We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that medical cannabis usage goes back for millennia in Israel’s neighbor to the west — Egypt. The history of ancient Egypt shows cannabis usage dating back over 5,000 years — well before the great pyramids were even built. So let’s take a trip back in time:
The ancient Egyptians called cannabis by the name shemshemet, which appears in hieroglyphs uncovered in the tombs of pharaohs Ramses V and Ramses VI circa 3,000 B.C.E. Drawings of the goddess Sheshat show cannabis motifs such as seven-pointed plant leaves atop her head. Egyptian medicine of the time was plant-based, and it is thought that cannabis was likely in the forefront of common usage due to its combination of curative powers and psychoactive effects. In fact, cannabis residue has been found in artifacts dating back to 2,000 B.C.E.
As Egyptians developed papyrus and scrolls became a repository of history, cannabis merits frequent references. Scholars have learned that cannabis salves were used around 2,000 B.C.E. to treat eye sores and glaucoma. The Ramesseum Papyri, from around 1,750 B.C.E., mention this eye treatment: “celery, cannabis is ground and left in the dew overnight. Both eyes of the patient are to be washed with it in the morning.”
The Ebert Papyri, written around 1,500 B.C.E., is a comprehensive collection of scrolls dealing with medical remedies. Many of its formulas are cannabis-based, such as this purported cure for a painful finger or toe: “honey 1/4; ochre 1/64; cannabis 1/32; hedjou resin 1/32; ibou plant 1/32. Prepare as for the preceding, and dress with it.” Other formulations recommend using cannabis ground in honey for feminine health — likely an early interpretation of the now well‑known anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis.
The Berlin Papyri, circa 1,300 B.C.E., indicates that cannabis was used as an “ointment to prepare for driving away the fever.” And the Chester Beatty Papyri, also from the same time period, mentions using crushed shemshemet seeds as a cure for colorectal diseases.
Was cannabis used at the time for non-medical purposes? Perhaps: archaeologists have found cannabis residue on the mummified remains of Ramses the Great, the Pharaoh of 1213 B.C.E. Other ancient mummies have revealed traces of THC in the lungs, suggesting that cannabis smoke may have been used either medically or in ceremonial rituals.
Of course, there is no actual scientific merit to such ancient history — but it does provide some interesting starting points for modern-day medical studies on the effects of cannabis.