Did the Ancient Chinese smoke marijuana?

Posted on May 05 2016

Cannabis is an old plant, and was known throughout many ancient cultures for its use as a fibre and material more than as a substance that someone would ingest. The first known archeological evidence for hemp use is over 12,000 years ago from rope imprints on broken ancient Chinese pottery. 

Written documents refer to hemp in ancient China in around 2350BC in the book The Shu King. Not only used as fabric and rope by the Chinese though, it also gave the world one of its most important inventions. Paper. Yes, the ancient Chinese invented paper and they used hemp to make it. The Chinese made paper by pulping fibres from hemp with the bark of mulberry tree, and kept the recipe a secret for centuries. 

The Chinese also used the cannabis plant as medicine. The ancient emperor Shen-Nung is known as the Father of Chinese Medicine. He was concerned about the suffering of his subjects and put together an encyclopaedia of drugs derived from plants. Among these was cannabis known simply as ‘ma’.

‘Ma’ was a unique drug in China not just for its properties but because it is both feminine and masculine, reflecting the idea of Ying and Yang which permeated Chinese culture at the time. When Yin and Yang are in balance, the body is in harmony and healthy. Realising the female plant produced more medicine, the Chinese cultivated it and used it to treat things that were considered lacking in Yin - many of these conditions such as menstrual cramps and arthritis are still treated by cannabis today. 

The Chinese again did not have a culture of smoking marijuana though, they did however combine cannabis resin with wine and called it ‘ma-yo’ - literally hemp-wine’ for use as an anaesthetic and as a recreational drug. 

The Chinese cultivated hemp and bought it to the world, but it wasn’t until the Ancient Indians discovered cannabis that it was used primarily as an intoxicant. Tune in next week to find out more.



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