Medicinal cannabis. We now know that it’s a totally legit thing, right? We know it works for a variety of ailments, and it might seem like this is something which has only recently been discovered. Well, strap yourself in, Buzzlync fans, because we’re about to send you on a trip throughout history. Don’t worry, it’s only going to be a brief trip, just a quick tour of the medicinal highlights of this “wonder drug” of ours. In other words, we’re Bill, you’re Ted, and this is our excellent adventure.
Step inside our phone booth, and come along …
First of all, let’s head to China, sometime back around 2900 BC, and drop in on Emperor Fu Hsi. He was possibly the first to make reference to “Ma” (the Chinese word for cannabis), noting that it was a very popular medicine, crammed full of both Yin and Yang. Sadly, he was also a complete myth, said to have been born as “a divine being with a serpent’s body” … so he’s probably not our best source when it comes to historical accuracy.
OK, so let’s leave China for a while, hop over to India, and travel forward a couple of thousand years to 600 BC. Here we find a medicine treatise, which mentions cannabis being used as a cure for leprosy. Not only that, but they also believed it could quicken the mind, improve judgement, lower fevers, induce sleep, and cure dysentery … which isn’t bad for something that’s most well known for making you giggle. We also find similar accounts in Ancient Greece, around four hundred years later, where cannabis was prescribed for earache, edema, and inflammation, which aren’t quite as serious as leprosy, but it’s good to know that its diverse.
Right. We’ve been away from China for a few millennia now, so maybe it’s time to pay another visit. And would you look at this? In a Chinese compendium of drug recipes from the first century AD, cannabis is recommended for more than a hundred conditions … gout, rheumatism, malaria … Oh, and absent-mindedness (as far as I can remember). In addition to this, the Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo (who died in 208 AD), was the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anesthetic, reducing the plant to powder and mixing it with wine prior to conducting surgery. In fact, the Chinese term for “anesthesia” literally translates as “cannabis intoxication” … but we’d like to point out that we’re not advocating performing surgery on yourself after a few joints.
China was all about cannabis in those days. The root of the plant was prescribed to remove blood clots, the juice from the leaves was used to combat tapeworm, and powdered cannabis seeds, mixed with rice wine, were used to treat everything from constipation to hair loss. Not only that, but they also seemed to be switched on to its other enticing properties, because everyone seemed to agree that the flowers were “the source of dreams and revelations”. Our in-house scientists here at Buzzlync agree with these observations, and have responded with a very academic “Fuck yeah!”
Also, we should probably mention the fact that there was plenty of cannabis in the Bible. “In the Bible?” we hear you scream into the internet. Yes, folks, the Bible. The book of Exodus claims that “holy anointing oil” contained over six pounds of “kaneh-bosem”, which has been identified by many noted scholars as our old friend cannabis. This was combined with olive oil and herbs, and must have had a therapeutic effect, because the holy anointed ones were quite frequently drenched in the stuff. It’s no wonder there was so much talk about peace and love in the New Testament, after a few thousand years of being drenched in that.
For those non-Bible readers amongst you, a fair amount of the book of Exodus takes place in Egypt, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that cannabis pollen was found on the mummy of Ramesses II, who died in 1213 BC. After all, we know that cannabis was used in Ancient Egypt for glaucoma, inflammation, administering enemas, and, um, cooling the uterus. We can only assume that “hot uterus” was a real problem back in ancient Cairo.
Oh, and then there’s Jesus. You know him? Last name “Christ”. Middle name “H”. The oil mentioned in Exodus was still used in his day, and reportedly allowed priests and prophets to “see and speak with Yaweh”. In fact, Jesus is described by the apostle Mark as using something called “chrism” (thought to be the same substance from Exodus) to cast out demons and heal. Maybe we shouldn’t take those stories about people being “stoned” quite so literally the next time we read the gospels.
And of course, the Roman Army were big players in the life of Christ, and were no strangers to weed either. You see, the Roman army doctor, Pedanius Dioscorides (AD 40 to AD 90) was also a bit of an amateur botanist and travelled throughout the Roman Empire studying plants, while the rest of his friends were crucifying everyone. He wrote a book called “De Materia Medica” (On Medical Matters) around AD 70, which became the most important medical book of the next 1500 years, and specifically mentioned that the “plant used in the making of rope” produced a juice that was great for ear ache and sexual longing. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention if it was great for creating sexual longing, or removing it, but either way it’s an impressive claim.
And he wasn’t the only Roman to be impressed. In 79 AD, Pliny the Elder wrote that cannabis roots boiled in water were good for cramp, gout, and similar violent pain. And during those crazy days of the Roman Empire, cannabis was also used across the Arabic world. It was considered a cure for all manner of ailments “from migraines to syphilis”. The great ninth century Islamic physician “Rhazes” prescribed it widely, although he was always quite quiet on how he came to the “syphilis” conclusion.
During the middle ages, the plant seems to make itself known in England, and was an essential part of any herbalist’s medicine cabinet. William Turned (considered the first English botanist) praises
it in his 1538 book “New Herbal”, the 1621 book “The Anatomy of Melancholy” suggests cannabis as a treatment for depression, and in 1652, the book “The English Physician” (by great English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper) suggests that hemp extract relieves pain from “the gout, knots in the joint, and pain in the sinews and hips”.
It’s also around this time that we encounter marijuana being used for creative purposes. Cannabis was detected in the 17th century pipes extracted from the garden of William Shakespeare, so it seems like Bill enjoyed a bit of green to get his juices flowing. And who knows, maybe he even had a hot uterus?
Around the same time, in 1611, the Jamestown settlers brought marijuana to North America, and before long even the leaders of the country were getting in on the action. According to George Washington’s diaries, he grew hemp at Mount Vernon for around thirty years, and his agricultural ledgers suggest that he had a keen interest in the medicinal use of cannabis. Thomas Jefferson was also growing the stuff, according to his farming diaries … and this was hundreds of years before Bill Clinton promised us all that he “didn’t inhale”.
But American leaders certainly weren’t the only ones. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1799, the Rosetta Stone wasn’t the only thing he brought back to France. He also brought back cannabis, no doubt accompanied by several pizzas, two bags of chips, and a jar of Nutella (although that can’t be officially verified). We do know that it was investigated for its pain relieving and sedative effects, however, and if we jump back in our phone booth and head forward to the 1840s, Queen Victoria is busy using it for menstrual cramps. Queen Vic’s personal physician, Sir Robert Russell, wrote extensively on cannabis and recommended it for all sorts of things; muscle spasms, rheumatism, tetanus, rabies, epilepsy … you name it, Rob was recommending it. He could almost have been on commission for Buzzlync.
By 1850, marijuana was an official over-the counter medicine in the United States, even making an appearance in the national Pharmacopeia, and was slowly but surely becoming a mainstream medicine in the West. Well, until the early 1900s, that is, when everything suddenly went to shit.
But hey, this is a happy blog post. We’re not going to talk about the slow process of illegality that ended in us having to undo this travesty one state at a time. Nope, we’re going to keep things positive. What we will do, however, is to list all the ailments that cannabis has been thought to prevent (throughout our brief, and completely incomplete history), just so you can see them all in one place. Ready? Here we go ….
Neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, muscle spasms, rheumatism, epilepsy, menstrual cramps, knots in the joints, hip pain, migraines, syphilis, earache, sexual longing, edema, inflammation, leprosy, glaucoma, rheumatism, malaria, absentmindedness, blood clots, constipation, tapeworm, hair loss, to quicken the mind, improve judgement, lower fevers, induce sleep, and cure dysentery … all this, and you can even use it to cast out demons and purify souls. Well, as long as you’re Jesus, of course.
Food for thought. And if even a tenth of these claims are true, then why the hell has it been illegal for so long? How many conditions could have been cured? And how much pain could have been eased?
Stay healthy everyone. Smoke more weed!