Herb Basics: A Brief History of Medical Hemp

Do you know that ancient China is the origin of medical hemp? Thousands of years ago, cannabis appeared in Asia, whose main distribution areas were China, Central Asia, and Siberia. During the Hemudu Culture Period (5500 to 3300 B.C.), the ancestors of the Chinese began to grow cannabis to make rope for keeping records by tying knots. 

The medical use of hemp can be traced back to Yellow Emperor Period (2700 B.C.). Shennong, a well-known ancient pharmacist, wrote a medical book, The Herbal Classic of Shen Nong, which recorded the helpful effects of hemp in curing constipation, gout, and rheumatism. From now on, hemp became one of the Chinese herbs.

The story does not end here. Throughout China’s 5,000-year history, famous doctors in every period had used hemp. During the Three Kingdoms period(220 to 280 A.D.), Hua Tuo, an outstanding doctor, developed the earliest anesthetics--Mafei Powder, based on the properties of hemp. This anesthetic was made from hemp leaves soaked in alcohol, which can be said one of the earliest cannabis extraction attempts.

Zhang Zhongjing, an excellent doctor in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 to 220 A.D.), wrote about the therapeutic effects of hemp on constipation in his Treatise on Miscellaneous Diseases, while Tao Hongjing, a brilliant medical expert in Southern Dynasties (420 to 589 A.D.), detailed other effects of hemp, resolving blood stasis and stopping bleeding, in his Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians.

The famous medical scientist Li Shizhen in Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.) wrote in the Compendium of Materia Medica that hemp can nourish the human body and prolong life expectancy.

Except for medical books, records about hemp also appear in other traditional Chinese books, such as the Book of Songs and Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals. Throughout Chinese history, there are hundreds of treatises on the medicinal uses of hemp.

It is the five-thousand-year experience that has made the Chinese understand the medicinal value of hemp extraordinarily well. In Chinese medical books, the flowers, stems, leaves, shelled seeds, and hulled seeds of hemp all have distinct effects. In addition, China has accumulated countless traditional formulas mixing other natural herbs with hemp.

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