Throughout human history, humans have relied on the cannabis plant for a wide variety of reasons. From clothing to spiritual reckoning, the leafy green herb has evolved in tandem with our uses and understandings of the plant. Perhaps one of the most versatile crops in existence, here are 10 ancient uses of cannabis you probably didn’t know:
1. Domesticating horses & animals
Fascinatingly enough, some researchers believe that hemp fiber may have been a useful tool that aided in the first domestication of horses.
Evidence suggests that horses were domesticated around 5,500 years BCE in the eurasian steppes, an expansive grassland area connecting the European and Asian continents. Evidence also suggests that fiber from domesticated cannabis plants was present by at least 6000 BCE in the same region.
It’s speculated that hemp fiber nets and other rope and cloth goods were used to handle and capture some of the first domesticated animals. Later in history, hemp fibers were used to make paper.
2. Pregnancy and labor aid
Using epidurals during labor only became popular in the 1970s. Early humans had no such help. So, women in many cultures around the world turned to cannabis.
Cannabis was used to ease the pains of childbirth and aid in difficult labor in ancient China, Egypt, India, Persia, Israel/Palestine, and many other Eurasian regions.
Cannabis topicals are an emerging market in today’s cannabis economy. However, using the herb to heal wounds and fight pain is nothing new. Several ancient cultures, including communities in ancient China, have used cannabis leaves and other preparations to heal surface wounds and abrasions.
4. Absent mindedness
Forgetful and spacey? In ancient China, Emperor Pen Ts’au Ching recommended cannabis as a cure for absent mindedness. This is a far cry from the stereotypes that surround cannabis consumers in today’s western cultures, which often depict herb lovers as lazy and unintelligent.
5. Spiritual protection after death
Cannabis flowers, stalks, seeds, and hemp products have been included in burial chambers in several parts of the world. This includes a 2,500-year-old grave site along the silk road, in which a man was covered in a female cannabis burial shroud.
A Siberian woman from around the same time period was buried with a container of cannabis, which she likely used to ease the pains and symptoms of breast cancer.
Later down the line, hemp was included in Eastern European coffins due to its ability to protect the bodies of the newly diseased. Similarly in South Asia, cannabis was burned in the home of the dead in hopes of reaching the spirit.
6. Mucus reliever
In ancient India, cannabis preparations were used as a treatment for mucus discharge. While the thought may seem disgusting, modern scientific research has confirmed that the primary psychoactive in the plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a bronchodilator, perhaps helping clear airways after congestion.
7. Mosquito repellent
Cannabis topicals are an excellent secret weapons for mosquito bites. However, in ancient China, texts suggest that burning cannabis leaves made for an effective insect repellent. Some authors suggest that this may have helped prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
8. Religious experiences
Cannabis has been used by many cultures as a tool for spiritual enlightenment. Though, the herb was perhaps most integrated into Hindu cultures in Central Asia. One such use could have possibly been as soma, which is a drink used by Aryan elites in ancient India.
Some speculate that soma was actually a preparation of magic mushrooms, but it was often used with cannabis preparations earlier in the day in order to cleanse the mind and body for an intense and inward-traveling spiritual experience.
9. Tantric yoga
Yoga represents another spiritual activity that was once aided by cannabis. Between 1500-600 BCE (vedic period), psychoactive cannabis preparations were incorporated into Hindu tantric yoga practices, including sexual rituals.
The overarching goal was to achieve spiritual enlightenment, and both cannabis and orgasm were used as a means to experiment with conscious thought and become closer to the divine.
Tip of the hat to Robert Clarke and Mark Merlin, who created the comprehensive guide to cannabis and human history, Cannabis: Evolution and Botany.