The earliest anecdotal evidence of cannabis use for its medicinal properties is credited to Emperor Shennong with his composition of The Pen Ts’ao (2,700 B.C). The Pen Ts’ao, also known as “The Herbal” was a collection of herbal remedies for a variety of illnesses. In this piece, MA, the chinese word for cannabis was said to alleviate rheumatism and gout pain.
In 200 A.D., a Chinese physician named Hua-T’o began using cannabis as an anesthetic during surgical procedures. This was the first instance where the cannabis plant was used for its analgesic properties. He noticed that the leaves of the cannabis plant, if dressed on the wounds of patients would reduce and minimize pain. To increase the potency he created a solution called ma-yo, which is a cannabis based resin made with wine. Hua-T’o was known to conduct surgeries as serious as “organ grafts, resectioning of intestines, laparotomies (incisions into the abdominal wall), and thoracotomies (incisions into the chest).” The ma-yo would place the patient into a drunken state as if to be “deprived of life.”
In other regions of Asia, cannabis was used for its strong fiber as well as its physiological effects. In Arab regions, such as Persia, alcohol was prohibited by their holy doctrine, the Quran. This led people to search for other means of relaxation. Cannabis was often smoked out of a pipe similar to one used to smoke tobacco. In Egypt, cannabis was used to treat ocular ailments. Likewise, evidence of this beneficial property of the marijuana plant can be found today with patients that use marijuana for treating glaucoma, which is characterized by an increase in ocular pressure.
Certain sects of Hinduism, specifically followers of Shiva, the God of Destruction, used cannabis for religious purposes, and still do to this day. The cannabis plant has grown wild in the Himalayan Mountains for centuries, and many holy people that traveled up the mountain for their pilgrimages would use the cannabis plant for its therapeutic properties. They created marijuana infused tea known as bhang, which also had other therapeutic ingredients and spices.
Cannabis and some other psychoactive plants are specifically prescribed in the Mahākāla Tantra for medicinal purposes in the Buddhist teachings. Additionally members of the Rastafari movement use marijuana in their religious ceremonies in honor of their King, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, and as an aid to meditation. Rastafari see cannabis as a sacramental and deeply beneficial plant that is the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible.