There are increasing accounts of people using cannabis as medicine for a wide variety of ailments: stress relief, insomnia, PTSD, nausea, appetite and more.
But this is not new. Humans have a long history of eating, cultivating and ritualistically enjoying this plant. Evidence of medical applications can be traced back 5,000 years to Chinese emperor and herbalist Chen Nung, who bandaged battle wounds with cannabis leaves.
In 1977, astronomer Carl Sagan mused in The Dragons of Eden that perhaps cannabis was the world’s first agricultural crop: “It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.”
Prior to current medical uses, cannabis was a staple crop in ancient civilizations. In India it was revered as “sacred grass,” one of the five sacred plants used for rituals since 1200 BC. Not only was cannabis socially acceptable, it was part of religious ceremonies, much like how today wine is interwoven into social ceremonies like weddings and baptisms.
Cannabis sativa was a plentiful crop in ancient China. Hemp was so abundant that the country was once known as the “land of hemp and mulberry.” Mulberry was fed to silkworms. While the wealthy wore silk, everyone else wore hemp clothing.
In the 12th century AD, the Roman Empire embraced cannabis. It remained a staple of ancient life. It provided textile fibers, clothing, shelter, food and medicine.
As Christianity gained ground it incorporated various foreign elements, but notably excluded cannabis. As this transition intensified, hemp and cannabis became associated with the devil and satanic rituals. Wine became the new holy sacrament. As a result, generations of knowledge about the true nature and uses of cannabis became hidden. Medicinal applications were largely ignored and only remained known to botanists and herbalists.
A collective fear swept through societies, labeling those with intimate plant knowledge as witches. While today we may not label cannabis farmers or smokers as witches, a negative stereotype still persists. However, this is being countered by a resurgence of ancient knowledge for this once sacred plant.
While we may not revert to bandaging wounds with cannabis leaves, this plant deserves a chance at redemption. Our “advanced” society is riddled with mental health issues, cancers and war. Equipped with advanced scientific analysis, we may be squandering lives of millions by dismissing this humble plant as a weed.