From Bhang in India to Kaneh Bosem in the Bible, the ancient use of Cannabis for sacred, medical and recreational purposes is well documented. The Egyptians practiced the most advanced medical system in the ancient world, complete with written medical guides. Hemp pollen has been found in mummies and soil samples, along with other sacred intoxicating herbs. While still subject to some debate amongst archeologists, cannabis pollen has also been found in mummies. We should count ourselves lucky that in addition to physical evidence, the Egyptians left behind a written legacy. Ancient Egyptian texts used a hieroglyph known as the “shemshemet” to depict marijuana. It is likely that cannabis is one of the first plants ever cultivated, along with wheat and other staple grains.
Medical texts hailing from Egypt provide us with a glimpse of weed in the ancient world. Interestingly, the primary use of ganja amongst the ancient Egyptians was gynecological. One unconventional example comes from the Ebers Papyrus, one of the most ancient and important papyri describing herbal medical practices, which dates back to 1550 B.C. This document instructs women to apply a mixture of ground cannabis and honey to the vagina while in labor. It claims that such a mixture which aid in contractions and ease child birth.
Despite ample written evidence, the persistent use of cannabis in ancient Eygpt is up for debate. The plant mysteriously disappears from written texts for large periods of time. It is not unlikely that there were weed famines. Possibly in times of scarcity, limited resources were funneled into food and not medicine. It is possible that ancient Egypt had its share of medical fads and taboos. Or, another likely scenario is that, over time much written text has been destroyed or stolen. Texts that would provide us with many answers may yet be uncovered!
As Egyptian culture gave way to Arab culture, the medical use of cannabis was incorporated in varying forms. While Shaaria law strictly prohibits the use of intoxicants, hashish made its way through the rafters and is common in Muslim countries up to today. Ninth and Tenth Century Islamic medical texts refer to Marijuana as “hashish”, “the royal grain” and “shadanaj”. Modern Egyptian universities continue to research the medical uses of this sacred and ancient plant, upholding a long tradition of the land they inhabit.
For those of us who grew up feeling like we were the generation that discovered weed, this kind of information is warmly validating. Just as our fathers did, and their fathers before them, let us spark this one for healing.
By Suzanna Mountain