A (Brief) History of Medical Marijuana

Cannabis leaf against building in Netherlands, to illustrate history of medical marijuana

Most medical cannabis users know that the treatment can be found deep in the history books, but do you know just how far? Many sources agree that the historical use of medical cannabis can be traced back tens of thousands of years. Read on for a (brief) history of medical marijuana, to give you a sense of just how important this plant has been to myriad civilizations.

We could spend days researching cannabis throughout history. Truly, it would take weeks to create a comprehensive overview. But while we don’t have that kind of time, we did think it was important to give our readers a snapshot of just how vital cannabis has been to so many civilizations. Get a glimpse into the history of cannabis as medicine, from ancient China to Queen Victoria and beyond.

2900 B.C

Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi is a mythical hero and emperor in Chinese culture, credited with establishing major tenets of mythological Chinese civilization. It’s well-documented that Fu Hsi often made references to a substance called “ma,” which historians now know is the earliest documented word for cannabis. Fu Hsi believed the plant could be used to treat a variety of medical conditions due to the fact that it contained both yin and yang energies.

1450 B.C.

In the Exodus 30:22-23, in the New American Standard Bible, there is mention of “holy anointing oil,” which botanists, etymologists and anthropologists now agree was a mixture of cannabis extract mixed with olive oil and other fragrant herbs. Thousands of years later, in 30 A.D., Jesus himself is said to have been anointed with holy cannabis oil.

1213 B.C.

When archaeologists examined the mummy of Ramesses II, or Ramesses The Great, who died in 1213 B.C., they were not surprised to find large amounts of cannabis pollen. In ancient Egypt, medical marijuana was used to treat many conditions, ranging from glaucoma to postpartum injuries

1000 B.C.

The Venidad, an ancient Persian religious text, lists cannabis as the single most important of the 10,000 available medicinal plants.

200 B.C.

The ancient Greeks used cannabis to treat many ailments, ranging from earaches and edema to inflammatory issues.

1 A.D.

The Pen Ts’ao Ching is an exhaustive compilation of herbal medicine remedies dating back to ancient Chinese masters. Within it, marijuana is depicted in drawings that show the plants drying in sheds. The text goes on to recommend cannabis treatment for gout, malaria and rheumatism.

200 A.D.

During the second century A.D., ancient Chinese surgeon Hua T’o used a mixture of cannabis resin and wine, called ma-yo, to anesthetize his patients. Hua T’o is believed to have used ma-yo when completing incisions, grafts and more.


In The Anatomy of Melancholy, a prolific medical text written by English author and fellow of Oxford University Robert Burton, medical marijuana is recommended as a treatment for depression.


Cannabis made its way to the monarchy when Queen Victoria charged Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy with bringing her help for her crippling menstrual cramps.

19th and early 20th centuries

Cannabis was used as a patent medicine, first described in United States Pharmacopeoia in 1850.


American pharmaceutical firms began selling medical marijuana extracts as sedatives, asthma treatments and analgesics, paving the way for medical marijuana use.


Federal restriction of cannabis use and sale was put in place with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. Cannabis was dropped from the aforementioned United States Pharmacopeia in 1942. Legal penalties for possession increased for possession in 1951 and 1956 respectively, as well as with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.


A compassionate use cannabis program was created in the United States.


California became the first US state to legalize marijuana for medical use.


Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize recreational marijuana; Canada follows suit in 2018.


As of this year, medical cannabis is legal in 38 US states, while recreational marijuana is legal in 23.

Interested to learn more about how cannabis can work for you? Reach out to our team of experts (free of charge!) to ask all of your questions and get the information you need. We’re here to help.

Photo credit: Zhank0/Shutterstock


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