A (Very) Brief History of Marijuana

The history of marijuana can be traced back to an archeological site in Taiwan dated 10,000 BC with the use of hemp in pottery relics. The earliest historical evidence of marijuana for medical purposes is the result of research from Chinese Emperor Shennong (Shen Nong, Shen Nung) who lived in 2700 BC.

The Divine Farmer

Shennong, literally "Divine Farmer", is credited with pioneering Chinese herbal medicine, agriculture and tea. He is said to have helped people transition from a diet of meat, clams and wild fruits to one of whole grains and vegetables. Could Shennong be the first vegan?

Shennong sought out and investigated hundreds of herbs, experienced its effects and documented his findings. He found marijuana effective in treating rheumatoid and gout pain. It was recommended for malaria, constipation, "absentmindedness", and "female disorders". What other prescription drug does all that?!

Shennong - the Divine Farmer

In addition to being one of the earliest natural cures, the history of marijuana includes ancient manuscripts filled with passages encouraging the people to grow hemp for industrial use. They wove their clothes, ending man's reliance on animal skins for clothing. Hemp was used for paper, a better alternative to the time-intensive silk weaving process. Archers fashioned bow string of hemp which was stronger than the bamboo strings they were using. The army using hemp strings were at a significant tactical advantage over those who did not. Hemp was so highly regarded that the Chinese called their country "the land of mulberry and hemp."

Indian Spirituality and Recreation

Marijuana has been an essential part of Indian spirituality for centuries. The long and varied history of marijuana use dates back to 1500 BC.

The creators of Sanskrit, one of man's earliest written languages, produced a collection of four holy books, called the Artharvaveda. This ancient document describes how the god Shiva brought cannabis down from the Himalayas for his peoples' use and enjoyment. Shiva is known as the "Lord of Bhang" and to this day, his devotees engage in pot to attain the spiritual oneness with Shiva.

history of marijuana lord shiva

There are three main methods of enjoying marijuana in India:

Ganja is the flower (bud) and upper leaves of the female plant.

Charas is the strongest of the three preparations and contains a high concentration of resin and often compared to hashish.

Bhang is a cannabis chai. This milk and spice beverage was first used as part of the Hindu rite around 1000 BC. This beverage which includes cloves, cinnamon, rosewater and sugar is a sign of hospitality and served at celebrations. Bhang can be used as a term for marijuana, however it is most commonly a reference to the beverage.

Scythian Death Rituals

The Indo-Euro Aryans who invaded India also set their sights on Persia (Iran), Asia Minor (roughly the Turkish region outward toward Europe and Asia), and Greece around 1500 BC. The Persian word bhanga is almost identical to the Indian term bhang

The culture and history of marijuana finds its way into the ritual of mourning. Around 700 BC the Scythians warriors, descendents of the Aryans, knew of the effects of cannabis.

Greek historian Herodotus would later detail the history of marijuana use by Scythians to pay homage to their fallen leaders. Following a grisly death ritual, Scythian warriors would cleanse themselves with purifying oil. Then they would enter tents outfitted with metal fire pits and red hot stones and throw cannabis plants and seeds onto the stones. The cannabis would start to smolder and throw of vapors which according to Herodotus caused the Scythians to "howl with joy." Indeed.


The Scythians developed a long handled cutting tool for harvesting the hemp plant and was far superior to any European technology at the time. The scythe is still used today and bears the name of the fierce nomadic horsemen who helped revolutionize agriculture.

In 1929, Russian archeologist S.I. Rudenko discovered evidence of this ritual near the Altai Mountains between Siberia and outer Mongolia. Professor Rudenko also found shirts made of hemp fiber and metal censors used for inhaling marijuana smoke.

Further evidence indicated to Rudenko that marijuana inhalation was used in a religious context as well as daily use by Scythian men and women.

Ancient Greek Veterinary Medicine

The history of marijuana for medical purposes is not limited to humans. Leave it to the innovation of the ancient Greeks to pioneer medical marijuana for humans and animals. The advanced culture that brought the world democracy, the gear, and irrigation also pioneered cannabis in veterinary medicine, using the natural cure to dress wounds and sores on their horses.

In humans, marijuana historically was used to treat nose bleeds and the seeds used to expel tapeworms. Fourth century BC literature refers to cannabis as both a delicacy and remedy for backaches. It is commonly believed that Greek poet Homer references cannabis in his epic classic, Odyssey.

When In Rome

Many Greek scientists found employment from the Roman aristocracy. One such scientist was Pedacius Dioscorides who was born in the early first century AD. Early in his career, Dioscorides was a physician who traveled with Nero's Roman army tending to the needs of the soldiers. In his travels Dioscorides collected, studied, and documented the plants he encountered.


Dioscorides' tome called materia medica was published in 70 AD. This publication proved to be an invaluable documentation of the history of marijuana. In it, he described uses for over 600 medicinal plants and minerals, including cannabis, and how herbal medicines could be prepared by blending them into milk or honey. From Book III of the materia medica:

Kannabis; is a plant of much use in this life for the twisting of very strong ropes, it has leaves like to the Ash, of a bad scent (insect repellent), long stalks, empty, a round seed, which being eaten reduces sexual activity, but being juiced when it is green is good for the pains of the ear."

Marijuana Use In The Middle East

The history of marijuana would not be complete without mentioning the discovery and use of marijuana in the Middle East. While alcohol is strictly forbidden under Islamic law, the discovery of marijuana is attributed to Haydar, Persian founder of Sufism in 1155 AD.

According to legend, Haydar fell into a state of depression and decided to break custom and leave his monastery and wander the nearby fields. When he returned, his worried disciples noted his unusually relaxed and joyful demeanor.

Haydar told his disciples he noticed the only plant in the field that seemed to dance joyfully in the oppressive heat amid other motionless plants. Out of curiosity, Haydar ate a few leaves which resulted in the state of euphoria his followers found him in. Haydar shared his discovery with his pupils after they swore to not reveal this plant to anyone other than the Sufis (the poor).

Shortly before Haydar's death in 1221 AD he asked to be buried amid cannabis leaves in his tomb so his spirit may walk in the shade of the plant that gave him much joy in his lifetime.

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