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article imageThe incredible 10,000-year history humanity shares with cannabis

By Karen Graham     Jan 28, 2019 in Science
Today, as more countries change their laws and relax the legal restrictions surrounding the use of marijuana, one thing is missing from the discussion - the incredible 10,000-year history that cannabis shares with humankind.
Cannabis use has grown right alongside humankind, actually dating back to the Neolithic age, with the development of farming some 12,000 years ago. People in China and Japan used the fiber of the cannabis plant in making fabric and rope.
As a matter of fact, in looking at the modern legal perspective of the mind-altering effects of marijuana, the ancient world had views that were the polar opposite of today's views.
A study published recently in the Journal of Cellular Physiology offers a comprehensive look at humanity’s fascinating relationship with cannabis over the past 10,000 years, and you may be surprised at the different uses humanity found for this versatile plant.
Ancient Sanskrit on hemp-based paper. Hemp fiber was commonly used in the production of paper from 2...
Ancient Sanskrit on hemp-based paper. Hemp fiber was commonly used in the production of paper from 200 BCE to the late 1800s.
Experiencing divine visions
Throughout history, one of the big differences between humans and animals is our belief in visions and direct communication with our gods. This was explained by Dr. Mark D. Merlin in 2003. He said: “We live in an age when a divine vision is dismissed as a hallucination, and desire to experience direct communication with God is often interpreted as a sign of mental illness. Humans have a very ancient tradition involving the use of mind-altering experiences to produce profound, more or less spiritual and cultural understanding."
Exactly when humans discovered the hallucinogenic properties of cannabis is unknown. It could be that in using marijuana for medicinal purposes, people inadvertently discovered that consuming larger amounts produced a dream-like state.
Shen Nung  a Chinese emperor around 2 700 BCE who is also considered the father of Chinese medicine ...
Shen Nung, a Chinese emperor around 2,700 BCE who is also considered the father of Chinese medicine, reportedly regarded marijuana as a “first-class herb” that was not dangerous.
Wellcome Collection gallery/ Photo number: V0018485
However, the use of the great majority of mind-altering drug plants has been strongly associated with rituals of a religious nature — and has even been "associated with the Christian Eucharist or the complex wine-offerings to the ancestors in the elaborate bronze vessels of Shang and Zhou dynasty China," writes Merlin.
It has even been suggested that the Indian drug soma, used by the Indo-Iranians some 4,000 years ago, and mentioned in the Vedas, was cannabis — although this theory is disputed by some scholars.
In the Vedas, it is also mentioned that soma — or possibly cannabis — was used for its “analgesic, anesthetic, antiparasitic, antispastic, and diuretic properties”, and “as an expectorating agent, as an aphrodisiac, to treat convulsions, to stimulate hunger, and to relieve from fatigue.”
But regardless of the disputed evidence about soma, cannabis was known to the ancient Assyrians, who discovered its psychoactive properties through the Iranians. They used it in religious ceremonies, calling it qunubu, which means "way to produce smoke," a probable origin of the modern word "cannabis."
Gilbert Stuart oil painting of George Washinton  finished in 1821.
People may be surprised to know ...
Gilbert Stuart oil painting of George Washinton, finished in 1821. People may be surprised to know that the "father of our country" used marijuana to alleviate toothaches. He also grew marijuana and hemp at Mount Vernon.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The Iranians also introduced cannabis to the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians — whose shamans burned the cannabis flowers to induce a trance-like state. Cannabis was also used by Muslims in various Sufi orders as early as the Mamluk period, for example by the Qalandars.
The hemp seed oil was used in Arabic medicine to treat ear infections, skin diseases, flatulence, intestinal worms, neurological pain, fever and vomiting. But it was Galen, the most famous of the Greek physicians in the Roman empire who warned us of the excessive consumption of cannabis seeds.
In his 199CE work, 'On the Properties of Foodstuff', Claudius Galen describes the hedonistic use of cannabis. He compared hemp to the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), the sacred tree of Hera, which has a very similar appearance. He wrote that in Italy it was customary to serve small cakes containing marijuana for dessert. These increased the desire to drink; excessive use, however, had a stupefying effect
Bhang eaters from India c. 1790. Bhang is an edible preparation of cannabis native to the Indian sub...
Bhang eaters from India c. 1790. Bhang is an edible preparation of cannabis native to the Indian subcontinent. It has been used in food and drink as early as 1000 BCE by Hindus in ancient India.
Irish physician William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, who had studied cannabis while working as a medical officer in Bengal with the East India company, brought a quantity of cannabis back to England when he went on furlough in 1841. You could say he introduced medical marijuana to Europe.
However, at about the same time, in 1840, the British colonies of Mauritius banned cannabis over concerns over its effect on Indian indentured workers. The same decree was carried out in British Singapore in 1870. It took the United States a while longer, but in 1906, America saw the first restrictions on the sale of cannabis.
You could say the rest of the cannabis story is history. But as many history teachers say, history is a cycle of events, and it looks like humankind is about to officially renew its relationship with cannabis.
More about Cannabis, Marijuana, 10000 years, Humanity, History
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