History of Cannabis: The BC Years – Part 1
2,737 BCE First recorded use of cannabis as medicine by Emperor Shen Neng of China.
Throughout all of china, he is known as the Father of Chinese Medicine, and as emperor was supposed to have ruled over China for over 140 years. While known as ‘The Red Emperor’, perhaps ‘The Green Emperor,’ note that he is usually portrayed wearing a coat of green leafs, would have been more appropriate. Today (in Chinese medicines) he is considered the patron of all herbalists and apothecaries as well as the author of The Great Herbal. A book which, while probably modified from it original version, is still in use today, by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The origin of the Chinese pharmacological book “The Herbal” (shown here under one of its many Chinese names ‘The Pen Ts’ao’, has been lost in history and is now the subject of numerous myths and legends. The most colorful one being the one that the Red Emperor Shen Nung (2,000 BC) was its originator. But WARNING: No actual pre-50 AD, original copies of Shen Nung’s ‘The Herbal” are still known to exist. The earliest known copies (something that can pass a radio-carbon dating test), are only approximately 2,000 years old, written sometime around 50 AD. However, logic dictates that it would have been impossible for such a book (which literally lists hundreds of herbal medicines), to have simply sprang up overnight. It obviously was taken from historical sources and additionally these editions are said to acknowledge their actual origin.
2,000-800 BCE Bhang (dried cannabis leaves, seeds and stems) is mentioned in the Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”, one of the five sacred plants of India. It is used by medicinally and ritually as an offering to Shiva.
According to The Vedas, cannabis was one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help us attain delight and lose fear (Abel, 1980). It releases us from anxiety. The god, Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, called bhang in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and he became known as the Lord of Bhang.
1,500 BCE Cannabis cultivated in China for food and fiber. Scythians cultivate cannabis and use it to weave fine hemp cloth.
The Scythians were a barbaric group of pre-Common Era nomadic tribes who are a fascinating example of an ancient cannabis using group. The Scythians played a very important part in the Ancient World from the seventh to first century BC. They were expert horsemen, and were one of the earliest peoples to master the art of riding and using horse-drawn covered wagons. This early high mobility is probably why most scholars credit them with the spread of cannabis knowledge throughout the ancient world. Indeed, the Scythian people travelled and settled extensively throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Russia, bringing their knowledge of the spiritual and practical uses for cannabis with them…
Cannabis was an integral part of the Scythian cult of the dead, wherein homage was paid to the memory of their departed leaders. After the death and burial of their king, the Scythians would purify themselves by setting up small tepee-like structures which they would enter to inhale the fumes of hemp seeds (and the resinous flower calyxes surrounding the seeds) thrown onto red-hot stones.
700-600 BCE The Zoroastrian Zendavesta, an ancient Persian religious text of several hundred volumes refers to bhang as the “good narcotic.”
Zoroaster (c. 628-c. 551 BC), the Persian prophet, is responsible for the earliest mention of the plant’s use as a sacrament. He gave hemp first place in the sacred text, the Zend-Avesta, which lists over 10,000 medicinal plants. For the Zoroastrians – among whom may have been the biblical Magi – cannabis was considered the chief religious sacrament of the priest class.
600 BCE Hemp rope appears in southern Russia.
700-300 BCE Scythian tribes leave Cannabis seeds as offerings in royal tombs.
500 BCE Scythian couple die and are buried with two small tents covering containers for burning incense. Attached to one tent stick was a decorated leather pouch containing wild Cannabis seeds. This closely matches the stories told by Herodotus. The grave site, discovered in the late 1940s, was in Pazryk, northwest of the Tien Shan Mountains in modern-day Khazakstan. Hemp is introduced into Northern Europe by the Scythians. An urn containing leaves and seeds of the Cannabis plant, unearthed near Berlin, is found and dated to about this time. Use of hemp products spread throughout northern Europe.
430 BCE Herodotus reports on both ritual and recreation use of Cannabis by the Scythians (Herodotus The Histories 430 B.C. trans. G. Rawlinson).
In a famous passage written in about 450 B.C., Herodotus describes these funeral rites as follows:
…when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.
It is most likely the seeds described by Herodotus were seeded buds, and that the charred seeds found by archeologists are what was left over from the burnt buds.