Medicine – from the shamans plant to modern officinal herb

Cannabis makes ‘the body light’ it says in mankinds oldest surviving medicinebook, the chinese ‘Pen Tsao’, put together allegedly by the mythological Emperor Shen-Nung in the year 2.737 B.C. The book  advises the use of cannabis against several maladies – from gout and rheumatism to malaria and constipation and even against ‘spiritual absence’.

When in the 16th century ‘Pen Tsao’ by Li Shizhen, the basic work of chinese herbal medicine till today, was published, the list of indications had grown much longer: In cases of nervous indisposition, senility, birth complications, menstruation troubles, cramps, rashes, abscesses and wounds chinese physicians recommended cannabis in many different preparations.

The medieval healer Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) grew the ‘cannabus’ in her herbal garden and recommended it against nausea and stomach troubles for example. Wether in India or Tibet, in Africa or Arabia, in the antique Rome or in Russia – wherever old and ancient medicinal notes are looked into, the curing agent hemp is found to hold an important position. Christian Raetsch compares in his ethnomedicinal research "Hanf als Heilmittel" the plants cultural role with that of the buffalo on whom the whole american-indian culture depended. Hemp too had such basic cultural functions and from the very beginning played an essential role as medicine, ritual plant and as an aphrodisiac. Long before medicinal use the shamans had discovered cannabis. In the beginning of civilisation shamans were not only soothsayers, sorcerers, priests, but physicians, psychiatrists, nature scientists and midwifes as well.

Seen from the pharmalogical aspect the hempplant is something of a doubleface: It has sedative and stimulating effects. Therefore it was given as antispasmodic cough remedy as well as a stimulating and soothing ‘headache pill’. Hemp tincture made from cannabis flowers was till the end of the 19th century one of the bestselling remedies in pharmacies all over Europe and the USA; Queen Victoria wasn’t the only one who ‘never left home without it’. John Russel Reynold, her physician in ordinary, prescribed hemp tincture against cough, asthma, migraine, neuralgia, ‘cramps of all sorts’, and sleeping disturbances. Hemp as an relaxing and universal medicine was pushed of the shelves only by the triumphal march of the pharmaceutical industries, especially from a stuff marketed internationally by the  Bayer company  from 1900 onward as ‘an excellent sedative with specifically cough-curing effects’: Heroin.

This patented opiate came to its heroic trademark because of the Bayer companies claim, it could cure morphinism and soldiers, who came home from the hospitals as junkies would become heroes again. Till it was admitted, that here one evil was cured with an even worse , the ‘Indian Hemp Tincture’ had disappeared from the german book of medicines (1941) and in the prohibition-mad USA medical scientists swore, cannabis had "no healing effects whatsoever". As grotesque as this statement seems in the face of hemps long medical history -  it became official doctrine for more than  half a century and is still blocking the return of the Cannabis herb  to the pharmacies. Cannabis’ unique effects especially with seriously ill people – as an appetizer in AIDS-cases, against nausea in  cancer chemotherapy, as an antispasmodic with MS-patients – are undisputed scientifically, but the ‘war on drugs’ prevents access even to patients in most countries. It is true there is an synthetic hemp-agent on the market (Marinol; Dronabinol), but this is not only incredibly expensive but also shows a lesser healing effect in many patients than the natural herb.

California and other US states that since 1996 had won after a hard struggle by plebiscite the right to ‘medical marihuana’ (and to sales points for distribution) are still fighting a bitter judicial war against the federal government. Like medieval popes refused to have a look thru Galileis telescope not to endanger their view of the world, most politicians refuse even today to accept the findings of medinical cannabisresearch. Thus many patients are forced in our time to illegally cultivate or buy their medicine on black markets  – one of the oldest and most harmless officinal herbs there is. In so far the middle ages inquisition has not ended yet.


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