The story of cannabis has been part of human history for many thousands of years. These days, we like to pride ourselves at the notion of Amsterdam being the traditional weed capital of the world, but that wasn’t always so. In fact, we can date the use of marijuana back to just about every large civilization we know. Cannabis use extends all over the planet and reaches back through all the important stages of our species’ cultural development. This blog gives you a quick impression of eight ancient societies where cannabis was part of human history.
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Ancient Cannabis History
Cannabis as a species has traces its earliest history back to the mountainous plains of Central East Asia. Here, the first known landrace strains grew in the harsh conditions and short summers that forged their original genetics. We will probably never know the first happy individual who conceived of smoking, eating, or drinking marijuana products – in fact, he or she may not have remembered much of the discovery either. What we do know, however, is that our beloved weed slowly made its way across the planet, and perhaps even right up to your stash box.
To celebrate the ancient tale of the cannabis so many of us hold so dear today, we give you a brief overview of eight points in human history where weed clearly made a mark.
Deep Roots Of Cannabis History
Babylonia is perhaps best known for being the first civilization to come up with codified laws using the Hammurabi code around 1,800 BC. Interestingly, though, these laws were probably not as strict on weed as our modern ones are. Babylonians were famous for using marijuana, or azullu as they called it.
The merchants of Babylon imported cannabis from the area around modern-day Afghanistan and used it to treat depression, among a range of other marijuana-based medical prescriptions. Clearly, cannabis has been an integral part of Babylonian history since almost four millennia ago.
The first mention of cannabis in Egyptian history dates back to about 2,350 BCE, and the hieroglyphic symbol shemshemet was their word for the herb. It was often used in Egyptian medicine and even sold in their version from pharmacies. It was also a known remedy for women with ‘bad humor’.
Ironically, Egypt was the pivotal country that insisted cannabis be included in the dreaded list of the 1925 Geneva Opium Conventions. This caused the international condemnation and persecution of cannabis use in the early twentieth century. In hindsight, the Egyptian representatives presented false evidence of the alleged mayhem cannabis was supposed to cause. Perhaps this was one case of bad humor that Egyptian doctors overlooked…
Ancient Indians imported cannabis from the same merchants as the Babylonians, even though they were their next-door neighbours. You may recognize the word the Indians used for marijuana: Ganjha. In fact, the mountains of the present-day Hindu Kush regions are still considered to hold the historical roots of most modern kush strains appreciated around the world today.
Ancient texts dating back to around 1,600 BCE state that local doctors used marijuana to treat anxiety and other conditions. As with the Babylonians, it is fascinating to see how cannabis has been used to treat the same conditions throughout history that we still treat with them in modern times. However, Indian ascetics used their bhang for religious purposes, too – a practice that lives on to this very day.
The Chinese were the first civilization to officially show signs of cannabis use some eight thousand years ago. The forefathers of the present Chinese used cannabis in shamanistic rituals that guided them through their early history. One of the first nations to become major exporters of cannabis, the ancient Chinese eventually cultivated hemp for paper, baskets and various textiles. They also grew and used cannabis for medicinal purposes, though.
Allegedly, cannabis was one of the most traded commodities on the Silk Road in ancient times. The legendary emperor and agricultural scholar Shen Nung wrote about the use of marijuana as medicine in 2,737 BCE. All things considered, we could claim that the earliest roots of human cannabis history as we know it grew in Chinese soil.
Early European Cannabis History
Ancient Greek cultures were also aware of the cannabis grown in the Middle East. In fact, the Greek god of wine and intoxication, Dionysus, is said to be closely connected to the history of cannabis. The Greeks were also known for their fondness of steam baths; except that the steam was often not water vapor, but rather cannabis smoke filling a room to get people high. In a sense, this tradition is actually an old form of vaping.
The Romans were very fond of marijuana, and there is a ton of evidence that they used it. The famous Roman scholar Pliny called it the ‘laughing weed’ for its powers of pleasant intoxication. The historical physician Galen wrote about how cannabis was used to treat anything from burns to tumors to inflammation, as well as being used in desserts and widely appreciated at the parties enjoyed by the Roman high society.
Interestingly, as the Roman Empire was regarded as the centre of the known world for centuries , it is quite likely that some of our ancient European ancestors got their first taste of weed after being conquered by the Roman legions.
The oldest cannabis product ever discovered is a hemp rope found in the Czech Republic in 1997 and dating back to 26,900 BC. It is not entirely clear whether Czech cultures used cannabis for other purposes than hemp fibre. Most other documents show that Eastern cultures introduced marijuana to what we now know as Europe, but our Czech friends certainly knew about hemp.
Okay, this isn’t technically ‘ancient’ history, but it’s still an interesting cannabis fact- even if only because it involves Egyptians yet again. When French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, his troops became restless because the Islamic nation did not allow alcohol. Truth be told, cannabis was outlawed too at the time, but it was cheap and easy to come by. So the soldiers started using hash and cannabis as a substitute for booze. By the time Napoleon and his troops returned from Egypt, they also brought a ton of cannabis. As our French fan base and cannabis growers know all too well, the rest is history…
Modern Cannabis History
Modern-day cannabis history tends to focus on the west; prominently featuring Amsterdam, but gradually shifting further westward as more US states legalize some or all use of marijuana. By now, cannabis has circled the globe more than once throughout history, having reached Dutch soil from several directions as the ebb and flow of the ages continued.
No matter what, though, it is nice to know that the grand narrative of human history has quite a few pages that deal with cannabis – and the next chapter is waiting to be written. Who knows: perhaps you could be planting the future seeds of cannabis history next season…