The Hidden History of Cannabis
There are scant authentic records of cannabis history, but these are some juicy bits we do know.
Cannabis has an important place in the history books. Reefer madness, however, would have us believe otherwise. Anti-cannabis advocates gave cannabis a debaucherous past culminating in regrettable, yet necessary, war on drugs. Stigmatization has practically erased the true history of cannabis.
We love to look back at history and assume no one used cannabis before 1960’s America. Why is that? It’s partly because its use has been erased and negated by the stigmatization of today. It’s also because we never hear about the history of cannabis. Really only esoteric pieces look at the history of cannabis.
There are plenty of successful people throughout American history who have prospered with the use of cannabis. So, outside of the necessity to remove the stigma that still lingers, it’s also important to recognize that cannabis has been used for millennia as a medicine and a tool for an improved quality of life.
Uncovering the Hidden History of Cannabis
For example, a 2008 study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Botany by Russo et al. spoke about a tomb that was unearthed in China that dated back nearly 3,000 years. In the tomb was the body of an ancient shaman. Researchers found a perfectly preserved weed stash with the remains.
Most interestingly, the flowers seemed to suggest that the shaman was consuming them for its psychoactive properties. The entire batch was made of female flowers – the ones that are THC-heavy and are therefore responsible for the ‘high’ associated with the plant. According to Russo et al., the shaman’s recreational use is the only explanation. The study ”used additional botanical, phytochemical, and genetic investigations to demonstrate that this cannabis was psychoactive and probably cultivated for medicinal or divinatory purposes.”
If ancient shamans in China were using cannabis for spiritual, medicinal, or personal reasons, there’s no reason to assume that the same thing can’t be said for other, more ancient cultures.
Cannabis Use in Ancient Egypt
For example, there is some evidence that several of the Egyptian gods were avid cannabis users. The most prominent of those gods is Seshata.
Seshata is the goddess of writing, wisdom, and knowledge. She was also a renowned scribe and surveyor, as well as a master of astrology, astronomy, and architecture. Funnily enough, we still associate many of these professions with cannabis use. Additionally, depictions of Seshata often include what looks like a cannabis leaf above her head. However, some say it’s a seven-point star or a lotus flower. They say that assuming it’s a cannabis leaf confirms bias, but there’s no denying that it certainly resembles the plant.
Those who immediately deny it’s a cannabis flower are often those who would rather not associate these gods with cannabis. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to decipher if it is indeed a cannabis flower. If it is, it’s a clear indication that Ancient Egyptians used cannabis.
Napoleon, Cannabis, and Hash in Egyptian Culture
Since Ancient Egyptians may have been engaging with the cannabis plant for more than textiles and rope, it should perhaps come as no surprise that cannabis use was widely prevalent in Egypt when Napoleon invaded the country in the late 18th Century. According to a piece that appeared in The Economist one of his officers wrote at the time that half of the Egyptian men were in a “perpetual state of stupor” due to their hash use.
The same article explains how Napoleon’s soldiers made hash their drug of choice since alcohol was nearly impossible to find. Apparently, the French began to outlaw hashish, as well, but the soldiers seemed to disregard the orders. When they left Egypt a few years later, they took substantial quantities of the hash back home with them.
If you’ve ever been to France, that shouldn’t surprise you.