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Cannabis and Its Ancestral Uses

Cannabis and its Ancestral Uses

Cannabis is Ancient China

Cannabis use and its place in the United States has been a topic of debate for decades now. As more states within the U.S. begin legalizing medicinal and recreational use of Cannabis, its medicinal effects and benefits continue to be widely debated. With one side fighting for its name and the health benefits it provides, many others still believe it to be a gateway drug that has no place in western pharmacopeia. Despite the current controversy, the history of cannabis for medicinal use goes back further than we can imagine.

Cannabis is believed to have originated in Central Asia or Western China and its first documented uses date back to 2800 BC. Shen Nung, who is said to be the father of Chinese medicine, had cannabis listed in his pharmacopoeia at that time. Apart from using hemp for practical goods like rope, cloth and paper, ancient Chinese also used hemps seeds known as “achenes” as a mild laxative to relieve the stomach.

Sun Simiao (581-683 AD), a Chinese Physician, recommended cannabis use to treat severe pain, such as bone fractures. This treatment was made possible by crushing the cannabis leaves to extract their juice. It was also recommended that conditions with chronic pain like arthritis, could be managed with cannabis. As far as mental health, Simiao’s Formulas Worth a Thousand Gold, recommends cannabis for wind-withdrawal. In Chinese medicine, wind-withdrawal conditions refer to depression and the desire to be alone.

Cannabis in Ancient India

In India, the supreme Godhead Shiva is known as the creator and destroyer of all things, as well as the protector of the Vedas, Hinduism’s most sacred texts. He was also given the name the Lord of Bhang, for his love of cannabis. In the Atharva Veda, one of the four Veda texts, cannabis is said to be one of the five most sacred plants on Earth. The text refers to its benefits as a source of happiness, and as treatment to relieve anxiety, pain, and insomnia.

India’s most famous use for cannabis comes in the form of a milky drink called bhang. Bhang is a paste made by soaking the leaves and flowers of a female cannabis plant. They are then grinded into a paste; it is usually added to warm milk with a variety of spices and ground nuts. This drink has been popular for centuries and is very common during religious rituals and especially religious festivals such as Holi. Some of bhang’s health benefits include the relief of headaches, anxiety, fever, pain, and digestive issues.

The use of cannabis outlives us all and ancient communities of people who have documented their findings of the many benefits that cannabis offers, have done so without shame and with the intention of healing. As discussions and debates of whether cannabis can be used to benefit our physical and mental health in the United States, it is important that we look back on these ancient communities and the important groundwork they have begun for research in this field.


History of cannabis. The University of Sydney. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2021, from

Tackett, B. (2021, November 8). The history of marijuana: Learn about the origin of marijuana. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from

Brand, E. J., & Zhao, Z. (2017, March 10). Cannabis in Chinese medicine: Are some traditional indications referenced in ancient literature related to cannabinoids? Frontiers in pharmacology. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from

Saunders, N. (2021, November 1). Exploring the use of marijuana in Chinese medicine. WayofLeaf. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from

Cartwright, M. (2018, May 10). Shiva. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from

Saunders, N. (2021, November 1). Exploring the use of marijuana in Chinese medicine. WayofLeaf. Retrieved December 10, 2021, from



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