Ancient Uses for Medical Cannabis

Known by many names and consumed all over the World for ages. That’s right, cannabis is about as ancient as the dinosaurs. In fact, cannabis plants thrive in a Jurassic climate. The sacred herb was here long before mankind. Most ancient cultures didn’t grow the plant to get high, but as herbal medicine.

The first recorded usage of cannabis is from 8000 BC, in an ancient village in Taiwan. There, it seems that the Taiwanese chose hemp fibers to spn into the first fabrics, thus no longer relying on animal skin for clothing. Further evidence has been found suggesting that these ancient people also used marijuana to manufacture shoes thanks to its sturdy nature, wide availability and cheaper price point than silk.

As time progressed, so did the usage of cannabis- soon being used in more fields than simply garment-making. In 4,000 BC for example, in a Chinese village called Pan-p’o, archeologists found evidence that hemp was considered to be one of the “five grains” of China, and thus a major food crop.

Medical cannabis was probably one of the earliest medical developments for human beings and has a plethora of ancient uses. In fact, all of the uses we are finding for medical cannabis in modern society have a lot to do with the ancient uses that our ancestors found for it thousands of years ago.

So, this is about appreciating marijuana throughout history. Taking a look at the history of medical cannabis use gives some perspective on what we are doing with it today, and how we are doing it. These are only 6 of the many ancient uses for medical cannabis.


The Ancient Egyptians used cannabis and applied it as suppositories for treatment of hemorrhoids. It was mainly used to treat the pain because of its physical properties.

Healing Horses

The Ancient Greeks were using cannabis to treat the sores and wounds that their horses came into contact with during their battles and journeys. They would rub dry cannabis leaves or make a salve and apply it to the wound for faster and better healing.


In India, cannabis was used for a plethora of medicinal and spiritual purposes, ranging anywhere from nausea and diarrhoea to headaches and insomnia. But the Indians were using cannabis quite frequently to relieve the pain of childbirth!

Cure for Leprosy

Indian Ayurvedic Treatise cites cannabis as a treatment for leprosy People believed it could quicken the mind, prolong life, improve judgment, lower fevers, induce sleep and cure dysentery… The first major work to lay out the uses of cannabis in [Indian] medicine was the Ayurvedic treatise of Sushruta Samhita written in 600 BC… Within the Sushrita, cannabis is cited as an anti-phlegmatic and a cure for leprosy.”


One of the first medical uses of cannabis was as an anaesthetic. The Chinese, as early as the year 140, were the first people to use it for its anaesthetic properties. They crushed it into a powder, mixed it with wine, and administered it before surgery.

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The Ancient Greeks also used to use cannabis to treat inflammation, both internal and external. For inflammation on the skin, they would steep the seeds in warm water or wine. Later, they would take the warm, potent extract and apply it to inflamed areas, especially in the ears.


Using cannabis to treat epilepsy has just become more popular in recent times. And in fact, people are fighting for the rights to treat their epileptic children with cannabis. But this is actually an ancient anti-epilepsy medication that began with the Arabs. It was a popular way to treat epilepsy in the medieval Islamic world.


While the 10,000 year old fossils of cannabis agriculture suggests that human use stretches back to pre-civilization, our knowledge of medical cannabis’s applications in antiquity is limited to written historical records. However, it seems that as soon as humans started writing information down, they started writing about cannabis – this is a testament to how important this incredible herb was to ancient civilizations around the globe. In ancient times, cannabis was used to alleviate pain and treat various conditions. But doctors also warned against using it too much, as they believed it could cause people to “see demons.”

[updated, originally published 7.1.2017]

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