Utilized in the modern day for a variety of ailments such as glaucoma, epilepsy and even in some cases of anorexia, cannabis has received a wide berth of both praise and criticism due simultaneously to its medical flexibility and the stigma attached to its use recreationally. However, the use of cannabis in any capacity is hardly a thing of modern culture. In fact, several different cultures across history have implemented cannabis to varying degrees of effectiveness for different medicinal purposes. Some may refer to this as folk medicine and herbalism while others may adhere to the letter of the word even despite the connotation that cannabis tends to carry with it today.
The first documented use of cannabis as an anesthetic goes as far back as the 2nd century AD in ancient China and Taiwan. In this time, cannabis, also called má, was noted for its anesthetic properties by Hua Tuo, a surgeon of the time. It is speculated that cannabis saw such frequent use in this way that the literal Chinese translation for “anesthesia” actually means “cannabis intoxication” (mázul). An early Chinese pharmacopeia points out a number of other uses for the drug. The root was said to be effective in removing blood clots while ingesting the juice from its leaves could fight off tapeworm. Making use of cannabis seeds could allegedly fight the effects of several other ailments, such as hair loss and constipation. Several other contributors to the pharmacopeia cited a general agreement of dreams, revelations, the ability to see ghosts and demons or even commune with spirits. The list of uses for cannabis and the various parts of the plant goes on, being utilized as a tonic, laxative, diuretic and anthelmintic among many others that see to the treatment of dozens of ailments, including sulfur poisoning and post-partum hemorrhage.
Even further back in time, Egyptian papyri documents use of cannabis (hemp) for its medical properties as early as the second millennium, BCE. Various references make note of “plant medical cannabis” directly, according to Egyptologist Lisa Manniche. They utilized it in suppositories to treat hemorrhoids as well as created applications for the treatment of sore eyes.
Adding to the credibility of the Chinese applications, the Greeks were noted to use cannabis in combating tapeworm as early as the 5th century BCE. Cannabis was also used to treat nose bleeds as well as inflammation and pain (noted particularly as a result of an obstruction in the ear).
Muslims, most of whom now consider cannabis to be haram (expressly forbidden by the Qur’an) utilized cannabis in a number of ways as well, as a diuretic and analgesic. They also note its properties for treating fevers, nausea/vomiting, epilepsy, and inflammation. These practices were said to be very common between the 8th and 18th centuries AD.
Used in various spiritual practices as well as for its medicinal properties, India made note of cannabis for its psychoactive qualities early on. It was said the bhang leaf (a form of cannabis) inhabited guardians, and that too long for the bhang was to foretell of happiness. Ancient Indians used cannabis for the treatment of insomnia, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and even to relieve pain during childbirth. Other uses included: curing dysentery and sunstroke, sharpening of the appetite, and even granting alertness to the body while “freshening the intellect” and providing “gaiety to the mind.”
In the modern day, cannabis was most notably discovered to relieve intraocular pressure that would eventually cause blindness in patients with glaucoma. Further discoveries of medical applications of cannabis led to replications both synthetic and of pure extracts, such as Canasol and Marinol, to be utilized with modern Western medicine, although inhalation remains the primary route for cannabis intake in the modern day. As the medical uses of cannabis became more widely known in the United States, more states voted to explore the pros and cons of implementing cannabis on a legalized market, even despite the stigma that cannabis carries for its recreational use.