Ancient Cannabis Users - The Egyptians
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Ancient Cannabis Users – The Egyptians

The land of the Sphinx and the Pyramids, Ancient Egypt left a powerful legacy of art, architecture and sculpture which echos through the ages never failing to impress with it’s skill and beauty. Even in their own time Egypt was highly respected as a very ancient and wise culture, perhaps the most significant legacy they left is the impact they had on our understanding of the world. Their importance in the history of science simply can’t be overstated, the word Chemistry itself is even thought to originate from a term meaning ‘the Egyptian science’ while their teachings helped inspire many of the great thinkers of the Greek, Arab and Roman world.

One area they truly excelled as leaders is their knowledge of the human body and medicine, Homer even commented in his great epic the Odyssey “every one in the whole country is a skilled physician.” The great father of Greek medicine Hippocrates himself studied at the temple of Amenhotep as did the great physician Galen whose teachings were still in use during Shakespeare’s era. We’re able to know a lot about the practices and prescriptions of Egyptian medicine thanks to the discovery of some well preserved papyrus scrolls including the beautiful Ebers Papyrus.

The Ebers Papyrus is a truly remarkable document which was reportedly found between the legs of a mummy in the Theben necropolis. it’s over twenty meters long and details hundreds of ailments and their perspective remedies, including ground cannabis mixed with honey. Cannabis was certainly an important plant in ancient Egyptian medicine and is mentioned in many sources to cover a range of ailments from glaucoma to cancer. There are even smoking ceremonies described for spiritual and medical purposes.

We know that hemp was grown in Egypt and the surrounding areas for use in making rope but to what extent they cultivated medical cannabis we can’t be sure. There’s good reason to believe Cannabis was grown somewhere near the Theben necropolis as pollen was discovered on the body of Ramesses ii and other Mummies buried there but unfortunately no genetic analysis has been done to determine it’s potency or strain. It’s possibly they were cultivating CBD rich hemp which grows naturally through out Asia and North Africa but the Egyptians had complex trade routes and international relationships so it’s also very possible they were growing plants they’d traded from either the Indius Valley Civilisation in India or the Scythian’s of the Asian-Stepp both of who cultivated potent strains of Cannabis for medicinal, ritual and recreational use. Though we can’t know what sort of Cannabis they were growing or weather it was CBD rich hemp, THC heavy Sativa or the more balanced Indica we do know that by the third century AD they were growing so much that the Roman empire put a hefty tax on it.

There may be clues in how they used their cannabis as to where it originated, some of the descriptions of it’s uses and preparation seem to echo Indian tradition however It’s also likely that some of the Pharaoh’s smoked weed in the Scythian style, studies of the lung tissue of a selection of Egyptian Mummies clearly identified THC and other cannabinoids. The medical papyrus suggest the plant matter was likely placed on hot rocks and the fumes inhaled, but may also have been smoked from ornate metal burners in a similar fashion to other incense.

We don’t know much about Ancient Egyptian cannabis use partly because it’s been a taboo subject for academics and partly because many of the early Egyptologist’s simply didn’t know what to look for but as global attitudes to the plant shift we’re starting to see study of it’s history and use become much more accepted so hopefully all the fascinating questions these glimpses into the past raise will soon be answered.

Were the Ancient Egyptians buying potent Sativa strains from the Scythian’s on their Northern boarders and powerful Indica’s when their trade boats went east for lapis lazuli? Were their great Pharaoh’s enjoying the opulent luxury of this exotic herb or was it part of the intensive secrets of the priestly mystery schools? Only the discovery of more scrolls or artefacts will be able to tell us, but we already know they grew it, understood some of it’s medicinal benefits, and seemed to have enjoyed it’s effect when burnt.

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