Marijuana may have played a larger role in Ancient Egypt than previously imagined. A recent discovery is evidence cannabis was medicine in Ancient Egyptian times.
Believed to be a creation of the Sun God Ra, hieroglyphs depict a symbol called shemshemet. Egyptologists believe shemshemet was the symbol used by Pharaos for the marijuana plant.
Shemshemet, used for both textile and medicine, referred to cannabis sativa not hemp. Cannabis sativa is one psychoactive species of cannabis. While hemp contains little to no psychoactive value.
The psychoactive component makes cannabis valuable for medicinal purposes. Pollen discovered on Ramses II reinforces the notion that ancients used marijuana as medicine.
Cannabis is a diocideous plant. Male and female cannabis are different, separate plants. Reproduction requires the cannabis plant to create an abundance of pollen. Wind and pollinators carry the pollen to the female plant.
An analysis of pollen in ancient soil layers indicates existence of marijuana.. The Codex of Ancient Egyptian Plant Remains, (1997) is a record of pollen found at several sites from various times in Ancient Egypt’s history. The cannabis pollen listed in the codex are from the following periods of Ancient Egypt:
- Predynastic period (c.3500-3100 BCE)
- 12th Dynasty (c.1991-1786 BCE) includes not only pollen, but also a hemp “fibre (ball)”
- Ptolemaic period (323-30 BCE)
- 19th Dynasty (c.1293-1185 BCE) found on the Mummy of Ramses II
Ancient carvings in Pharaohs’ tombs depit marijuana. Representations of the Goddess Shesat, the deity of writing and record-keeping, is often depicted with a seven point- star-shaped leaf above her head. Another clear indicator of the value cannabis added to Egyptian society.
Part of the value cannabis added was trade. Historical records show a cannabis tax imposed by Emperor Aurelian in the 3rd century B.C.
Ancient papyrus scrolls give details of various medicinal uses for marijuana.
- The Eber’s Papyrus – dated to 1600-1550 BC mentions an obstetric prescription to reduce “heat and “cool the uterus suggesting it’s use as an anti-inflammatory.
- The Berlin Papyrus – circa 1300 B.C.mentions cannabis as an ointment prepared as a supository for the relief of fever
- The Vienna Papyrus – dated to 200 A.D. mentions cannabis for medicinal use
Diodorus Siculus, a Siscilian Greek writes on how Egyptian women used cannabis including:
- relief of sorrow,
- bad humor (mood),
- insommnia, anesthetic and,
- pain reliever.
Researchers believe the shemshemet in the papyri is cannabis and likely cannabis sativa.
Marijuana found in lung tissue samples from mummified Egyptians reinforces availability of cannabis. This instance may signify the use of cannabis before death as some sort of medication.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a medical expert, sums it up best, “As a drug it [cannabis] has been in active use since the Pharaonic times. It does not appear very often in medical papyri, but it was given by mouth, rectum, vagina, by bandages on the skin, applied to the eyes and by fumigation ”. It is clear medicinal marijuana played an important role in Ancient Egypt.
Today medicinal cannabis is once again cultivated on the African continent. Though not in Egypt. But, trade routes through the Suez canal, assures one day Egypt will be a trade hub for medicinal cannabis.