The plant has been grown for fiber and as a source of medicine for several thousand years, but until 500 A.D. its use as a mind-altering drug was almost solely confined in India. The drug and its uses reached the Middle and Near East during the next several centuries, and then moved across North Africa, appeared in Latin America and the Caribbean, and finally entered the United States in the early decades of this century (Snyder, 1970: 129). Meanwhile it had been introduced into European medicine shortly after the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon and had a minor vogue as an intoxicant for a time in France.
Regardless of which parts of the world are discussed, many of the same problems and concerns about cannabis are common to all, including the United States. Understanding its various uses during many centuries in diverse countries and continents can perhaps lead to a better understanding of marihuana in general.
History of the Medical Use
The history of cannabis products and their use has been long, colorful and varied. "To the agriculturist, cannabis is a fiber crop; to the physician, it is an enigma; to the user, a euphoriant; to the police, a menace; to the trafficker, a source of profitable danger; to the convict or parolee and his family, a source of sorrow" (Mikuriya, 1969: 34). The fact is that cannabis has been held simultaneously in high and low esteem at various times throughout recorded history, particularly in our own times.
The volume of information available on the medical application of cannabis is considerable. Occasionally certain references have been condensed or deleted, but this should not detract from the completeness of the report. This historical survey of the medical uses of marihuana is introduced by abroad overview of its use, including brief notes on current and projected research, and then considers specific historical settings and circumstances in ancient China, moving on to Egypt, India, Greece, Africa, and the Western World.
Cannabis sativa has been used therapeutically from the earliest records, nearly 5,000 years ago, to the present day (Mikuriya, 1969: 34) and its products have been widely noted for their effects, both physiological and psychological, throughout the world. Although the Chinese and Indian cultures knew about the properties of this drug from very early times, this information did not become general in the Near and Middle East until after the fifth century A.D., when travelers, traders and adventurers began to carry knowledge of the drug westward to Persia and Arabia. Historians claim that cannabis was first employed in these countries as an antiseptic and analgesic.
Other medical uses were later developed and spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Several years after the return of Napoleon's army from Egypt, cannabis became widely accepted by Western medical practitioners. Previously, it had had limited use for such purposes as the treatment of burns. The scientific members of Napoleon's forces were interested in the drug's pain relieving and sedative effects. It was used during, and to a greater extent, following his rule in France, especially after 1840 when the work of such physicians as O'Shaughnessy, Aubert-Roche, and Moreau de Tours drew wide attention to this drug.
With the rise of the literary movement of the...