabis was gaining momentum. By the early 20th century, cannabis was being outlawed across the world, but this wasn’t the end of the road for hemp.

 

A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR HEMP

The discovery of the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids like CBD and THC lead to a new wave in medicine, and a revival. Quickly, hemp’s power as a healing plant became widely known and legal restrictions on cannabis started to change across the world. THC and CBD started to be used, alone or in combination, to treat various medical conditions. Soon, a growing number of countries began allowing the use of these cannabinoids outside of hospitals.

The history of hemp hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but one thing is certain. Hemp has a place in our world. Be it relieving the symptoms of degenerative diseases like MS or bringing about a sense of calm, hemp has helped so many people live a better, more balanced life.

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