Magical, Mystical and Medicinal

Hemp – Smoke with a Bhang

Cannabis sativa L.

Thus wild and domestic hemp is well known because not only twisted ropes are made from its bark, but also coarse and thick fabrics are woven with it. [ ] In addition to this, it’s difficult to digest, it makes the stomach feel heavy, makes you drunk, gives headache and turns people into a bad mood. Hemp must be forgiven for these inconveniences and damages (...). It is also noteworthy that although hemp seeds depletes and consumes the sperm, the hens that are feed with it lay many and excellent eggs. The water resulting from boiling the hemp (when) spilled on the ground, attracts all the worms from the surrounding area.

Dioscorides, P. 1651. A cerca de la materia medicinal, y de los venenos mortiferos (Translated, illustrated and annotated by Dr. A. Laguna)

Hemp is a fast-growing, herbaceous plant that can reach up to 4 meters high. It is dioecious, with some plants carrying the female flowers while others carry the males. Native to Central Asia, it is the only species included in the Cannabis genus and can be found wild or cultivated, with numerous varieties suitable for different uses.

Archaeobotanical remains demonstrate the use of hemp in antiquity and the oldest written reference describes its medicinal properties in the Pen Tsao, a book of Chinese pharmacopoeia (2727 BCE). However, hemp was cultivated in China long before this time. In around 4500 BCE, hemp was used mainly for the manufacture of ropes, textiles and paper. It is believed that its domestication started in warm areas of Asia, from where it spread to the rest of the Asian continent, the Mediterranean basin and Europe. In the 15th and 16th centuries CE, the Arabs introduced hemp to Africa, where it’s use expanded rapidly; the dried plant, chewed or mixed with drinks, was given to women during childbirth and to infants while weaning. Hemp arrived in America with the Spanish explorers in 1545.

One of the first countries to use hemp as a hallucinogen was India, where bhang, a drink made from its leaves, milk, sugar and spices, was the most common way of consuming cannabis. In Europe and the rest of the world, smoking is the most popular method of consumption, both in the form of marijuana (dried leaves and flowers) or hashish (hemp resin). The glandular hairs that cover the upper leaves and bracts of the female plants are particularly rich in this resin, which contains several psychoactive substances, most notably THC (tetrahidrocannabinol).

Medical studies have proven the effectiveness of cannabis in alleviating pain, treating asthma and eye hypertension and in relieving symptoms of muscle spasticity in patients affected by multiple sclerosis, as well as reducing nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Nonetheless cannabis abuse has been related to a variety of physical and mental problems.

Hemp is certainly one of the most useful plants, cultivated not only for medicinal and recreational purposes, but also for use in the food, textile and construction industries. The seeds are very nutritious and are used as animal fodder, and the oil extracted from the seeds is used in oil lamps and for the manufacture of paints and varnishes. The use of hemp fibres in textiles dates back to prehistory, and has been widely cultivated in Europe for centuries. The fibres, stronger and more durable than those of cotton, were traditionally used for the manufacture of ropes, sails, sacks, rags and working cloths. The story that the first jeans made by Levi Strauss used hemp fabric has proved to be an urban myth but nonetheless, in recent decades, interest in hemp fibre has grown and hemp is today very commonly used in the fashion industry.