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Is Cannabis Actually a Medicine? What does the medical literature say about imbibing?

Green cross and cannabis leaf - cannasseur medicine

Cannasseur medicine – weed has been a medicine for as long as humans have been practicing medicine

As a professional tour guide in the cannabis tourism business, my job isn’t just to take travelers to pot farms in California, as well as wineries, giant redwoods, and dispensaries of The Emerald Triangle on weed tours.  It’s also my job to entertain and inform everyone from the newbie to the seasoned cannasseur.  Knowing the use, science, and history of marijuana is my business.  To that end I have been producing a weekly cannabis history video series, and when you look at the long history of cannabis, one thing becomes blatantly obvious.  Weed definitely is a medicine.  In fact, it’s been a medicine as long as there have been medicines.


It might actually be the world’s very first medicine.  It’s medicinal use predates written history.  In 2008 archaeologists in northwestern China excavating the Yanghai tombs discovered an ancient shaman’s grave with a stash of female cannabis flowers buried with him.


The first written record of medical cannabis use is nearly 5,000 years old.  From the earliest existing pharmacopeia, The Materia Medica, written in 2737 BCE, attributed to Emperor Shennong, the father of agriculture, Chinese medicine, and acupuncture.

The original cannasseur - Chinese Emperor Shennong

The original cannasseur, Chinese Emperor Shennong, the father of agriculture and Chinese Medicine


Medicinal cannabis was used in India as far back as 2000 BCE.  It’s mentioned as one of the five sacred plants in the ancient Vedas.


Documented cannabis use in ancient Egypt dates back to The New Kingdom – circa 2350 BCE.  Several ancient Egyptian medical texts prescribe cannabis for things like inflammation, pain, and various eye conditions.


Around 900 BCE in the cradle of civilization, ancient Mesopotamia, medical cannabis was used to treat diseases of the chest and lungs, stomach problems, skin lesions, swollen joints and “Hand of Ghost”, an ancient malady currently thought to be epilepsy – a medical condition cannabis is widely used to treat today.


Medical cannabis is mentioned in several ancient Hebrew texts.  Maimonides , one of the most influential Torah scholars of the middle ages mentioned cannabis as an effective medicine for colds and ear problems, as well as an effective anesthetic.  It was one of the main ingredients in the anointing oil Jesus reportedly used to heal the sick.


The ancient Greeks used it for both human and veterinary medicine.  The Greek Materia Medica prescribed cannabis for earache, inflammation, edema, burns, corns, tumors, gout, and flatulence.  In veterinary medicine it was used to treat wounds, back pain and tape worm in horses.  When smoked cannabis was said to heal the soul and give divine revelations.


During the European renaissance, medical cannabis was commonly available at the apothecary.


In 1621 Oxford scholar Robert Burton published The Anatomy of Melancholy, where he prescribed cannabis as a treatment for depression.

The cover of The Anatomy of Melancholy

The Anatomy of Melancholy prescribes imbibing cannabis for depression


1n 1652 British herbalist Robert Culpepper published The English Physician, which said cannabis, “allayeth Inflammations in the Head … eases the pains of the Gout … Knots in the Joynts, [and] the pains of the Sinews and Hips”.


In 1764 the New England Dispensatory, the first pharmaceutical text published in the new world, includes cannabis in its pharmacology..


In 1794 The Edinburgh New Dispensary included medical cannabis in its pharmacology.


In 1838 Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy introduced cannabis into numerous English medical journals to treat many conditions, including muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, rheumatism, to promote uterine contractions in childbirth, as a sedative to produce sleep, and to calm convulsions in rabies, tetanus, and epilepsy.


In 1840 French Physician Jaques Joseph Moreau wrote about using cannabis as a psychiatric drug, noting it suppressed headaches, increased appetite, and aided people to sleep.


In 1850 Cannabis was added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia – the official authority setting standards for prescription and over the counter drugs in America.  It prescribed cannabis for neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, insanity, excessive menstrual bleeding, and uterine bleeding, and other afflictions. For the rest of the century it was widely available in both pharmacies and general stores.

The cover of The U.S. Pharmacopoeia

The U.S. Pharmacopoeia prescribes imbibing cannabis for a number of ailments


In 1889 Dr. E.A. Birch writes in The Lancet on using cannabis to treat Opium withdrawal.


In 1894 the British Indian government completed a wide ranging study of cannabis in India.   The study found therapeutic uses of cannabis as “an analgesic, a restorer of energy, a hemostat, an ecbolic [to induce contractions], an antidiuretic, and as an aid in treating hay fever, cholera, dysentery, gonorrhea, diabetes, impotence, urinary incontinence, swelling of the testicles, granulation of open sores, and chronic ulcers as well as prevention of insomnia, relief of anxiety, protection against cholera, alleviation of hunger and as an aid to concentration of attention.”


In 1906 Congress officially made cannabis a prescription drug.


Since Congress passed The Controlled Substances Act of 1971, cannabis has been classified as a Schedule 1 drug, defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use despite its extensive history of medical use, and pharmaceutical company cannabis analogs like Marinol, Dronabinol, Sativex, Nabilone, Cesamet, Dexanabinol, CT-3, HU 308, HU331, Rimonabant, Acomplia, Tarananant, MK-0364, and Cannabinor being used in the current pharmacopeia.


Based on the very clear history of medical cannabis use, it is obvious that cannabis is a medicine, despite American law claiming it’s not.

A San Francisco dispensary

Dispensaries in San Francisco have been supplying medical marijuana for years