A Brief History Of Hemp & What It’s Been Used For

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A History Of Hemp

Recent archeological finds have suggested that humans have been using hemp for almost 30,000 years. It’s a staggering figure which indicates that our complicated relationship with this amazing plant may even predate assumptions on the age of what we’d recognise as organised agriculture.

So why, after all these millennia do we still get so uptight about hemp? After all, if it was good enough for our cave-dwelling ancestors then it must be good enough for us, right?

Whisper it gently but there has actually been considerable progress towards rationalising our relationship with hemp over the last couple of decades.

Medical marijuana and the widespread use of CBD derivatives have made a big difference – so much so that more enlightened parts of the globe are decriminalising even recreational use. All this is good, progressive news – and there’s a huge range of applications for hemp materials that we can continue to use in this day and age.

Here’s a lowdown on some of the best.

1) Food

Hemp In Food

Hemp provides a natural source of protein, magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium.

Hemp has historically been highly valued as a foodstuff. Sure, our ancestors may not have known the extent of its nutritional value but regardless – it’s a truly fantastic health food.

A growing number of food companies have been spearheading a renaissance in the use of hemp. These may not be especially mainstream yet but hemp milk, oils, dairy substitutes, and selected seeds are increasing in popularity.

Not without good reason either. Hemp is a fantastic natural source of protein, magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium and assorted other essential vitamins and minerals.

It’s also a great vegetarian source of Omega 3 and 6. Easy to prepare (you can cook it pretty much any way under the sun) with great shelf life and a superbly bountiful crop, hemp is projected to make a big comeback to the kitchen over coming years.

2) Rope

Hemp Rope

Historically, hemp was widely used to manufacture durable rope.

The Romans, Greeks, and Vikings extensively used hemp ropes for their legendary fleets. Still used in some applications today, hemp rope is naturally strong and resilient to decay.

While no style of rope is entirely invincible when it comes to seawater decay, not many come close to hemp which is why it remained popular for around 2000 years.

Even better, hemp rope is extremely cost-effective and surprisingly light for its strength. Such factors made it popular with shipbuilders and quartermasters for so long!

These days, there are huge possibilities for the use of hemp rope, especially in developing regions where wire reinforced cables are too expensive or impractical.

3) Clothing

Hemp Fibres For Clothing

Archaeologists have argued that hemp may have been one of the first plants harvested for textile fibre.

A growing proportion of the archeological community is beginning to agree that hemp was quite possibly the first material used for textile clothing.

Artefacts have been unearthed in the Middle East and Far East dating over 10,000 years old. This may suggest that the transition from animal pelts to textiles used hemp as a ‘stepping stone’ which soon became ingrained in regional cultures.

The Chinese provide the best evidence for the use of lightweight, absorbent and durable hemp in clothing. Artefacts have pointed to the use being widespread and spanning many hundreds if not thousands of years.

Thanks to being so cheap and easy to produce, hemp was used across the world as a straightforward alternative to the far more expensive cotton crops.

It took until the nineteenth century for cotton to be able to rival hemp for use in clothing – a remarkable finding that once more has been long lost to history.

4) Paper – But Not As We Know It!

Hemp Paper In China

Again, we have the Chinese to thank for inventing hemp paper – or more accurately, hemp tablets that could be used for writing.

The only viable alternative was incredibly expensive silks, and so closely was this secret kept that it took hundreds of years for the Japanese, and then the Arabic countries to finally uncover.

Over time, these processes evolved into what we would today recognise as a style of paper. Cheaper than wood and without the ecological and environmental damage, perhaps one day we will see a return to hemp being used for this purpose.

5) Religious & Cultural Symbolism

Cannabis In Ancient Cultures & Religions

Cannabis/Hemp has been used in many (mostly ancient) religious ceremonies for centuries.

Proponents of the marijuana plant often mention the incredibly varied religious, spiritual and cultural applications to which their favourite plant has been applied.

From India to Tibet and of course modern day Rastafarianism, the hemp plant has played a pivotal role in both formal ceremonies and for personal use.

Quite how important the psychoactive element may have been considered is long lost to history, but once again archeological evidence from ancient monasteries and religious compounds indicates that its use was frequent, and in considerable quantities.

Besides Rastafarianism, the use for hemp in this style is not so common these days, but there are of course many communities to continue to espouse the ‘free love’ symbolism of the 1960s. Perhaps in the future hemp will be used again in such a style.

Final Thoughts

These are just five examples of where and how hemp has been used throughout history, and of course where it may yet make a comeback!

Regardless of how you look at it, the criminalisation and scaremongering that surrounds this most versatile and fascinating plant seems so bizarre when placed into such a context.

Hemp is without question one of the most universally useful plants nature has bestowed on us, so it seems crazy not to make the best use of it today.

Cannabis & Religion – A Brief Spiritual History

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History Of Cannabis In Religion

Cannabis has been used in religious ceremony and practice for many thousands of years.

At some stage or another, the drug has been referenced by nearly all of the world’s classic ‘great’ religions and is still sometimes used in such contexts today.

In this article, we’ll take a journey through the use of cannabis within religions – and some of the examples that follow may well surprise you!

Why Is Cannabis So Widely Used In Religions?

Let there be no doubt that the key reason for the use of cannabis by so many religions worldwide has been because of its psychoactive effects. After all, people tend to follow a religion not just for a sense of purpose but it can also be therapeutic.

The euphoric qualities that THC provides made this the perfect supplement to enjoy when engaging in rituals, ceremonies and even in reflection, prayer and meditation.

The use of cannabis within religious practices can be traced back to at least the 3rd century BCE. It was likely used even earlier although the evidence becomes even more rare the further back in time we go.

Either way, it seems unlikely that marijuana was not used earlier due to the fact it’s been cultivated one way or another by humanity for approaching 30,000 years (this is a conservative estimate).

Ancient China

Cannabis In Ancient China

If we’re considering purely archaeological proof, then China is home to the oldest evidence of cannabis being used in a religious context.

Given that the Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica listed cannabis as a medicinal plant in the second century CE, this is hardly a surprise!

When the body of a wealthy Caucasian man was unearthed in the western Xinjiang area twenty years ago, archaeologists were amazed to find he was buried with nearly a kilogram of ganja!

Most likely he was a shaman or doctor of some kind, which implies why someone of his ethnicity may have ended up in Ancient China. The marijuana was probably part of his inventory and used for some kind of religious ceremony, with the man likely of Indo-European heritage and part of the wandering Gushi tribe.

Evidence discovered elsewhere demonstrates that they were synonymous with the ritualistic use of marijuana. Today, the heavy use of incense in the Taoist faith is likely based on the historic use of ceremonial marijuana.

Hinduism

Cannabis In Hinduism

If ever there were a religion that truly appreciated cannabis, then it’s difficult to see past Hinduism.

The Atharva Veda text (written approximately 1000 BCE) lists marijuana as one of the five sacred plants renowned for spiritual and medicinal qualities. Even the god Shiva was commonly portrayed as being enveloped in clouds of cannabis smoke!

Times may have changed but the Hindu appreciation for the marijuana plant remains a core aspect of their ceremonial practices. From Nepal and Afghanistan, to India and Pakistan, the plant is used in various forms.

Sometimes it’s smoked as ganja, rolled as resin or even drank as a milky broth. Charas (resin) is the most special and often reserved for special ceremonies conducted by Sadhus searching for spiritual enlightenment.

The Scythians

The Scythians & Cannabis

These largely nomadic warrior tribes originated from Central Asia and at their peak exerted influence as far as Ancient Greece.

Not a huge amount is known about life in a standard Scythian Warband, but we know from Greek writings that marijuana played a vital role in their religious culture.

We’re not just talking about passing a pipe here – they would erect smoke catching tents and burn bales of cannabis at a time!

Quite how much of this came down to religious observance is a moot point, but they most certainly seem to have enjoyed themselves!

What we do know is that members of the tribe were frequently buried with some hemp seeds to speed them along the way to the afterlife.

The Middle East

Zoroastrianism & Cannabis

Zoroastrianism predated even Islam, and as you may expect they also used marijuana or “the good narcotic” as noted in their Avesta text with aplomb.

Later merging into the Assyrian culture, there are masses of artefacts that point to using marijuana as a kind of ceremonial incense hundreds of years before the time of Christendom.

Marijuana use in religious proceedings continued to be documented well into this millennia, with everyone from the Jews to the Islamic Sufi noting its powerful and euphoric effects.

Even now, marijuana use is popular in these regions which have alcohol prohibition, although more commonly for recreational purposes than any mystical ones.

The Bible

Cannabis In The Bible

Depending on which is your favourite biblical scholar, some argue that cannabis features extensively in the Bible due to mistranslations further down the line.

Maybe so, but what we can say with certainty is that it was widely used and served some sense of religious purposes. No less than the great King Solomon was found to be buried not just with marijuana seeds but next to his very own bushes too!

Rastafarianism

Rastafarianism & Cannabis

Bringing us neatly back to modern times, no mention of the religious use of cannabis would be complete without a quick nod to the Rastas.

Based upon a convenient or open-minded interpretation of some Biblical passages, “eat every herb of the land” is often used to justify the prominent role that cannabis holds in their ceremonial passages.

There’s certainly some truth in the way it’s used to encourage people to philosophise together and get in touch with Jah (their God).

Final Thoughts

So there we have just a few examples of how important a role cannabis has played in religions from across the globe, from ancient times to the modern day.

There’s no doubt that the psychoactive properties of marijuana lend themselves superbly to all kinds of ceremony and reflection. After all, if it’s good enough for King Solomon, then it’s good enough for us too in the form of CBD!