The earliest recorded use of cannabis dates back 10,000 years to an ancient village in the island of Taiwan off the coast of mainland China. The Chinese would use the cannabis hemp plant to create shoes and clothes. Many ancient Chinese manuscripts are filled with passages urging people to plant the cannabis hemp plant. Since food was essential rice and millet were the main crops of priority. Secondary crops were vegetable gardens and orchards, followed by textile plants namely hemp. It was discovered that the hemp plant was differentiated between male (hsi) and female (chu). Through this differentiation the Chinese recognized that male plants produced a superior fiber compared to female plants. Female plants on the other hand produced superior seeds. The legendary emperor Shen-Nung lived around the 28th century BC, and is credited with experimenting with China’s plant life in order to find curative medicines. The cannabis plant was primarily used for rheumatism, gout, malaria, and various other diseases.
As hemp and marijuana became more integrated into Chinese culture the use of this plant spread to India where we begin to see the development of one of the biggest marijuana oriented cultures in the world. A collection of four holy books called the “Vedas” told the tales of wars, battles, conquests, and the eventual settlement into the land of the Indus. These books also mention that the God “Siva” brought marijuana from the Himalayas for their use and enjoyment. The Vedas mention that Siva became angry over a family argument and stormed off into the fields by himself where the cool shade of a tall marijuana plant brought him comforting refuge from the rays of the hot sun. Interested about the plant that sheltered him from the sun, he decided to eat the leaves of the plant and thus became the “Lord of Bhang”. Bhang is not necessarily referring to the marijuana plant itself, but as liquid refreshment made with its leaves, which gives a similar effect to the marijuana used in modern day America.
Two other marijuana based concoctions are “Ganja” and “Charas”. Ganja is prepared using flowers and upper leaves of the marijuana plant and is more potent than Bhang. Charas, the most potent of the three concoctions, is created from flowers of the marijuana plant at the peak of their bloom. Charas contains a relatively large amount of resin and is similar in strength to hashish in potency. Bhang in India has been and is still used the same way alcohol is used in today’s western world. Bhang is used in India at social and religious gatherings namely weddings. It is said to keep away evil spirits that hover over the bride and groom and is also a symbol of hospitality. Bhang is also used as a drink warriors would drink before they would go into battle, the same way Western warriors would take a swig of whisky before going to battle. A 15th century Indian document refers to Bhang as light hearted, joyful, and inspirational spiritually to the mind and body. India’s holy men ritually use Bhang in order to facilitate communication with their deities. According to a legend, Siddhartha Gautama lived on a daily ration of one marijuana seed and nothing else during his six years of asceticism.
In addition Persia, Greece, as well as parts of France and Germany became permanent settlements of the Arians, who notoriously integrated the marijuana plant into Indian culture. It is only natural that marijuana use would spread throughout these regions through trade, wars, and other forms of communication. The Persian prophet “Zoroaster” around the 7th century BC wrote the “Zend-Avesta” , the Persian counterpart to the Vedas. Professor Mirceau Eliade, a renowned historian of religions, suggests that Zoroaster was a user of Bhang to bridge the metaphysical gap between heaven and earth. In one of the few surviving books of Zend-Avesta, Bhanga is referred to as Zoroaster’s “good narcotic”.
As marijuana spread through the region it undoubtedly spread to Greece. While the ancient Greeks were unaware of the mind altering affects of the cannabis plant, they still recognized the durability and strength of its fiber. From the beginning of the 6th century BC Greek merchants had a lucrative business transporting cannabis fiber to the ports along the Aegean Sea. As the Greeks became more experienced cannabis producers in different geographical regions, they undoubtedly realized the additional uses of cannabis, namely a remedy for a back ache during the 4th century BC.
During the 3rd century AD there is an unmistakable reference to cannabis. Roman Emperor Aurelian imposed a tax on Egyptian cannabis, however there are still very little hemp fibers in Egypt due to the climate. The Greek historian Herodotus mentions that the Scythians would ritually eat cannabis seeds between 500 BC and 100 BC. As knowledge of the marijuana plant’s euphoric properties became more widespread, its recreational use began spreading through the Middle East. In the Middle East cannabis is most popularly smoked as Hashish, a compressed brick of resin created by THC trichomes that the cannabis plant creates.
The Hebrew term “bosm” means aromatic and sweet smelling is found in connection with the word “qeneh” which put together creates the word “qeneh-bosm”. The relation between the term qeneh-bosm and cannabis was discovered by Semitic etymologist Sula Benet. The Jewish Talmud mentions the euphoric properties of cannabis in Abel 19: 80. As the cannabis plant became more and more popular throughout Middle Eastern culture its uses were brought to the attention of the Europeans. Marco Polo gives a second hand report about Hasan ibn al-Sabbah, who between 1090 and 1256 AD would recruit followers to commit assassinations. Legends developed about their supposed use of hashish. Hasan ibn al-Sabbah would give his followers copious amounts of hashish to smoke and bring them to beautiful gardens and sanctuaries and were given a glimpse of paradise. He would then promise them this paradise if they fought for him with undying loyalty. In the 13th century Arab traders brought cannabis to the Mozambique coast of Africa. Then in 1378 Ottoman Emir Soudoun Scheikhouni issued one of the first edicts against the eating of hashish.