Medical Marijuana: An Older Concept Than You Might Think
One of the best early recorded uses of cannabis as a medicinal aid also stems back to the ancient Chinese. Dating back to 100 AD the oldest known Chinese pharmacopeia (translated as “Shennog’s Materia Medica Classic”) (4) makes reference to cannabis and it’s cultivation. It even goes as far to describe a seven-month growth and flowering period for the plant prior to harvesting the flower, and recommends waiting a longer period of time if harvesting for seed.
Toward the end of the same century the surgeon Hua Tuo (5) became the first recorded individual to use cannabis as a surgical anesthetic. Instead of smoking the plant, however, Hua Tuo ground the plant into a powder-like substance which he then mixed with wine, in a concoction meant to be drank prior to surgery.
Medical Uses for the Entire Cannabis Plant
Cannabis use was very common in traditional Chinese medicine, with uses listed for over 120 different forms of ailments. From flowers to seeds to stalks the entirety of the marijuana plant was utilized, for everything from ulcers to wounds and beyond. Some medical texts even referred to over-consumption as giving the user the ability to see ghosts – A claim that makes quite a bit of sense in the modern light of THC’s psychoactive properties.
But can we go even further back? Though evidence prior to this point starts becoming more conceptual in nature, there have been very heavy signs of cannabis being used for medical purposes in even older cultures.
Cannabis Use in Other Cultures
We know that the ancient Egyptians used cannabis for it’s medicinal properties (6), with papyrus scrolls dating as far back to the 2000 BC period discussing the usage of cannabis for treating both sore eyes and hemorrhoids.
Prior to even this is evidence of cannabis being used in the ancient Netherlands, by a society known as the “Bell Beaker culture” – In 2007 a grave was discovered containing a large amount of cannabis pollen (mixed with meadowsweet) (7), believed to have been applied as both a fever-reducing medicine and a general painkiller.
Ancient India and cultures through-out the ancient Middle East also used cannabis for both medicine and recreation, and the practice was referenced by the ancient Greeks as well. Mentions of cannabis stem back to the 5th century BC, where Greek historian Herodotus described the Scythian culture and their use of cannabis prior to battle.
The answer to the question “who was the first person to smoke weed” is, as it so often tends to be when it comes to marijuana myth & culture, hazy. As the cultivation of cannabis dates back to pre-historic times it’s hard to imagine no one used the cannabis plant as either drug or medicine in these early days of mankind.
But whether cannabis smoking caught on earlier than Jirzankal is hard to say, and with the lessened THC content of most cannabis plants in early history it’s entirely possible that using cannabis as a drug is a relatively new idea (if you can consider 2500 years ago “new”). Either way, it’s hard to believe that smoking marijuana is a concept likely to disappear any time soon. Happy smoking!