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What We Can Learn From The Chinese Medical Marijuana System

China is more than 5,000 years old with a legendary history of herbal pharmacology. It should be no surprise that Chinese medical marijuana is thriving.

The truth is out there, as two fictional characters once reminded us. Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University were in search of the truth as it related to the historical use of medical marijuana in traditional Chinese medicine. They published a review of classic medical literature from Chinese antiquity as recorded in more than 800 texts collected in a set called the Complete Ben Cao or the Compendium of Materia Medica.

It is widely held to be the most complete and comprehensive resource regarding the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. They focused on the texts of five different dynasties in history, translating and cross referencing information about about specific uses of cannabis. 

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One interesting note is that, unlike Western fascination with cannabis “buds” or flowers, the Chinese documented using all parts of the plant: seeds, stalks and roots. It is hypothesized that, because China so valued its traditional hemp production, the plant continued to be bred and selected based on its fiber and seed food quality rather than resin production in its flowers.

Hemp cultivars became the favored sons. That said, the psychotropic potential of the plant were well known, as evidenced by the quote, “excessive consumption causes one to see ghosts and run about frenetically.”

The authors found other interesting historic snapshots:

  • In the 6th century, author Tao Hongjing wrote, “adepts (believed to be Taoist monk alchemists) take cannabis flower (mabo) with ginseng and know of things that have not yet come.”
  • In 1070, physicians would compound a cannabis seed wine to treat pain so severe that it caused the patient to be immobile.
  • The first well documented use of cannabis was for pain relief 1127-1270 AD. The flower of the plant, called mahua, was combined with datura flower, a highly psychotropic plant. The mixture was known as “sagacious sleep powder” and caused a heavy, dazed sleep.
  • Historic cannabis use has been documented among Silk Road from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD).

Historic use of opium and some highly hallucinogenic alkaloid based plants is well documented in China. However, researchers found, “there is little evidence that cannabis was either abused or prohibited in China prior to the first documented seizures of imported cannabis products in Xinjiang in 1936.” In some regions, it was simply part of the everyday pharmacopeia for hundreds of years.

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Research like this brought to us from Hong Kong is a humbling reminder that as we seek more information about therapeutic uses of cannabis that we must look not only forward to future research.

We must also seek to benefit from the ancients, those hard-working and passionate people who sought health centuries before we arrived on the scene. To not seek their consul would be an arrogance we cannot afford.

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