Ancient Roots of Medical Marijuana


Published: 02/10/2012

by Anna N. Damide


Ancient Marijuana

Caregivers have been giving marijuana to soothe pain since the dawn of civilization – literally. Around 2900 BC, Emperor Fu brought his civilization to China. He was also one of the first to reference Ma, the Chinese word for cannabis, noting that it was already a popular remedy. Emperor Chen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine, discovered cannabis had healing properties a couple of centuries later. Cannabis was included in the 15th century BC Chinese Pharmacopeia, the Rh-Ya.

The medicinal use of cannabis, along with other herbs like ginseng and ephedra, was spread to other civilizations and religions. The original Hebrew version of holy anointing oil recipe in Exodus (30:22-23) calls for six pounds of kaneh-bosem to be mixed with other herbs into about six quarts of olive oil. The anointed person would literally be drenched in this aromatic holy oil. Spiritualists believe this recipe was handed down by God to Moses. Some researchers, including linguists, botanists, anthropologists and etymologists, believe the King James Version of the Bible mistakenly identifies kaneh-bosem as calamus.

Modern scientists found evidence of cannabis pollen on the Egyptian mummy of Ramsesses II who died in 1213 BC. Cannabis was frequently prescribed in ancient Egypt to treat inflammation and eye problems such as glaucoma.  It was also used during the administration of enemas.

Around 1000 BC, people in India began mixing cannabis with milk to create Bhang, an anesthetic and treatment for phlegm. Healers in India began to expand the role of cannabis in treating medical conditions and reducing pain. By 600 BC, healers in India were using cannabis to treat a variety of illnesses and to improve life in various ways.  Improvements include sharpening the mind, prolonging lifespan, improving judgment, and inducing sleep. Fun fact: Marijuana was even used to cure leprosy!

By this time, cannabis had spread to the Middle East. The ancient Persian text from that time, the Venidad, names cannabis as one of the most important of the 10,000 medicinal plants listed. Cannabis continued its' global trek, reaching Greece by at least 200 BC. Caregivers recommend this medicine to ease symptoms such as earache, swelling, and inflammation.

The New Testament describes how Jesus anointed his disciples with potent enthogenic oil.  Researchers now know an enthogenic is a psychoactive substance believed to be cannabis. Believers suggest Jesus then urged these disciples to anoint others in the community in this same way. James, one of Jesus’ disciples, called upon elders to continue this tradition of anointing the sick and elderly in the potent enthogenic oil.

In 70 AD, a Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, published a book called "De Materia Medica", which translates to “On Medical Matters.” This publication became the most important medical book in existence for the next 1500 years. In this book, Dioscorides prescribes marijuana to treat earache and suppress sexual longing. Other physicians of the time use boiled cannabis roots to treat cramped joints, gout and pain.

By 200 AD, a Chinese physician by the name of Hua To was performing abdominal, loin and chest surgery. He claimed these procedures were made nearly painless by the use of ma-yo, an anesthetic made from cannabis resin and wine. Medical marijuana eased the suffering of countless people over the next few centuries as healers and spiritualists explored the many uses of cannabis.


By 800 AD, Arabic doctors were using medical marijuana to treat a wide variety of illnesses, ranging from migraines to syphilis. Hashish, a more-potent derivative of marijuana, was gaining popularity for medicinal purposes. After the 1500s, Islamic physicians prescribed marijuana to curb sexual appetite. Medical marijuana was still widely used during the middle ages, spreading to England and other parts of Europe.

Cannabis also sailed across the ocean to the New World with the Jamestown settlers in 1611. Marijuana played an important role in the United States for the next three centuries before being demonized by prohibitionists, social conservatives and even a newspaper mogul.


Today, researchers are fanning the flames of interest in medical marijuana as a safe and effective pain reliever, sedative, appetite stimulant and more.