The first evidence of the medicinal use of cannabis is in an herbal published during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Chen Nung 5000 years ago. It was recommended for malaria, constiipation, rheumatic pains, “absentmindedness” and “female disorders.” Another Chinese herbalist recommended a mixture of hemp, resin, and wine as an analgesic during surgery. In India cannabis has been recommended to quicken the mind, lower fevers, induce sleep, cure dysentery, stimulate appetite, improve digestion, relieve headaches, and cure venereal disease.
In Africa it was used for dysentery, malaria, and other fevers. Today certain tribes treat snakebite with hemp or smoke it before childbirth. Hemp was also noted as a 2 remedy by Galen and other physicians of the classical and Hellenistic eras, and it was highly valued in medieval Europe. The English clergyman Robert Burton, in his famous work The Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1621, suggested the use of cannabis in the treatment of depression. The New English Dispensatory of 1764 recommended applying hemp roots to the skin for inflammation, a remedy that was already popular in eastern Europe. The Edinburgh New Dispensary of 1794 included a long description of the effects of hemp and stated that the oil was useful in the treatment of coughs, venereal disease, and urinary incontinence. A few years later the physician Nicholas Culpeper summarized all the conditions for which cannabis was supposed to be medically useful. But in the West cannabis did not come into its own as a medicine until the midnineteenth century.
During its heyday, from 1840 to 1900, more than 100 papers were published in the Western medical literature recommending it for various illnesses and discomforts. It could almost be said that physicians of a century ago knew more about cannabis than contemporary physicians do; certainly they were more interested in exploring its therapeutic potential.