An enlightening research paper, recently featured in the European Journal for Chemistry, delves into the intricate relationship humans have shared with the cannabis plant over thousands of years. This bond, often a fusion of practical and recreational aspects, remains a topic of global interest and debate, particularly in the contemporary context of the war on drugs.
Authored by Gabriel Vitor de Lima Marques and Renata Barbosa de Olivera from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, the paper titled “From Ancient Asian Relics to Contemporaneity: A Review of Historical and Chemical Aspects of Cannabis” uncovers layers of human-cannabis interaction across different eras.
Initially, it appears that the attraction toward cannabis was its fibrous strength. Historical findings indicate that hemp fiber was utilized in ancient Mesopotamia as far back as 10,000 years ago. In comparison, ancient China and Kazakhstan began using it about 6,000 and 5,000 years ago, respectively. The plant’s multifaceted utility made it indispensable, from being recognized as one of the five principal grains, alongside rice, barley, millet, and soy, to being a primary material for ropes, boat riggings, clothing, and even as a means to stun fish.
However, the relationship took an intimate turn around 3,000 years ago when cannabis began to be consumed for its psychoactive and therapeutic properties. Rooted in the Indian subcontinent around 1000 BCE, its consumption was often a mix of spiritual and medical needs. Sacred scriptures like the Vedas regarded it as divine, originating from a celestial nectar drop, and capable of granting bliss and liberation.
Interestingly, the Pen Ts’ao Ching, the world’s earliest pharmacopeia, documented the psychoactive attributes of marijuana, tracing back to 2700 BCE. In the Indian context, cannabis played a ceremonial role, accompanying people in weddings, seasonal festivals like Holi, and significant religious observances such as Durga Puja. The profound cultural significance of marijuana in this region can be equated with the reverence of communion wine in Christianity. The plant’s diverse applications in ayurvedic medicine, from pain management to appetite stimulation, further establish its multifunctional role.
Historical records also reveal that the psychoactive characteristics of cannabis were familiar to Semitic communities centuries before the Christian era began. The Mesopotamian and Persian populations used cannabis incense in social rituals, such as funerals, an aspect even alluded to in the Old Testament’s Aramaic version.
These findings challenge conventional arguments against cannabis, especially when juxtaposed with alcohol. Prohibitionist views, like those presented by Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), argue for alcohol’s extended historical use, implying its more significant acceptance in societies. But as this paper illustrates, the service and significance of cannabis have ancient roots, deeply entrenched in diverse cultures.
Today, the cannabis narrative is dynamically shifting, with nations like Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, and some U.S. states moving toward legalization or decriminalization. At the same time, others, such as Germany, the U.K., Chile, New Zealand, and Brazil, are authorizing marijuana for medical purposes. The growing acceptance stems from a renewed focus on potential therapeutics spurred by discoveries in the 1960s and promising progress in contemporary medicine.
The journey with cannabis is indeed still unfolding. While traditional evolutionary forces have shaped the plant, modern human intervention is increasingly steering its future. The quest to understand this unique plant continues, with recent studies offering insights into the effects of multiple cannabinoids and the potential of genetically engineered hemp.