The history of hemp is rooted in Asia. How do we know this for sure? It may be proven otherwise in time to come, but archeological evidence has shown this to be the case. Cannabis and hemp were used in medicine, food, textiles and even as tools. How this plant has been used in Asia has greatly influenced how the plant is being used today.

The Early Days

Perhaps the earliest evidence of the plant being cultivated and used date back to the Jomon Period (10,000 BC – 300 BC) in Japan. Cave painting of plants with tall stems and its signature shaped leaves were discovered. This suggested that the plant played an important role in the society at that time. We know that people turned to plants as a source of fibers for clothing, and the fibers of the hemp is strong and sturdy.

The first physical evidence of history of hemp use in Asia was found at an archaeological site in the Oki Islands, back in the pre-Neolithic age of Japan (8,000 BC). Archeologists discovered an abundance of dried fruits of the cannabis plant, which signified the importance of this plant to the society at the time. It also implied that hemp was used not only for clothing and food, but also as a psychoactive compound in spiritual functions. During the Stone Age of ancient China (4000 BC), cannabis-hemp was considered one of the major “five grains” in the Neolithic Pan P’o Village and was farmed as a food crop. 

Cannabis as Medicine

The oldest recorded history of hemp in Asia for medicinal use can be found in the materia medica, Pen Tsao Ching (2737 BC). In there, medical cannabis was recognised for its therapeutic properties and was used as treatment for the common ills of the time such as malaria, gout and rheumatism.

Around 200 AD , the man deemed as the founder of Chinese surgery, Hua T’o, invented the first anesthetic which was cannabis-based and called “mafeisan.” Mafeisan, which translates to “cannabis boiling powder,” was a concoction of boiling wine with cannabis. Hua T’o used this often to sedate and numb his patients before surgery.

Cannabis is also found in the Indian subcontinent; it grows abundantly in the Himalayas and northern parts of South Asia such as North India, Pakistan, and Kashmir. In Ayurveda (holistic Indian medicinal practice) the benefits of cannabis was explored between 2000 – 1000 BC. Cannabis was also mentioned in the ancient holy books of Vedas. Two parts of the series, the Rigveda and Atharva Veda, discusses cannabis use positively and is followed up in 600 BC in the Sushruta Samhita, an ayurvedic medicine and surgery guide.  

According to The Vedas, cannabis was one of five sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas call cannabis a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help us attain delight and lose fear (Source : Pyschology Today)

The god Shiva is frequently associated with cannabis, called bhang in India. According to legend, Shiva wandered off into the fields after an angry discourse with his family. Drained from the family conflict and the hot sun, he fell asleep under a leafy plant. When he awoke, his curiosity led him to sample the leaves of the plant. Instantly rejuvenated, Shiva made the plant his favorite food and he became known as the Lord of Bhang.

There is quite a bit of evidence to support the history of hemp in Asia and definitely a lot more than what has been written here. I’ll keep on adding to the the treasure trove of this fascinating plant in the days to come. Till then, keep on the metta.

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