Species: sativa; indica; ruderalis
Marijuna Through History
One cannot definitely know which of the popular uses of Cannabis came first. Since the history of plant-use, in general, proceeds from the more simple to the evermore complex, one can presume that hemp’s useful fibers were the part of the plant which first attracted the attention of ancient man.
Remains of hemp fibers have indeed been found in the earliest archaeological sites within the cradle of Asiatic civilization. Evidence of hemp fiber found in China dates back to 4000 B.C. Impressions of hemp cord, found in ancient sites in Taiwan and determined to date back to 3000 B.C., were left by Turkestan stone beaters who would pound the hemp rope used in baking pottery. Hemp fabrics have been found in Turkish sites of the late eighth-century, B.C.
The original home of cannabis is thought to be central Asia, but it has spread around the globe with the exception of Arctic regions and areas of wet tropical forests. Cannabis spread at a very early date to Africa (except for the humid tropics) and was quickly accepted into native pharmacopoeias. The Spaniards took it to Mexico and Peru; the French to Canada; the English to North America. It was introduced to northern Europe in Viking times. It was most likely the Scythians who first took it to China.
The Indian Vedas sang of cannabis as one of the divine nectars, able to bless man with anything from good health and long life to visions of the gods. The Zend-Avesta of 600 B.C. mentions an intoxicating resin, and the Assyrians used cannabis as an incense as early as the ninth century B.C. Inscriptions from the Chou dynasty in China, dated 700-500 B.C., have a negative connotation that accompanies the ancient character for cannabis Ma, implying the plant’s stupefying properties.
Since this idea obviously predated writing, the Pen Tsao Ching, written in A.C. 100, but going back to a legendary emperor, Shen-Nung, 2000 B.C., may be taken as evidence that the Chinese knew and probably used the hallucinogenic properties at very early dates. It was said that Ma-fen (Hemp fruit) if taken to excess, will produce hallucinations [literally “seeing devils”]. If taken long term, it enables one to communicate with the spirits and also lightens one's body.
A Taoist priest wrote in the fifth century B.C. that cannabis was employed by necromancers, in combination with Ginseng, to set forward time and reveal future events. In these early periods, use of cannabis as an hallucinogen was undoubtedly associated with Chinese shamanism.
By the time of European contact 1500 years later, shamanism had fallen into decline, and the use of the plant for inebriation seems to have ceased – had been forgotten. Its value in Chine then was primarily as a fiber source. There was, however, a continuous record of hemp cultivation in China from Neolithic times, and it has been suggested that Cannabis may have originated in China, not in central Asia.
Hemp has been a drug of shamans for thousands of years, and it was shamanic discoveries that led to the knowledge of pharmacological efficacious plants, including hemp and its multitude of uses. In China, it is documented that shamans knew of hemp and used it to produce a shamanic state of consciousness so they could divine and heal.
About 500 B.C. the Greek writer Herodotus described a marvelous bath of the Scythians, aggressive horsemen who swept out of the Transcaucasus eastward and westward. He reported that they “made a booth by fixing in the ground three sticks inclined toward one another, and stretching around them woolen pelts which they arrange so as to fit as close as possible.
“Inside the booth a dish is placed upon the ground into which they put a number of red hot stones and then add some Hemp seed...immediately it smokes and gives out such a vapor as no Grecian vapor bath can exceed; the Scythes, delighted, shout for joy...”
Only recently, archaeologists have excavated frozen Scythian tombs in central Asia, dated between 500 and 300 B.C., and have found tripods and pelts, braziers and charcoal with remains of cannabis leaves and fruit. It has generally been accepted that cannabis originated in central Asia and that it was the Scythians who spread it westward to Europe.
While the Greeks and Romans may not have generally used cannabis for inebriation, there are indications that they were aware of the psychoactive effects of the plant. Democritus reported that it was occasionally drunk with wine and myrrh to produce visionary states, and Galen, about A.D. 200, wrote that it was sometimes customary to give Hemp to guests to promote hilarity and enjoyment.
Cannabis arrived in Europe from the north. In classical Greece and Rome, it was not cultivated as a fiber plant. Fiber for ropes and sails, however, was available to the Romans from Gaul as early as the third century B.C.
The Roman writer Lucilius mentioned it in 120 B.C. Pliny the Elder outlined the preparation and grades of hemp fibers in the first century A.C., and hemp rope was found in a Roman site in England dated A.D. 140-180.
Whether the Vikings used Hemp rope or not is not known, but palynological evidence indicates that Hemp cultivation had a tremendous increment in England from the early Anglo-Saxon period to late Saxon and Norman times -- from 400 to 1100.
Henry VIII fostered the cultivation of Hemp in England. The maritime supremacy of England during Elizabethan times greatly increased the demand. Hemp cultivation then began in the British colonies in the New World: first in Canada in 1606, then in Virginia in 1611; the Pilgrims took the crop to New England in 1632. In pre-Revolutionary North America, Hemp was employed even for making work clothes. Hemp was introduced quite independently into Spanish colonies in America: Chile, 1545; Peru, 1554.
There is no doubt that hemp fiber production represents an early use of cannabis, but perhaps consumption of its edible akenes as food predated the discovery of the useful fiber. These akenes are very nutritious, and it is difficult to imagine that early man, constantly searching for food, would have missed this opportunity.
Archaeological finds of hemp akenes in Germany, dated with reservation at 500 B.C., indicate the nutritional use of these plant products. From early times to the present, hemp akenes have been used as food in eastern Europe, and in the United States as a major ingredient in bird food.
The folk-medicinal value of hemp -- frequently indistinguishable from its hallucinogenic properties -- may even be its preliminary role as an economic plant.
The earliest record of the medicinal use of the plant is that of the Chinese emperor-herbalist Shen-Nung who, five thousand years ago, recommended cannabis for malaria, beriberi, constipation, rheumatic pains, absent-mindedness, and female disorders. Hoa-Glio, another ancient Chinese herbalist, recommended a mixture of Hemp resin and wine as an analgesic during surgery.
It was in ancient India that this gift of the gods found excessive use in folk medicine. It was believed to quicken the mind, prolong life, improve judgment, lower fevers, induce sleep and cure dysentery. Because of its psychoactive properties it was more highly valued than medicines with only physical activity. Several systems of Indian medicine esteemed cannabis.
The medical work of Sushruta claimed that it cured leprosy. The Bharaprakasha of about A.D. 1600 described it as antiphlegmatic, digestive, bile affecting, pungent, and astringent, prescribing it to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and better the voice.
The spectrum of medicinal uses in India covered control of dandruff and relief of headache, mania, insomnia, venereal disease, whooping cough, earaches, and tuberculosis!
The fame of cannabis as a medicine spread with the plant. In parts of Africa, it was valued in treating dysentery, malaria, anthrax, and fevers.
Even today the Hotentots and Mfengu claim its efficacy in treating snake bites, and Sotho women induce partial stupefaction by smoking Hemp before childbirth.
Although cannabis seems not to have been employed in medieval Europe as an hallucinogen, it was highly valued in medicine and its therapeutic uses can be traced back to early classical physicians such as Dioscorides and Galen.
Medieval herbalists distinguished manured hemp (cultivated) from bastard hemp (weedy), recommending the latter against nodes and wennes and other hard tumors, the former for a host of uses from curing cough to jaundice. They cautioned, however, that in excess it might cause sterility, that it “drieth up...the seeds of generation in men and the milk of women's breasts.”
The value of cannabis in folk medicine has clearly been closely tied with its euphoric and hallucinogenic properties, knowledge of which may be as old as its use as a source of fiber.
Primitive man, trying all sorts of plant materials as food, must have discovered the ecstatic hallucinatory effects of hemp - an intoxication which very likely could have impressed him as an other-worldly plant, leading to a religious experience. Thus very early on, the plant was viewed as a special gift of the gods, a sacred medium for communion with the spirit world.
Although cannabis today is the most widely employed of the hallucinogens, its use purely as a narcotic in the ancient world was sparse, except in Asia. Its use as an inebriant seems to have been spread east and west by barbarian hordes of central Asia, especially the Scythians, who had a profound cultural influence on early Greece and eastern Europe.
In classical times its euphoric properties were recognized. In Thebes, hemp was made into a drink said to have opium-like properties. Galen reported that cakes with hemp, if eaten to excess, were intoxicating. Knowledge of the psychoactive effects of hemp goes far back in Indian history, as indicated by the deep mythological and spiritual beliefs about the plant.
One Indian preparation, Bhang, was so sacred that it was thought to deter evil, bring luck, and cleanse man of sin. Those treading upon the leaves of this holy plant would suffer harm or disaster, and sacred oaths were sealed over Hemp.
The favorite drink of Indra, god of the firmament, was made from cannabis, and the Hindu god Shiva commanded that the word Bhangi must be chanted repeatedly during sowing, weeding, and harvesting of the holy plant.
Knowledge and use of the intoxicating properties eventually spread to Asia Minor. Hemp was employed as an incense in Assyria in the first millennium B.C., suggesting its use as an inebriant.
While there is no direct mention of Hemp in the Bible, several passages may refer tangentially to the effects of cannabis resin or hashish, and the Gnostic Gospels refer to cannabis as kaneh-bosm.
It is perhaps in the Himalayas of India and the Tibetan plateau that Cannabis preparations assumed their greatest hallucinogenic importance in religious contexts. Bhang is a mild preparation: dried leaves or flowering shoots are pounded with spices into a paste and consumed as candy -- known as maajun -- or in tea form. Ganja is made from the resin-rich dried pistillate flowering tops of cultivated plants which are pressed into a compacted mass and kept under pressure for several days to induce chemical changes; most Ganja is smoked, often with Tobacco. Charas consists of the resin itself, a brownish mass which is employed generally in smoking mixtures.
The Tibetans considered cannabis sacred. A Mahayana Buddhist tradition maintains that during the six steps of asceticism leading to his enlightenment, Buddha lived on one hemp seed a day. He is often depicted with Soma leaves in his begging bowl and the mysterious god-narcotic Soma has occasionally been identified with hemp.
In Tantric Buddhism of the Himalayas of Tibet, Cannabis plays a very significant role in the meditative ritual used to facilitate deep meditation and heighten awareness. Hemp is the most important ritual drug of Indian and Nepalese Tantrists, They call it vijaya, “the victorious,” and regard it as the only true aphrodisiac. For this reason, hemp preparations are used by Tantric couples in erotic rituals, during which two lovers are transformed into the gods Shiva and Parvati through the use of a hemp-based elixir.
Folklore maintains that the use of hemp was introduced to Persia by an Indian pilgrim during the reign of Khrusu (A.D. 531-579), but it is known that the Assyrians used hemp as an incense during the first millennium B.C. Although at first prohibited among Islamic peoples, hashish spread widely west throughout Asia Minor. Cannabis extended early and widely from Asia Minor into Africa, partly under the pressure of Islamic influence, but the use of Hemp transcends Mohammedan areas.
As early as 1271, the eating of Hemp was so well known that Marco Polo described its consumption in the secret order of Hashishins, who used the narcotic to experience the rewards in store for them in the afterlife.
Remnants of hemp were recovered from the ancient tombs of Egypt. Some mummies were found to have hemp pollen on them, while others were discovered to be stuffed with hashish. In Egypt today, hashish continues to have ritual significance. Often times at social events, a hash water pipe is passed around to help foster communal feelings. There are records of hemp being used for tribal rituals in South Africa, where its smoke was inhaled collectively for divination, as part of healing rituals.
It is widely believed that Hemp was introduced also with slaves from Malaya. Commonly known in Africa as Kif or Dagga, the plant has entered into primitive native cultures in social and religious contexts. The Hotentots, Bushmen, and Kaffirs used Hemp for centuries as a medicine and as an intoxicant.
In an ancient tribal ceremony in the Zambesi Valley, participants inhaled vapors from a pile of smoldering Hemp; later, reed tubes and pipes were employed, and the plant material was burned on an altar.
The Kasai tribes of the Congo have revived an old Riamba cult in which Hemp, replacing ancient fetishes and symbols, was elevated to a god -- a protector against physical and spiritual harm. Treaties are sealed with puffs of smoke from calabash pipes.
In Nepal, shamanism continues to be of great importance to many indigenous peoples who have only limited contact with Western medicine. Shamans, who are thought to inhabit the polytheistic cosmos, can be found in almost every Nepalese village. Shamans venerate the god Shiva, who they regard as primordial first shaman; the one who had a perfect understanding of the shamanic arts and who taught this to certain chosen people.
In the Rastafarian community, the first inebriation by smoking ganja has the character of an initiation. The young smoker is supposed to receive a vision that will mark him as a full member of the community and reveal his life path.
Jesus Christ himself was recognized as such by his being anointed with the holy anointing oil, the use of which was restricted to the instillation of Hebrew priests and kings. The ancient recipe for this anointing oil, recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus (30: 22-23) included over nine pounds of flowering cannabis tops, Hebrew "kaneh-bosm," extracted into a “hind” (about 6.5 liters) of olive oil, along with a variety of other herbs and spices. The ancient chosen ones were literally drenched in this potent cannabis holy oil.
Scientifically, there are three species of Cannabis: sativa, indica and ruderalis. The psychoactive material in all cannabis species comes from different sources: the female flowers, the resin, the resin oil, the seeds, the seed oil and the leaves. Primarily, it is the dried female inflorescences, or flowers, that are referred to as marijuana. The resin and oil are also used for psychoactive purposes; the resin is used for hashish, the resin oil as hashish oil and the oil of the seeds is known as hemp oil.
Cannabis sativa is a tallest of the three plants, usually growing between eight to twelve feet tall. The light green leaves have long, thin leaflets. Sativa buds are slender and elongated, turning red as they mature in warm climates and turning purple in cooler environments.
Even though the leaves of the sativa plant are smoked, the most highly prized part of the plant is the top. Sativa plants have a sweet, herbal aroma and the smoke is generally quite mild. Sativa is also a source of hemp fiber used to make rope and other hemp products.
Cannabis indica is commonly found throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and India. Indica is a short plant that generally grows to between three to six feet tall. Its leaves are a series of broadly set leaflets, dark green in color, occasionally tinged with purple - as they near maturity, they may become significantly more purple. Cannabis indica is a pungent plant with a skunk-like odor and its smoke is substantial, therefore more likely to cause coughing when inhaled. Indica is the traditional source of hashish.
Cannabis ruderalis is a debated third variety of cannabis found in Russia, Poland, and other eastern European countries. Cannabis is classified as having three species: sativa, indica, and ruderalis based on the formation of the seed pods. There is some debate as to whether there is justification for this third category. Some features of ruderalis are large seeds, weedy plants (four to six-feet tall) and a lower level of THC than sativas or indicas.
The female inflorescences of cannabis ruderalis, dried then smoked or inhaled, are frequently used as a fumigant in sweat lodge ceremonies. A shamanic incense with psychoactive effects has been known to be concocted using equal parts hemp flowers, the tips of juniper branches, thyme, and wild rosemary.
There is anecdotal evidence that hemp consumption had an influence on visual artists. Picasso was quite familiar with hashish and was of the opinion that it made one happy and stimulated the imagination. Hashish had a significant influence upon surrealism. Aubrey Beardsley, one of the great artists of the art deco movement, attested to hemp’s influence on his work, calling it his inspiration, his “metal nourishment.” It’s very likely that other art deco artists created their works under the influence of hemp. Consequently, it is not surprising that elements of the art deco style reemerged in the psychedelic art of the 1960s.
The most valuable products of the plant are the resin and the resin glands that are rubbed off the female flowers. The most valuable resin is obtained by rubbing the female inflorescence with the hands. The resin and some of the resin glands stick to the surface of the hands and collect there as more flowers are rubbed. The result can be scratched or scraped off the hand.
Most marijuana growers no longer use seeds to produce new plants; they use cuttings of female plants. The most important factor affecting the formation of THC-rich flowers is the amount of light the plants are exposed to. Those exposed to full sunlight remain small and bushy and mature much sooner than those kept in shade.