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Cannabis As Medicine is Ancient History

The ancient use of marijuana as medicine has been documented in a great number of cultures, including Greece and Africa and medicinal use of cannabis was recorded in Egypt in the 16th century BC. Ashes from a fourth-century tomb near Jerusalem suggest that marijuana plants may have been used in the ancient Middle East to help childbirth.

Apparently, cannabis was burned for use as an inhalant to aid in delivery, researchers said, noting that a 19th-century medical publication said it strengthened contractions while reducing labor pain. Read more >>

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Some History on Cannabis as Medicine

Although the cannabis plant is now ubiquitous, unlike other wide-spread types of hallucinogen (such as Psilocybe 'magic mushrooms' or 'Datura'), it is not native to more than one continent. Cannabis is a plant native to Central Asia that has spread all over the world and is probably the most widely used recreational and usually illegal drug in the world, being smoked from the inner cities of America and Europe to the outlying atolls of Micronesia. The plant's natural homeland is most likely in the regions north of Afghanistan and the Altai mountains of southern Siberia.

Its cultural and cosmopolitan distribution is no doubt due to a combination of cultural and natural factors. As Brian Du Toit, following Darwin, puts it: 'plant distribution can be brought about by winds, currents, and similar natural forces. It can also follow animal activity and migration by becoming attached to their feet or hooves, or by being eaten by birds.' In the case of cannabis, much still remains to be discovered about both these natural forces and the cultural contacts that were equally important.

Cannabis is a dioecious plant (i.e. an individual cannabis plant is either male or female). Whilst both produce good quality fibre it is the females that are the best producers of the cannabinoids, the psychoactive compounds present in the plant, the most significant of which is delta-l-tetrahydrocannabinol, most commonly referred to in its abbreviated form, THC. Of the three cannabis species, C. sativa has a number of strains sought out by smokers, such as Acapulco Gold and Durban Poison. C. indica is said to be the most potent psychoactive species whilst C. ruderalis comes in a poor third.

This comes as no surprise to some. The experience of the 1960's might lead one to surmise that marijuana use spreads explosively. The chronicle of its 3,000 year history, however, shows that this "explosion" has been characteristic only of the contemporary scene. Marijuana has been a known useful part of human culture for approximately 12,000 years. The plant has been grown for fiber and as a source of medicine for several thousand years and the history of cannabis products and their use has been long, colorful and varied.

It is not yet clear where cannabis was first cultivated. Perhaps the people of Central Asia did so themselves – we must not be led to too readily assume that it must have been the more 'advanced' Chinese who would necessarily have preceded their more 'backward' Central Asian neighbours of the great steppes in using and subsequently cultivating hemp as either a fibre plant or a drug. Central Asia, a vast land of deserts, steppes and oases is, despite its name, usually seen as of marginal historical influence, a kind of cultural vacuum between the great civilisations of China to the east, India to the south and the Middle East to its west. Yet, very early on, thriving trade routes passed through the region and these became known as the Silk Roads, on account of the importance of Chinese silk for both Muslim and Western merchants. It is known to archaeologists that Central Asia was an important center for the transmission of new discoveries and religious ideas from prehistoric times onwards. The hemp plant, being of major technological importance as a fibre and being one of the most influential psychoactive plants in human culture, was most likely a key trade item from a very early date. The anthropologist Weston La Barre was of the opinion that cannabis use goes as far back as the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period as part of a religio-shamanic complex. Certainly the use of the plant had already spread across an area stretching from Romania to China, secondly south to India and on to south-east Asia, and last, and certainly not least, to western Asia, from where it diffused to Africa, Europe and eventually the Americas. (Source >>) (Read more >>)

"To the agriculturist, cannabis is a fiber crop; to the physician, it is an enigma; to the user, a euphoriant; to the police, a menace; to the trafficker, a source of profitable danger; to the convict or parolee and his family, a source of sorrow" (Mikuriya, 1969: 34).

The fact is that cannabis has been held simultaneously in high and low esteem at various times throughout recorded history, particularly in our own times. The volume of information available on the medical application of cannabis is considerable and more comes to light every day.


Cannabis was first employed in the Chinese and Indian cultures countries as an antiseptic and analgesic. The oldest known therapeutic description of cannabis was by the Chinese Emperor Shen-Nung in the 28th century B.C. in China, where the plant had long been grown for fiber. Its use as a medicine was well documented and, according to the world's oldest known (first?) pharmacy book, Shen-Nung prescribed cannabis for beriberi, constipation, "female weakness," gout, malaria, rheumatism and absentmindedness (Bloomquist, 1968: 19).). Hoa-Glio, an Chinese physician and herbalist of the second century A.D.,, recommended a mixture of Hemp resin and wine as an analgesic during surgery (Mikuriya, 1969: 34).

It seems most likely that the cultivation of hemp may have originated in north-east Asia (north and north-east China and south-eastern Siberia). It is the only fibre plant of any great importance in the region and, as such, must have been eagerly sought out for its numerous technological uses. The earliest indirect evidence of hemp use is from decorated Chinese Neolithic pottery having cord impressions on it (see below for similar pottery from prehistoric Europe). Painted pottery from Honan province belonging to the Neolithic Yang-shao culture (c. 4200-3200 BC) also indicates the probably presence of cultivated hemp. Pieces of what are thought to be hemp cloth have been found on the inside of a jar belonging to a Neolithic culture at a site in the western province of Gansu (2150-1780 BC). Other probably finds of hemp fragments dated to the Chinese Neolithic period have been discovered at a site in Chekiang province. The earliest uncontroversial find of fibre cloth is from the Western Chou era. The indications are that in early China hemp seeds were also a significant foodstuff. North-east Asia is still associated with shamanism today and it was surely important throughout the North, Central and East Asia during prehistoric times. If the cannabis plant was practically important as a fibre plant to these early societies then it was probably equally important in their spiritual life. Direct and incontrovertible evidence for this comes from a later prehistoric period of southern Siberia (see below). In Chinese hemp is known as ta-ma, meaning 'great fibre' (ma being 'fibre'). In the ancient Chinese script 'ma' is supposed to represent fibres placed on a rack inside a roofed shelter. (Source >>, Read more >> about the history of cannabis in China)


In contrast to the history of hemp in China, cannabis (bhang, ganja) has been widely used in India throughout its history and down to the present day. In the ancient text Artharvaveda, cannabis is described as one of a number of herbs that 'release us from anxiety'. Various psychoactive preparations containing cannabis were sacred to the gods, particularly Shiva and Indra. One of Shiva's epithets was 'Lord of Bhang'. Cannabis has been widely used in the Tantric tradition as an aphrodisiac incorporated into ceremonial practices. Cannabis seems to have been introduced into south-east Asia around the sixteenth century. Since almost all the common terms for the plant have their etymological root in the Sanskrit word ganja (in Laos hemp is kan xa, in Vietnam can xa, in Thailand kancha or kanhcha, and in Cambodia kanhcha), it is clear that it was under Indian influence that cannabis spread into the region. (Learn more >>)

It was in ancient India that this “gift of the gods” founded excessive use in folk medicine, entire systems of medicine were built up around it. The medical work Sushruta, compiled sometime before BC 1000, claimed that it cured leprosy. From the 10th century B.C. up to 1945 (and even to the present time), cannabis has been used in India to treat a wide variety of human maladies. The drug is highly regarded by some medical practitioners in that country.

Variations of cannabis were used to treat dysentery, sunstroke, indigestion, reduced appetite, speech impediments and to bring "alertness to the body and gaiety to the mind," as noted in the famous book called the Sustra. The herb's intoxicating effect was very closely tied to its remedial use. Because of its psychoactive properties it was prized more than ordinary medicines. It was prescribed for a variety of ailments, including dandruff, headaches, mania, insomnia, venereal disease, leprosy, whooping cough and tuberculosis.

The Bharaprakasha of about A.D. 1600 described it as antiphlegmatic, digestive, bile affecting, pungent, and astringent, prescribing it to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and better the voice. The spectrum of medicinal uses in India was very broad (see above) and it was also believed to prolong life, improve judgement, lower fevers, induce sleep. Because of its psychoactive properties it was more highly valued than medicines with only physical activity.

Prior to the 10th century B.C., Bhang, a cannabis preparation, was used as an anesthetic and antiphlegmatic in India. The Hindus spoke of the drug as the "heavenly guide," "the soother of grief." Considered holy, it was described as a sacred grass during the Vedic period (Fort, 1969: 15). A reference to cannabis in Hindu scriptures is the following:

"To the Hindu the hemp plant is holy. A guardian lives in Bhang ... Bhang is the joy giver, the sky filer, the heavenly guide, the poor man's heaven, the soother of grief ... No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of Mang.

"The students of the scriptures of Benares are given Bhang before they sit to study. At Benares, Ujjain and other holy places, yogis take deep draughts of Mang that they may center their thoughts on the Eternal.

"By the help of Mang ascetics pass days without food or drink. The supporting power of Mang has brought many a Hindu family safe through the miseries of famine." (Snyder, 1970: 125).

Although cannabis drugs are generally regarded as obsolete and rarely used in "western" medicine today, cannabis is "still used extensively in the Ayruvedic, Unani and Tibbi systems of medicine of the Indian-Pakastani subcontinent" ("The Cannabis Problem, 1962: 27).

The Pharmacopoeias of India mention cannabis use in the recent past. Two preparations of cannabis, a liquid extract and a tincture, are listed in the 1954 and 1966 Pharmacopoeias of India which contain descriptions of cannabis and its extract and how it is made (Chopra & Chopra, 1957: 9).

A more recent source makes reference to the fact that "in contemporary India and Pakistan, there continues to be widespread indigenous medical, 'quasi-medical,' and illicit use of both opium and cannabis" (Chopra & Chopra, 1957: 12-13).

Bouquet notes that hemp resin is occasionally used in the native medicines of the countries where it is collected. He points especially to India where, "the medical systems . . . make much use of cannabis as a sedative, hypnotic, analgesic, anti-spasmodic and anti-hemorrhoidal" (Bulletin on Narcotics, 1962:27).

Although news about the properties of this drug spread from very early times, this information did not become general knowledge in the Near and Middle East until after the fifth century A.D., when travelers, traders and adventurers began to carry knowledge of the plant westward to Persia and Arabia. (Read more >>)

Cannabis was also widely used in the ancient Near East. It was used by the Assyrians as a fumigation to relieve sorrow and grief, which is surely an indication of psychoactive use. Hemp was widely used in Ancient Egypt as a rope fibre. Remains of hemp have been discovered in the eighteenth-dynasty tomb of Akhenaten (Amenophis IV) at el-Amarna and cannabis pollen was found on the mummy of Rameses II (nineteenth dynasty). The suggestion that cannabis was kaneh bosm (one of the ingredients of the Holy Oil which God instructed Moses to prepare; see Exodus 30:23) has been rejected by most authorities. (Learn more >>)


Hemp moved westward out of its Central Asian home at a very early date. Evidence for its use in eastern Europe as a psychoactive substance can be traced to the later part of the third millennium BC. Two archaeological finds are of particular interest. The first was found in a pit-grave burial in Romania and is an artefact known as a 'pipe cup'. This particular pipe cup and another one, roughly contemporaneous, from a north Caucasian early Bronze Age site, both contained the charred remnants of cannabis seeds. This evidence, in conjunction with other finds across Europe (such as the great number of hemp seeds found in Neolithic contexts in central Europe) has been interpreted by the Oxford archaeologist Andrew Sherratt as foreshadowing the later ritual use of cannabis. There is further prehistoric evidence that cannabis was widely used as a psychoactive substance on the steppes. Russian archaeologists have discovered large-scale Iranian fire temples in the Kara Kum desert region of western Central Asia which contain the remains of cannabis, opium and Ephedra in ritual vessels. These ancient temples are dated to the first millennium BC.

In the fifth century BC the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the use of cannabis by the Scythian people of the Black Sea region:

    On a framework of tree sticks, meeting at the top, they stretch pieces of woollen cloth. Inside this tent they put a dish with hot stones on it. Then they take some hemp seed, creep into the tent, and throw the seed on the hot stones. At once it begins to smoke, giving off a vapour unsurpassed by any vapour bath one could find in Greece. The Scythians enjoy it so much they howl with pleasure.

Amazingly, almost identical hemp-smoking equipment was found by the Russian archaeologist Rudenko at the Pazyryk site in southern Siberia at the other end of the vast stepped of Asia. Not only was the equipment the same but the dating of the site makes it contemporary with the report of Herodotus from the Black Sea area thousands of miles from Pazyryk. No clearer proof could be found to indicate that the ritual use of cannabis was widespread in prehistoric Asia and Europe. (Learn more >>)

The fame of Cannabis as a medicine spread with the plant. Soon after its introduction to India, it began to spread to other countries such as Assyria, where it was referred to as "azallu" in BC 650. The progression of marijuana across the Middle and Near East was accompanied by tales of a plant that grew taller and thicker than flax and whose seeds, when burnt, cleansed the body and mind. The Greeks and the Romans cultivated hemp mainly for medicinal use, In ancient Greece, cannabis was used as a remedy for earache, edema, and inflammation (Robinson, 1946: 382-383).

Many physicians have recognized its diverse uses over time, so some of cannabis' therapeutic uses can be traced back to early classical physicians such as Diosco-rides. Near the time of Christ, the renowned physician Galen extolled the recreational uses of cannabis and recommended its use in curing gas pains, earaches and other ailments.

About 500 B.C. the Greek writer Herodotus described a marvelous bath of the Scythians, aggressive horsemen who swept out of the Transcaucasus eastward and westward. He reported that “they make a booth by fixing in the ground three sticks inclined toward one another, and stretching around them woollen plets which they arrange so as to fit as close as possible: inside the booth a dish is place upon the ground into which they put a number of red hot stones and then add some Hemp seed … immediately it smokes and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy….”

Recently, archaeologists have excavated frozen Scythian tombs in central Asia, dated between 500 and 300 B.C., and have found tripods and pelts, braziers and charcoal with remains of Cannabis leaves and fruit. It has generally been accepted that it was the Scythians who spread it westward to Europe.


In Egypt, in the 20th century B.C., cannabis was used to treat sore eyes. Based on ancient Egyptian medical writings from the 3rd millennium B.C., researchers believe opium and hashish - a smokable drug that comes from the concentrated resin from the flowers of hemp plants - were used during surgery and to treat aches and pains and other ailments. Hashish was also used to ease menstrual cramps and was even offered to women during childbirth. The drugs are part of a medical record that shows the ancients were far more advanced than most people realize, Zias said, noting evidence that European people did cranial surgery as long as 10,000 years ago, while the Romans left records of 120 surgical procedures.

“We know for sure these things were used for medical purposes,” Zias told a recent conference in Israel on DNA and archaeology. “It’s a window to the past that many people are unaware of. Here’s something used in prehistoric times, and it’s used until today.”

In an archaeologically rich area of central Israel, Zias found another clue. While excavating a tomb from the late Roman period in the town of Beit Shemesh 10 years ago, he found the skeleton of a 14-year-old girl who died in childbirth around A.D. 390. On her stomach was a fleck of a burnt brownish-black substance.

“I thought it was incense,” Zias said. But when he had it analyzed by police and chemists at Hebrew University, it turned out to be a 7-gram mixture of hashish, dried seeds, fruit and common reeds.

Seven glass vessels containing traces of the drug were found near the skeleton. She probably used them to inhale the smoky cocktail to aid her delivery. Medical researchers have found that other than relaxing the user, hashish increases the force and frequency of contractions in women giving birth; and it was used in deliveries until the 19th century, after which new drugs were developed. The drug was an extremely rare find. Organic compounds quickly decay, but because this one had been burned it was carbonized and preserved.

“It’s the first time it’s ever been found in terms of direct evidence in an archaeological dig,” Zias said. “You rarely find direct evidence of drugs in antiquity.” The drug and its uses reached the Middle and Near East during the next several centuries. Other medical uses were later developed and spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, and then moved across North Africa, appeared in Latin America and the Caribbean, and finally entered the United States in the early decades of this century (Snyder, 1970: 129).


While there is no direct mention of Hemp in the Bible, several obscure passages may refer tangentially to the effects of Cannabis resin or Hashish. According to researchers, Jesus Christ and his apostles may have used a cannabis-based anointing oil to help cure people with crippling diseases. They suggest the extract, which is absorbed into the body when placed on the skin, could have helped cure people with a variety of physical and mental problems.

"The holy anointing oil, as described in the original Hebrew version of the recipe in Exodus, contained over six pounds of keneh-bosum - a substance identified by respected etymology, linguists anthropologists, botanists and other researchers as cannabis extracted into about six quarts of olive oil along with a variety of other fragrant herbs."


Cannabis was used in Africa to restore appetite and to relieve pain of hemorrhoids, its antiseptic uses were also known to certain African native tribes (O'Shaughnessy, 1842: 431). Cannabis extended early and widely from Asia Minor into Africa, partly under the pressure of Islamic influence, but the use of Hemp transcends Mohammedan use. It is widely believed that Hemp was introduced also with slaves from Malaya. Commonly known in Africa as Kif or Dagga, the plant has entered into primitive native cultures in social and religious contexts In parts of Africa, it was valued in treating dysentery, malaria, anthrax, and fevers. Sotho women induce partial stupefaction by smoking Hemp before childbirth. The Bushmen, and Kaffirs used Hemp for centuries as a medicine and as an intoxicant and, even today, the Hottentots and Mfengu claim its efficacy in treating snake bites.

In a source cited by Brian Du Toit, the famous explorer David Livingstone describes the use of matokwane (cannabis) by the Makololo people:

    we had ample opportunity for observing the effects of this matokwane smoking on our men. It makes them feel very strong in body, but it produces exactly the opposite effect upon the mind. Two of our finest young men became inveterate smokers, and partially idiotic. The performances of a group of matokwane smokers are somewhat grotesque; they are provided with a calabash of pure water, a split bamboo, five feet long, the great pipe, which has a large calabash of kudu's horn chamber to contain the water, through which the smoke is drawn Narghille fashion, on its way to the mouth. Each smoker takes a few whiffs, the last being an extra long one, and hands the pipe to his neighbour. He seems to swallow the fumes; for, striving against the convulsive action of the muscles of the chest and throat, he takes a mouthful of water from the calabash, waits a few seconds, and then pours water and smoke from his mouth down the groove of the bamboo, The smoke causes violent coughing in all, and in some a species of frenzy which passes away in a rapid stream of unmeaning words, or short sentences, as, 'the green grass grows', 'the fat cattle thrive', 'the fish swim'. (Learn more >>)

(Read more >>)

EUROPE and The WESTERN WORLD; Marijuana In The 19th Century

Potted histories of cannabis often imply that hemp's intoxicating properties were virtually unknown in Europe until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when travellers to Egypt and other parts of the East 'discovered the drug'. Such versions of events are built on the false premise that alcohol is and always has been the inebrient par excellence of European culture and that other substances like cannabis and opium are recent arrivals. The evidence for the use of hemp in prehistoric Europe has already been mentioned and there is no shortage of early historical references to its use throughout European history. Palaeobotanical studies have shown that hemp was cultivated (presumably as a fibre first and foremost) in eastern England by the Anglo-Saxons from AD 400 onwards. A cloth made of hemp was found in the late sixth-century tomb of the Merovingian queen Arnegunde in Paris. Its use among the Vikings is known from the discovery of plant remains at a castle in Denmark, fishing line and cloth made of hemp from Norwegian graves and cannabis seeds found in one of their ships.

Antoine Rabelais, who was the father of François Rabelais (c. 1494-1553), the famous doctor and writer of the immortal Gargantua and Pantagruel, is known to have cultivated hemp on a large scale at his property at Cinais, south-west of Chinon in France. It was perhaps in helping out on his father's property that the young Rabelais first gained knowledge of cannabis. In the aforementioned work he dedicates three chapters to hemp, which he calls 'the herb Pantagruelion'. Under King Henry VIII of England a law was passed that instructed all subjects having arable land to put aside some of it for the cultivation of hemp or flax to provide sufficient fibre for the making of rigging for ships. In England, as elsewhere in Europe, hemp was indispensable as a fibre plant; its use permeated all spheres of life. William Bulleyn (1500-76), who was related to Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, extolls it thus: 'no Shippe can sayle without hempe … no Plowe, or Carte, can be without ropes … the fisher and fouler muste have hempe, to make their nettes. And no archer can wante his bowe string: and the Malt man for his sackes, with it the belle is rong, to service in the Church.' The word canvas is derived from cannabis on account of its use as a fibre. (Learn more >>)

Several years after the return of Napoleon's army from Egypt, cannabis became more widely accepted by Western medical practitioners. Previously, it had had limited use for such purposes as the treatment of burns. The scientific members of Napoleon's forces were interested in the drug's pain relieving and sedative effects. It was used during, and to a greater extent, following his rule in France, especially after 1840 when the work of such physicians as O'Shaughnessy, Aubert-Roche, and Moreau de Tours drew wide attention to this drug.

Of these, W.B. O'Shaughnessy, a surgeon with the British East India Company, and professor at the University of Calcutta, is the most famous. In 1839, after investigating its use in India and validating many of its applications, he documented its properties as an analgesic in the treatment of rheumatism, and as a remedy for severe convulsions. The next year physicians, such as O'Shaughnessy and Aubert-Roche began to call attention to the drugs uses in treating rheumatism and increasing appetite. Their contemporary, Jean Joseph Moreau de Tours, a French psychologist, proposed it as a means to treat or mimic mental illness.

Even before O'Shaughnessy, marijuana was familiar to European and American homeopathy practitioners. By 500 AD cannabis was in wide use throughout most of Europe, save for the western and northern extremities. Medieval herbalists distinguished “manured hempe” (cultivated) from “bastard hempe” (weedy), recommending the latter “against nodes and wennes and other hard tumors,” the former for a host of uses from curing cough to jaundice. Sir John Russell Reynolds prescribed it to Queen Victoria for menstrual cramps.

Documents of the 19th century report on the use of cannabis to control diarrhea in cholera and to stimulate appetite. In his reports of the late 1830's and early 1840's, O'Shaughnessy (1842: 431) stated that tetanus could be arrested and cured when treated with extra large doses of cannabis.

The India Hemp Commission (1894: 174) likewise was informed of similar medicinal uses for cannabis. Specific reports included the use of cannabis as an analgesic, a restorer of energy, a hemostat, an ecbolic, and an antidiaretic. Cannabis was also mentioned as an aid in treating hay fever, cholera, dysentery, gonorrhea, diabetes, impotence, urinary incontinence, swelling of the testicles, granulation of open sores, and chronic ulcers.

Other beneficial effects attributed to cannabis were prevention of insomnia, relief of anxiety, protection against cholera, alleviation of hunger and as an aid to concentration of attention.

The U.S. of A.

The first cultivation of hemp in the Americas seems to have been in Nova Scotia in 1606 and it subsequently became widely grown across North America for its use as a fibre. It seems, however, that there was no awareness of its psychoactive properties until the middle of the nineteenth century. In two books published in the 1850s the popular writer Bayard Taylor wrote of his hashish experiences in Egypt in a manner not unlike that of some members of the Parisian Hashish Club. Although rarely read today, his books were, for many of his numerous readers at the time, the first they had heard about the psychoactive effects of the hemp plant. The author of The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the Life of a Pythagorean (1857), Fitz Hugh Ludlow, who is often considered to be one of the best writers on the subjective effects of hashish, never reached the contemporary audience that Taylor did, despite his posthumous fame. (Learn more >>)

Official Interest in cannabis as a medicine spread from Europe to America. The earliest American documentation of the therapeutic properties of marijuana was in the homeopathy journal "American Provers' Union" in 1839. Very quickly after O'Shaughnessy's paper in 1840, preparations such as Brown Sequard's Antineuralgic Pills, and Ely Lilly's Dr Brown Sedative Tablets, became widely available in the shops.

John Bell, M.D., Boston, reported enthusiastically in 1857, about the effects of cannabis in the control of mental and emotional disorders as opposed to the use of moral discipline to restrain the mentally ill. Similarly, in 1858, Moureau. de Tours reported several case histories of manic and depressive disorders treated with hashish (Walton, 1938: 3).

The medicinal potential of marijuana was recognized by the rest of the medical community soon after. The Ohio State Medical Society's Committee on Cannabis Indica, convened in 1860, reported that their respondents claimed cannabis successfully treated neuralgic pain, dysmenorhea, uterine hemorrhage, hysteria, delirium tremens, mania, palsy, whooping cough, infantile convulsions, asthma, gonorrhea, nervous rheumatism, chronic bronchitis, muscular spasms, tetanus, epilepsy and appetite stimulation (McMeens, 1860: 1).

Between the years of 1840 and 1860, more than 100 articles were published in the medical community recommending it for various disorders. Cannabis sativa was officially in the United States Pharmacopoeia until 1937, recommended for a wide variety of disorders, especially as a mild sedative.

Concern about cannabis as an intoxicant led the government of India to establish the India Hemp Commission of 1893-94 to examine the entire question of cannabis use in India. Paralleling the question over cannabis use in the latter half of the 19th century was the growing medical use of other medications superior to cannabis in their effects and more easily controlled as to dose. Consequently, medical use of cannabis declined and cannabis began to be neglected by the medical profession. During the years between 1856-1937, cannabis lost its image as a medicine and was left with a disreputable image as an intoxicant.

The natural product's variability in potency and instability over time are among the factors which have led to its disfavor in Western 20th century medicine ... cannabis has often been employed in the past, and is currently used illicitly in North America, to reduce the secondary symptoms and suffering caused by the flue and the common cold.

It was not just the media but also the medical profession that were becoming increasingly aware of cannabis. Although doctors used it in treating many disorders (ranging from epilepsy and hysteria to alcoholism and asthma) the demonisation of drugs that began with opium was soon to spread to other psychoactive substances, including cannabis. As the anti-opium movement was intertwined with bigotry against the Chinese so with marijuana it was to be the turn of the Mexicans and then the Blacks. In 1915 California became the first state to make it illegal to possess cannabis. By the 1920s marijuana (called muggles or moota and later mezz, sassfras or tea; marijuana cigarettes or joints were known, as they still sometimes are, as reefers) had become a major 'underground drug'.

It was the first psychoactive substance (apart from alcohol) that became a common subject in modern popular music, with jazz classics from the 1930s such as Louis Armstrong's Muggles and Cab Calloway's That Funny Reefer Man topping the bill of marijuana-inspired fare. In opposition to the positive portrayal of cannabis in the jazz scene were wildly sensational accounts – supposedly based on fact – of the intimate connection of the drug with violence (drawing on the tradition of the Assassins, an Islamic sect who were supposed to take cannabis before committing murders) and sexual promiscuity. (Read more >>)

Finally, in 1937, through the considerable persuasive powers of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Marihuana (Marijuana) Tax Act became federal law and in 1956 the drug was incorporated into the more comprehensive Narcotics Act.

Although the most well-known anti-marijuana film, Reefer Madness, was designed to shock young people with its vivid portrayal of the drug menace, it seems to have had little effect. Today it is something of a cult movie (mainly among cannabis smokers!) since its plot of moral and social decline is so utterly unconvincing and ludicrous. A less well-known film about hemp was made by the US Department of Agriculture and was entitled Hemp for Victory (1942). It was made as a propaganda film to encourage the growing of the plant for its fibre by American farmers during the Second World War as, due to the conflict, sufficient overseas supplies were unavailable. Due to the controversy surrounding the psychoactive use of cannabis the very existence of the film was later officially denied; having seen it myself I can attest to its existence. (Learn more >>)

In 1925, the Dangerous Drugs Act became law, and cannabis was made illegal in Britain, just thirty years after the Indian Hemp Commission (commission.html) declared that "absolute prohibition is out of the question". Strong public reaction coupled with a campaign in the public press led to an American federal anti-marijuana law in 1937. (The drug was illegal in many states before 1937).

The issue of medical use remained active, however, and Dr. William C. Woodward, Legislative Counsel to the AMA, an opponent of cannabis use and the only physician to be a witness at the Taxation of marijuana hearings, stated:

"There are exceptions in treatment in which cannabis cannot apparently be successfully substituted for. The work of Pascal seems to show that Indian Hemp has remarkable properties in revealing the subconscious; hence, it can be used for psychological, psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic research" (Hearings, House of Representatives, 1937: 91).

In 1937 the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act effectively ended marijuana's medical usage in the United States. It is no longer an official drug. Preparations are rarely available (cannabis preparation and synthetic THC are obtainable only for research purposes), and prescriptions are regulated by special tax laws.

Despite the continued government statements discounting cannabis' therapeutic usefulness, some authorities maintain that its medical value might be reborn through further research and/or use. David Solomon, in his foreword to The marijuana Papers (1968: xxi) argues that:

" … marijuana should be accorded the medical status it once had in this country as a legitimate prescription item. After 1937, with the passage of the marijuana Tax Act and subsequent federal and state legislation, it became virtually impossible for physicians to obtain or prescribe marijuana preparations for their patients."

So, even though many more discoveries of its benefits have been found and documented since then, they have not been able to be used, due to its current legal status. (legal.html) There is no currently allowed federal medical use of cannabis in North America outside of an experimental context. Although cannabis has been reported to produce an array of possibly useful medical effects, these have not been adequately investigated. Thus, the medical profession was denied access to a versatile pharmaceutical tool with a history of therapeutic utility going back thousands of years.

Meanwhile, the result of marijuana prohibition has been a host of social and health problems that are growing daily - not only due to the suppression of it's medicinal use but it's environmental value as industrial hemp. And the greatest risk from cannabis use is still due to its illegality. The intoxicant properties of Cannabis continue to be used as an excuse by law-enforcement and special interests who then play upon the apprehensions of parents. Much more research is necessary in connection with this experimental clinical finding before the absolute ban should continue on such a possible therapeutic asset.

Marijuana In The 20th Century

Despite the fact that marijuana was made illegal in the United States in 1937, research has continued on the medical uses of marijuana. The findings include various possible medical applications of cannabis and its chemical derivatives.

One of the most recent and interesting findings (Frank, 1972) concerns the effect of cannabis in reducing intraocular pressure. It was found that as the dose of marijuana increased, the pressure within the eye decreased by up to 30%. This occurred in normal persons as well as in those with glaucoma, a disease of the eye in which increased intraocular pressure may cause blindness.

In a 1970 article, "Pot Facing Stringent Scientific Examination ," reference is made to Dr. Par who states that there are three areas in which "chemical and animal experiments are under way:"

(1) Analgesia-mood elevation plus analgesic power may make useful drug.

(2) Blood pressure reduction-hypertension may be helped by new drugs which lower the blood pressure by what seems to be action on the central nervous system.

(3) Psychotherapeutic-new compounds are antidepressants and antianxiety drugs (Culliton: 1970).

Mikuriya refers to this in studies concerning cannabis funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in 1961. The studies were "either specialized animal experiments, part of an observational sociologic study of a number of drugs, or explorations of chemical detection methods" (Mikuriya, 1969: 38).

Feinglass (1968: 206-208) also reports:

1. Anticonvulsant effects-treatment of tetanus, convulsions of rabies, epilepsy, and infant convulsions. 2. Psychotherapeutic actions - appetite-stimulation, treatment of depression, and as a sedative and hypnotic in reducing anxiety; treatment of addiction. 3. Antibiotic properties. 4. Pain-affecting power.

And Dr. Grinspoon suggests: Very little research attention has been given to the possibility that marijuana might protect some people from psychosis.

Among users of the drug, the proportion of people with neuroses or personality disorders is usually higher than in the general population; one might therefore expect the incidence of psychoses also to be higher in this group. The fact that it is not suggests that for some mentally disturbed people, the escape provided by the drug may serve to prevent a psychotic breakdown (1969: 24).

Dr. Mikuriya also lists many possible therapeutic uses of THC and similar products in his paper "Marijuana in Medicine: Past, Present and Future." He includes:

Analgesic-hypnotic, appetite stimulant, antiepileptic, antispasmodic, prophylactic and treatment of the neuralgia's, including migraine and tic douloureaux, antidepressant-tranquillizer, anti-asthmatic, oxytocic, anti-tussive, topical anesthetic, withdrawal agent for opiate and alcohol addiction, child birth analgesic, and antibiotic (1968: 39).

Antibiotic Uses Of Cannabis

During the past 20 years in western medicine, marijuana has been assigned antibiotic activity; as a result, several studies relating to this possibility have been undertaken. H. B. M. Murphy (1963: 20) reported investigations in Eastern Europe. He stated that it is alleged to be active against gram positive organisms at 1/100,000 dilution, but to be largely inactivated by plasma, so that prospects for its use appear to be, confined to E. N. T. (ear, nose and throat) and skin infections.

Dr. J. Kabelikovi (1952: 500-503) and his coworkers carried out tests on rats, which were similar to tests carried out with penicillin in vitro. The alcohol extract of cannabis was bacterially effective against many gram-positive and one gram-negative microorganisms. It was also found that a paste form of external application was successful. According to Kabelikovi, from a study of 2,000 herbs by Czechoslovakian scientists it was found that cannabis indica (the Indian Hemp) was the most promising in the realm of antibiotics.

In a 1959 publication of Pharmacie, Krejci stated: From the flowering tips and leaves of hemp, cannabis sativa var indica bred in Middle Europe, were extracted a phenol and an acid fraction. From the acid fraction, two acids were obtained, of which one preserved its antibiotic properties (p. 349). In another Czechoslovakian publication, Krejci (1961: 1351-1353) referred to two additional samples with antibiotic activity. The results of tests lead us to conclude that the antibacterial action of cannabis sativa is not identical to the hashish effect found, for example, in tetrahydrocannabinol. However, it was established that cannabis sativa is effective as an antibiotic for local infections.

Kabelik, Krejci, and Santavy (1960: 13) include in "Cannabis as a Medicant" the various microorganisms against which cannabis is effective.

"Proof could be furnished that the cannabis extracts produce a very satisfactory antibacterial effect upon the following microbes: staphylococcus pyogenes aureus, steptococcus alpha haemolyticus, streptococcus beta haemolyticus, enterococcus, diplococcus pneumonia, B. anthracis, and corynebacterium diptheriae i.e., all of them gram-positive microorganisms. Noteworthy is the effect upon staphylococcus aureaus strains, which are resistant to penicillin and to other antibiotics."

These authors also mentioned that E. coli (gramnegative bacteria) were tested and found to be resistant to the cannabis extract. One of the conclusions was the possibility of utilizing the antibiotics locally without any danger of producing resistant strains to other antibiotics administered at the same time throughout treatment (Kabelik, et al., 1960: 13).

Veliky and Genest in Suspension Culture of Cannabis Sativa, (1970) reported that the ethanol extract of cultured cells exhibited antibiotic activity against Bacillus megatherium, staphlococcus aureaus and escherichia coli (p. 493).

Other reports said that a pronounced antibiotic effect has been observed in South America, where fresh leaves, after being ground, are used as a poultice for furuncles, and in folk medicine in Europe for treatment of erysipelas (Kabelik, et al., 1960: 8).

In Pharmacopee Arabe: The ground-up seeds are mixed with bread for people with tuberculosis (Andrews and Vinkenoog, 1967: 145). (Read more >>)

The Effect Of THC On Epileptic Children

In Czechoslovakia: A preparation from seed pulp was introduced by Sirek to act as a roborant diet in treatment of tuberculosis (Kabelik, 1960: 8).

In Southern Rhodesia the plant is used as an African remedy for malaria, anthrax, sepsis, black water fever, dysentery, blood-poisoning, tropical quinine-malarial haemoglobinuria, and a wart medicine (Watt, 1961: 13).

In Argentina: Cannabis is considered a real panacea for tetanus, colic, gastralgia, swelling of the liver, gonorrhea, sterility, impotency, abortion, tuberculosis of the lungs and asthma, even the root-bark has been collected in spring, and employed as a febrifuge, tonic, for treatment of dysentery and gastralgia, either pulverized or in form of decoctions. The root when ground and applied to burns is said to relieve pain. Oil from the seeds has been frequently used even in treatment of cancer . . . (Kabelik, 1960: 8).

In 1949, Davis and Ramsey reported a study of the effect of THC on epileptic children. The demonstration of anticonvulsant activity of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) congeners by laboratory tests (Loewe and Goodman, Federation Proc., 6: 3521 1947) prompted clinical trial in five institutionalized epileptic children (David and Ramsey, 1949: 284-285).

Of these five children, all had severe symptomatic grand mal epilepsy with mental retardation; three also had cerebral palsy; and three had focal seizure activity. The EEG tracings were reported to be grossly abnormal in all five children. The results after treatment with homologues of THC, were reported as follows:

Three children-responded at least as well as to previous therapy. Fourth child-almost completely seizure free. Fifth child-entirely seizure free.

As a result of their study, David and Ramsey (1949: 284-285) felt that the cannabinols herein reported deserve further trial in non-institutionalized epileptics.

Dr. Vansim of Edgewood Arsenal has written in a recently published book Psychotomimetic Drugs, that the synthetic preparations of cannabis are of interest. There are three areas where they may be of definite use in medicine (Efron, 1969: 333-334). One concerns the use of a cannabis analogue which Dr. Walter S. Loewe reported very effective in preventing grand mal seizures if given in small doses.

The second use refers to cannabis as an antidepressant. Straub (Walton, 1938: 3), Adams (1942: 726-727), and Stockings (1947, 920-922) point to the possible use of cannabis and cannabis analogues in relieving dysphoria in depressed patients. Other authors (Parker and Wrigley, 1950: 278-279) had lesser success but recommended further research in this field. A report from London in 1968 suggests that cannabis treats the symptoms and not the cause by focusing the user's attention on his anxieties and pains without helping him to resolve them (Report by the Advisory Committee, 1968: 11).

The third use is described by Douthwaite, who used hashish in 1947 for reducing of anxiety and tension in patients with duodenal ulcer (Pond, 1948: 279). A report in a 1965 issue of Medical News (Cardiac Glycocides, p. 6) suggests cannabis as treatment for a specific form of malignancy.

Cannabis is recognized as an appetite stimulant, which suggests that the drug might be useful in the treatment of pathological loss of appetite known as anorexia nervosa (Grinspoon, 1969: 21).

Similar symptoms exist in terminal cancer patients who, when treated with cannabis over a short period of time, demonstrated stimulation of appetite, euphoria, increased sense of well-being, mild analgesia and an indifference to pain which reduced the need for opiates (DHEW, 1971: 11).

Cannabis has been recently proposed as an adjunct in the treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts. Roger Adams (1942: 726-727) and Todd Mikuriya (1970a: 187-191) noted that the substitution of smoked cannabis for alcohol may have rehabilitative value for certain alcoholics.

Marijuana As A Treatment Of Withdrawal

Regarding the use of cannabis analogue in the treatment of drug, alcohol and depressive state withdrawal, Thompson and Proctor (1953: 520523) report the following:

Depressive States

20 cases of neurotic depression-4 improved (20%) 6 cases of psychotic depression-none improved (00%)

Post-Alcoholic Cases

70 cases--59 reported clinical alleviation of symptoms (84%)

Drug Cases

6 cases of barbiturate addiction-4 reported amelioration of symptoms (66%); 4 cases of dilaudid addiction-3 reported alleviation (75%); 2 cases of pantopan and one paregoric addiction-all reported smooth withdrawal (100%); 12 cases of Demerol addiction-10 withdrawals in one week (83%); 6 cases of morphine addiction-2 withdrawals without unpleasant symptoms (33%).

Conclusions: The doctors concluded that Pyrahexyl (a synthetic cannabis-like drug) and related compounds are beneficial in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms from the use of alcohol to a marked degree, and in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms from the use of opiates to a less marked, but still significant degree (Thompson & Proctor, 1953:520-523).

Drs. Allentuck and Bowman (1942) undertook a study of the use of marijuana in the morphine abstinence syndrome. They stated:

"A series of cases were selected from among drug addicts undergoing treatment, Comparative results were chartered for the gradual withdrawal, total withdrawal, and marijuana derivative substitution, as methods of treatment, 49 subjects were studied.

The results in general, although still inconclusive, suggest that the marijuana substitution method ameliorated or eliminated (the symptoms) sooner, the patient was in a better frame of mind, his spirits elevated, his physical condition was more rapidly rehabilitated, and he expressed a wish to resume his occupation sooner (p. 250).

Labor Pains

Some reports indicate that cannabis helps relieve labor pains. Such uses are reported among native tribes in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia: The Suto tribe fumigates the parturient woman to relieve pain;the Sotho women of Basutoland are reported as smoking cannabis to stupefy themselves during childbirth, and have also been known to administer the ground-up achene with bread or mealiepap to a child during weaning (Watt, 1962:13).


The use of cannabis in the treatment of leprosy has been described in a 1939 dictionary of Malayan medicine: "Seeds of Hydnocarpus anthelmintim ... form the basis of the Tai Foon Chee treatment of leprosy. "

After crushing and sieving, they are mixed with cannabis indica in the proportion of two parts of the seeds to one of Indian hemp (Andrews and Vinkenoog, 1967: 146). Likewise, Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk quote Pappe that the early colonist employed a decoction in the treatment of chronic cutaneous eruptions, possibly in leprosy (Andrews and Vinkenoog, 1967: 146).

Kabelik, Krejci, and Santavy have reported favorable results in stornatitis aphtosa, gingivitis, and in paradentoses with a mouthwash of the following composition: Tinct. Cannabis 20.0, Tinct. Chamomillae, Tinct. jernmarum populi (or another tan for example, Tinct. Gallarum) aa 10.0 to be applied in the form of sprays or liniments to the inside of the mouth (Kabelik et al., 1960: 13).

Cannabis In Indigenous Medicine

The use of cannabis drugs in indigenous medicine has greatly declined during recent years for two reasons. First, because of the rapid deterioration of the potency of cannabis drugs in storage, the specimens available on the market being often inert and quite useless.

Secondly, because a number of potent and effective drugs of the type used in western medicine are now available on the market and are used quite extensively by the practitioners of indigenous medicine in place of cannabis, for the anodyne, sedative and hypnotic effects.

In the rural areas of India, however, the practitioners of indigenous medicine still use cannabis quite extensively In their practice. In reference to the use of cannabis, Chopra and Chopra (1957: 12-13) listed some preparations used in the practice of indigenous medicine in India in 1957. They summarize their article The Use of the Cannabis Drugs in India (1957: 12-13) by saying:

" . . . with regard to the use of cannabis in Indian indigenous medicine at the present time, it may be said that It was and still is fairly extensively used in both the Ayurvedle (Hindu) and Tibbi (Mohammedan) systems of medicine as an anodyne, hypnotic, analgesic and antispasmodic, and as a remedy for external application to piles."

It is also used in the treatment of dysmennorhoea, rheumatism, chronic diarrhea of the sprue type, gonorrhea, malaria and mental diseases on the advice of itinerant practitioners of Indigenous medicine as well as quacks who roam about the country.

The same article lists a variety of uses in which cannabis is employed therapeutically in veterinary medicine. Dr. R. N. Chopra (1940: 361) reports the following medicinal household uses of Indian Hemp:

"The hemp drugs are popularly used as household remedies in the amelioration of many minor ailments. A mild beverage made from Bhang leaves is believed to sharpen appetite and to help digestion." Indian hemp Is commonly used as a smoke and as a drink for its supposed prophylactic value against marijuana in malarious tracts. Bhang beverages form one of the popular household remedies for gonorrhea and dysuria. On account of their mild diuretic and sedative properties these drinks probably give a certain amount of symptomatic relief. Likewise, the use of Bhang for dysmenorrhea, asthma, and other spasmodic conditions is not uncommon. (Read more >>)

A poultice made from fresh leaves is a common household remedy for painful affections of the eyes, conjunctivitis, swollen joints, orchitis, and other acute inflammatory conditions.

Tuberculosis, Anthrax, Tetanus, And Menstrual Cramps

Tuberculosis, anthrax, tetanus, and menstrual cramps are among the miscellaneous medical uses of cannabis reported. Reports from Mexico indicate the use of marijuana smoking to relax and to endure heat and fatigue (Mikuriya, 1969: 37). Kabelik et al. (1960: 13) also discuss other varied uses of cannabis.

"In human therapy the best results have been obtained with the following medicaments combined with substances derived from cannabis: dusting powder together with boric acid (otitis), ointment (staphylococcus infected wounds, staphylodermia and so on), ear drops (otitis chron.), alcohol solutions with glycerin (treatment of rhagades on the nipples of nursing women-prevention of staphylococcic mastitis,) aqueous emulsions (sinusitis), dentin powder with the IRC (Isolated Resin from Cannabis) (caries)."

"The preparations mentioned above have been already tested clinically, and will eventually be made available for production. . . . the experiments made in clinical practice, particularly in stomatology, otorhinolaryngology, gynecology, dermatology, physiology, with some pharmaceutical preparations containing antibacterial substances from cannabis have been reported."

Attention has been drawn to the advantageous utilization of the active substances from cannabis in veterinary medicine, and particularly in preventive medicine for anthropozoonoses. Murphy (1963: 20) refers to an article by Lang, Treatment of Acute Appendicitis with a Mixture of Ma Jen, which says the drug has apparently been used in China for the treatment of appendicitis.

The Xosa tribe in South Africa employs it for treatment of inflammation of the feet (Kabelik et al., 1960: 7), while the Mfengu and Hottentot use the plant as a snake-bite remedy (Watt, 1962: 13).

Migraine, Facial Neuralgia

Other therapeutic uses attributed to marijuana are for the treatment of migraine headaches, as an analgesic, and as a hypnotic. Hollister (1971: 28) stated that other uses which have been proposed for marijuana include the treatment of epilepsy, as prophylaxis for attacks of migraine or facial neuralgia.

Regardless of which parts of the world are discussed, many of thesame problems and concerns about cannabis are common to all, including the United States. The drug warriors continue to declare that the use of Cannabis is an extreme social, moral, and health danger that must be stamped out, while the truth is that it is an innocuous, pleasant pastime that should be legalized. It may be some time before all of the true facts concerning the use in our times and society of this ancient drug are fully utilized.

Understanding its various uses during many centuries in diverse countries and continents can perhaps lead to a better understanding of marijuana in general. Understanding of the history and attitudes of peoples who have long used the plant may play a part in furthering our handling of the situation in modern society. It behooves us to consider the role of Cannabis in man's past and to learn what lessons it can teach us: to maintain wise restraint in our urbanized, industrialized life while allowing freedom for general use. This is an issue for which we MUST find a long-term solution for the good of all America, for it appears that Cannabis will be with us for a long time.


For more information, visit: ("Marijuana as Medicine") at: >> http://www.a1b2c3.com/drugs/mj002a.htm, http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread13663.shtml ... and ... http://www.onlinepot.org/article10.htm

Where you can find pointers to Ernest L. Abel's book "Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years" and Edward R. Bloomquist's book, "Marijuana: The Second Trip". These are both great books that cover the history of marijuana in much more detail. "Marijuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding" >> << also contains excerpts from the 1972 Report of the US National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse that contain pertinent information.

"Emperor Wears No Clothes" by Jack Herer. First Known Cannabis Users. Ancient and modern historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and more. Visit: >> http://www.jackherer.com

"CC11: Cannabis and the Christ: Jesus used Marijuana". Visit: >> http://www.cannabisculture.com/backissues/cc11/christ.html

"The History of Medicinal Cannabis", The ancient use of marijuana as medicine. Visit: >> http://www.whitman.edu/biology/Stuproj/YoungB/history.html

"Cannabis Treatments in Obstetrics and Gynecology: A Historical Review", Cannabis has an ancient tradition of usage as a medicine in obstetrics and gynecology. Visit: >> http://www.freedomtoexhale.com

"History of Cannabis ... Index", Global history of hemp. Read about mankind's long and fruitful relationship with cannabis, from ancient peoples to other early references. Visit: >> http://www.ukcia.org/culture/history/

"The Cannabis Papers", Cannabis throughout history. The women of ancient Egypt used Cannabis as a medicine and to make excellent cloth and medicine. Visit: >> http://www.kamakala.com/cannabis.htm

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