Man holding a hemp plant with soil

Hemp As Medicine | A History of Hemp As Medicine Since Ancient China

Hemp has always been used for healing purposes for more than a millennia.

Just as with other plants, we cannot affirm when humans started their experiments with this plant for purposes of medication. With this said, Carl Sagan was a believer that hemp was more likely to be the very initial crop to be grown.

Majority of the plants were initially used as folk solutions. Such was not documented early enough but rather passed from one generation to the other through oral traditions.   It is more likely that hemp was used for medicinal purposes even before its benefits were documented.

The most important thing that one needs to note as they read this article is that throughout history and in historical texts, there has not been a clear difference between hemp and marijuana.  The clearest thing is that hemp has always been under research for diverse uses with people looking into the different ways it can ease symptoms as well as cure diseases. In as much as knowledge has been lost along the way because of limited research, we are now rediscovering hemp on a daily basis.

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Ancient China remains to be the first place where medicinal hemp was first used. Dating back to about 6000 BCE, the plant people were using the plant for their tools, clothes, footwear as well as food.

About 2737 BCE, documentation of hemp as medicine can be traced. Shen-Nung who was an emperor worked on the development of topical hemp oils as well as teas meant to help in relieving pain.  He documented the results in the very initial editions of Pen Ts’ao Ching. Much later, different pharmacopeias began listing the medicinal benefits of the parts of the plant such as flowers, leaves as well as seeds.  Hua Tuo became the very first person documented to use cannabis for anesthetic purposes in the 2nd century.  He realized that it could be used to treat blood clots, tapeworms as well as hair loss.

Romans have a very long history as far as the use of hemp is concerned. Circa 77 AD, Pliny the Elder observed that hemp was really great at removing insects from the ear as well as providing relief for pain. He also noted that if consumed in excess amounts it could affect s persons sexual performance negatively.  About a similar time, Disocorides documented a pharmacopeia which listed the medical advantages associated with hemp.  Such are inclusive of ear pain, stomach issues as well as burns. In 200AD, Galen also concurs that hemp can be used to relieve pain though it can lead to stomach pains, headaches as well as dehydration.

The use of cannabis was also common for people living in the Middle East majorly because alcohol use is not permitted because of their religious beliefs. The plant grew here on large scale and it’s not a big surprise that physicians knew their way around it well. They knew the benefits of hemp and noted them, these included, anti-inflammatory, relieving pain, anti-emetic, anti-epileptic, diuretic among others.

Atharvaveda in India has hemp listed as a sacred grass. They made the use of paste, drinks and other parts of the plant for medicinal as well as recreational purposes for many centuries.  The Greeks used to bury their dead with hemp. In Egypt, there is documentation of hemp as an eyewash in the Ramesseum III Papyri. In documentation done at a later date, the key highlights are pain relief as well as aiding in inflammation.

In short, history, as well as different regions, indicate that hemp aids in pain relief.


Hemp history

People accessed hemp through travel and used the same as fibers.  In Europe, it was used in the treatment of tumors, coughs as well as for recreational purposes. In the 16th century, the plant became one of the major crops that was cultivated in England.  Henry the VII in 1533 ordered farmers to grow the plant or risk being fined. In this century different physicians such as Garcia de Orta and Li Shih-Chen made a discovery of new ways that the plant could be utilized which included improving appetite as well as an antibiotic.

The 17th century saw hemp in North America. By the seventeenth century, hemp had made it to North America.  The plant was cultivated in Jamestown as well as other colonies and was used to make clothing, for building materials as well as sails.

The Virginia Assembly in 1619  passed a law which made it mandatory for farmers to grow hemp. Laws similar to this one were also passed in Massachusetts as well as Connecticut, and they accepted the plant for legal tendering in states such as  Virginia, Pennsylvania, as well as Maryland.

Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton gives a recommendation that hemp can be utilized in the treatment of mental disorders and the improvement of the same. The 18th century saw two extra pharmacopeias listing hemp the different medicinal properties that hemp has.  “The New England Dispensatory” as well as  “Edinburgh New Dispensatory” listed the plant to be used in treating pain, skin inflammation as well as coughs.

In as much as hemp was listed in different medical texts, there is one person who is credited with making it popular in the West.— W.B. O’Shaughnessy. He was a surgeon as well as a professor at Medical College of Calcutta during the 1800’s. During this time, he conducted experiments on cannabis indica using animals, children as well as adults as his subjects. He discovered that it provided analgesic effects and relaxation of the muscles.  Patients suffering from rheumatic diseases, cholera, tetanus, and hydrophobia received hemp treatment from him. In as much as it may have not treated each of the diseases, he notes that it gave people hope.

The third edition of the United States pharmacopeia before the civil war began listed the hemp extract. The U.S. Dispensatory also did including medical cannabis. It was found to be intoxicating as well as relieving pain and inducing sleep.  It became a good source of recommendations in treating convulsions, depression as well as gout.  Before the end of the 19th century, research conducted by Dr. JR Reynolds indicated that hemp helped in improving tics, migraines, asthma as well as dysmenorrhea.

As soon as we turned a new century, the use of hemp as medicine reduced as opiates and syringes were introduced. Chlorodyne which is a mixture of cannabis and morphine in the treatment of stomach problems became popular. Folk remedies as well as snake oil cures in most occasions always included cannabis as well as different drugs.

As soon as the war on drugs started, cannabis was banned which left patients unlucky. The 70’s saw extracts and synthetic cannabis drugs being manufactured for treating nausea brought about by chemotherapy used in cancer as well as autoimmune disorders and treatment of glaucoma. In this decade, medical marijuana in the U.S was legalized in states such as  New Orleans as well as New Mexico. In as much as such programs aided patients with the said conditions, they were always short-lived because of DEA limitation.

In 1996, California legalized medical marijuana for conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. Arizona did the same immediately after.  In the early 2000s, Canada did the same.  In as much as hemp, cannabis, as well as marijuana, are very restricted in the last decade alone, there has been increased use of the same for medicinal purposes. A good example is  Nabiximols (or Sativex), a THC/CBD spray utilized in helping relieve multiple sclerosis symptoms.


By the beginning of the 20th century, there were rapid changes in attitudes from adoration to fearful. The Pure Food and Drug Act in the year 1906 stated cracking down on the use of cannabis by and imposed limitations for foreign as well as interstate traffic. In this line, the law created the FDA. 1913 saw states such as California prohibiting cannabis use while targeting Mexican immigrants in searches that were based on the 1906 act.

The 1914 Harrison Act as well as the media which included the infamous film “Reefer Madness” — worked in turning the public from cannabis.  The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act categorized hemp and marijuana as one thing creating hurdles up to date. Marijuana was already prohibited in more than 20 states. World War II saw regulations reduced to allow production of hemp to used during the war.

The Controlled Substance Act saw the ban of hemp and marijuana in the 70s. States accepted cultivation of industrial hemp but as in with dispensaries selling legal weed today, the DEA would occasionally raid them. For close to 50 years, Cannabis was categorized as a Schedule 1 drug restricting the same to research only.


Due to the very intense restrictions brought about by the war on drugs, research on cannabis has been carried out in a couple of universities in the U.S. The rules are very restrictive with regards to the research with the who, which form as well as funding of the same being scrutinized.

Successful studies include the effects of cannabis on spinal cord injury pain, HIV neuropathy, MS spasticity, and sleep.

President Obama in 2014 signed a bill-The Farm Bill helping in the elimination of a few issues affecting the growth of hemp, at least 30 states now are allowing the growth of hemp and this number will grow with time.

Such remains to be good news for people relying on CBD for medicinal purposes. Research surrounding CBD has been done for more than 2 decades and great benefits are shown inclusive of helping with seizures, pain, anxiety, inflammation, insomnia, PTSD, cancer and much more.  Current research targets There are Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, as well as MS.

Sadly, for those with chronic conditions, restrictions on research on hemp means that they will be delayed relief for the symptoms they experience. As years passed, lots of information regarding the medicinal benefits of hemp have been lost. Restrictions have also locked people out from experiencing the said benefits as well as stigma.

The best news is that their people are rediscovering the said data as well as improving knowledge on the medical properties associated with hemp.

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