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Happy Holy Days – A Medicine Plant Millenniums in the Making

Daily Dose 2011-04-21 0 comments

With 4/20 behind us, Easter right around the corner, the Persian New Year having passed and Passover in the present, Medical Marijuana 411 takes a look back at how a medicine plant first took root as one of the key pillars of agricultural cultivation, and why.

By Sam Sabzehzar

A photograph of a stash of cannabis found in the 2,700-year-old grave of a man in the Gobi Desert, believed to be used for spiritual and medicinal purposes, much like it is today. (Photo credit: David Potter/Oxford University Press)

When a 2,700-year-old grave was excavated a few years ago in the Gobi Desert, the Journal of Experimental Botany reported that among the artifacts found, almost one kilogram of cannabis (around 2 pounds) was buried with the body, and it was still green.

Not hemp, mind you, but the psychoactive plant matter better known as marijuana was crushed up in a bowl and ceremoniously placed inside the tomb, leading scientists and researches to conclude that cannabis was used as a ceremonial and medicinal herb, much like those celebrating today’s national holiday of 4/20 are doing.

Having the story of human evolution include an Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) and gathering an ever-growing archeological body of work that includes discoveries like cannabis ceremoniously buried with the Shaman at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China.

Ethan Russo, lead author on the study, told Discovery News that the strain found came from a cultivation and was used to become intoxicated as well as for medicinal purposes.

To be buried with the items one needs for safe passage in the afterlife, according to the ancient tribe, and for that list to include cannabis, speaks volumes to the reverence paid to the plant and adds to the theory penned by Sir James George Frazer, one of the foremost authorities on the history of religious thought.

Author of The Golden Bough and for the idea that “early religions were derived from agricultural fertility cults,” according to the authors of Marijuana in Magic and Religion, adding that “agriculture was the essential component for the advancement of cultural refinement and the evolution of civilized life.”

Professor of biology and director of the Botanical Museum at Harvard Richard E. Schultes states in his article Man and Marijuana: “early man experimented with all plant materials that he could chew and could not have avoided discovering the properties of cannabis… in his quest for seeds and oil.”

The First Stage of the Great Work, by Hienrich Khunrath (circa 1604)

Coupling this with the cannabis found in China, and adding the historical facts of hemp being used for millenniums, including the oldest known picture of the plant found in an illustration from a Dioscorides manuscript aptly titled “Constantinopolitanus” (British Museum), it is apparent that cradled in the birth of civilization is cannabis as a multidisciplinary tool for food, clothes, shelter, and enlightenment.

Many archeological finds from Egypt translate to the words transcribed in hieroglyphics and include images that tell us, thousands of years later, just how important cannabis and hemp were to community, and civilization as a whole (possibly predating recorded history).

From antiquity to the dark ages we see a shift in how religion handles the concept of Holy intoxication and those who understood the power of the plant used a cant: an esoteric meaning that would be described in prose so that only the illumined mind could cultivate.

As the Holy Wars gave rise to Western religious traditions that generally stress “sin, repentance, and mortification of the flesh, certain older non-western religious cults seem to have employed cannabis as a euphoriant,”

Hienrich Khunrath, doctor of medicine in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, created one a famous engraving, The First Stage of the Great Work, that includes both a marijuana leaf with the phrase above it reading “Without the breath of inspiration from God, no one finds the great way,” while hidden in rising smoke reads “ascending smoke , sacrificial speech acceptable to God.”

With the inclusion of cannabis in our human story stretching back from antiquity to today, perhaps we take a closer look at ourselves this season of rebirth and ask for patients and understanding towards the ideas we still don’t know enough of and are still in the process of discovering.

This Holy Day, whichever traditions you follow, Medical Marijuana 411 wishes you a happy, healthy, and healing holiday.