Did The ancient Egyptians Smoke Marijuana?

Posted on April 26 2016

They built the pyramids, and tamed a desert into an agricultural paradise. They started as a civilisation over 5,000 years ago. In fact, they were around for so long that Queen Cleopatra of the ancient Egyptians lived closer in time to the moon landings than she did to the building of the great pyramids of Giza. 

 The important question though: Did the ancient Egyptians smoke marijuana? 

We’ve discovered in our past looks at the Romans that it was very unusual for ancient western cultures to smoke anything. Cannabis was particularly well known to the ancient Egyptians though. Indeed, several papyruses that detail guidelines for preparing and treating people with cannabis are known from around 1,500 BC. There is also a hieroglyph regarded as "shemshemet" which means Cannabis.

Pollen from cannabis plants have been found in ancient soil samples and indeed inside mummies. Some people however, have argued that cannabis wasn’t widespread in ancient Egypt. This is due to the ‘Cannabis interuptus’ periods where all knowledge of cannabis and mentions of it seems to be lost for many years at time. This can be explained however through the fact that because Egyptian records were written on papyrus, they were easily lost and damaged. The fire at the library of Alexandria probably wiped out millions of historical documents, many of them relating to cannabis use. 

Interestingly though, although mentioned as a drug and its medicinal uses, there is no evidence that cannabis was ever used to produce hemp fabric in ancient Egypt. Without this, we have no way of telling whether the Egyptians grew their own cannabis or traded for it with other cultures. It is unlikely for them to have produced it on a wide level if they never used it for its ability to make strong and cost effective fabrics. 

So, the ancient Egyptians probably didn’t smoke marijuana, there’s just not enough evidence to suggest they were into it, even if a lot of evidence may have been lost. Much like the Romans, the Egyptians wrote everything down, and it seems like the gaps in history and the lack of widespread use would indicate they did not smoke marijuana. 



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