Cannabis and Chinese Medicine: Exploring Traditional Connections

Published: 1/31/2024
By: Harry B. Nuggs
Mountains

Cannabis and Chinese Medicine: Exploring Traditional Connections


Cannabis and Chinese medicine go way back. This controversial plant has been used as medicine in China for thousands of years! As global attitudes about cannabis change, there's growing interest in learning more about its traditional uses in China. Let's take a look!

A Brief History Lesson

Cannabis likely started in Central Asia before making its way to China long ago. The earliest written record of cannabis use in China dates back to around 100 AD. This ancient text described cannabis as a yin medication used for conditions like malaria, constipation, rheumatism, and women's reproductive troubles.


Over the centuries, cannabis was mixed into various traditional Chinese medicine blends to treat pain, seizures, and other issues. Famous Chinese physician Sun Simiao recommended it for epilepsy back in the 900s! Cannabis wines were even used as anesthesia during surgery.


While it kept some medicinal uses in China over the years, cannabis became more linked with recreation. It was eventually banned in China in 1985, despite its lengthy history as medicine. But changing attitudes have sparked new scientific interest in ancient Chinese cannabis cures!

Key Compounds in Chinese Medicine

Cannabis contains various active ingredients with therapeutic potential. THC and CBD are the most famous. However, Chinese medicine uses the synergistic effects of all compounds in plants together.


THC is the main psychoactive one, used traditionally for pain, seizures, malaria, rheumatism, and absentmindedness. Chinese medicine saw it as having an acrid, warm, detoxifying effect.


CBD is the big non-psychoactive compound in modern meds. Ancient texts don't isolate CBD but use whole cannabis plants. Scholars believe CBD is aligned with Chinese medicine principles of clearing heat, removing dampness, and boosting deficiencies.


Beyond THC and CBD, Chinese medicine used other cannabis compounds like CBN, CBG, terpenes, etc. Using the whole plant was thought to maximize the benefits!

Traditional Cannabis Uses

Cannabis was widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for various health issues:

Pain Management

It was commonly used as a painkiller. Cannabis ointments, poultices, pills, tinctures, or drinks relieve localized or whole-body pain.

Seizures and Spasms

It treated seizures, epilepsy, tetanus, rabies, and spasms from cholera. Cannabis was thought to calm overexcitation while also stimulating insufficient sedation.

Digestive Problems

Cannabis mixtures were used for stomach aches, diarrhea, dysentery, food poisoning, parasites, early cholera symptoms, and other digestive complaints. It was taken orally or applied to the abdomen.

Women's Health

It treated many gynecological and obstetric conditions like menstrual cramps, postpartum lactation, labor contractions, menopausal symptoms, etc.

Mental Health

Cannabis was believed to clear "internal heat" manifesting as mental illness. It was used for conditions like absentmindedness, depression, mania, and other psychological disorders.

Anti-Inflammatory

It reduces swelling and inflammation from infections, injuries, mastitis, UTIs, venereal disease, skin conditions, etc. Cannabis was used both internally and topically.

Antimicrobial

It treated dysentery, intestinal parasites, early-stage cholera, etc. Cannabis was applied orally or as a rectal suppository. Its antimicrobial powers were attributed to terpenoids.

Anesthetic

Cannabis-infused wines provided anesthesia for surgery when combined with other herbs. This allowed more complex operations in ancient China.

Bridging with Modern Science

While traditional uses offer starting points, rigorous research is still needed to confirm cannabis’s safety and efficacy for different conditions. Luckily, modern scientific tools allow a thorough analysis of cannabis compounds and their mechanisms based on Chinese medicine theories.


With an open yet skeptical mindset, doctors can explore how traditional cannabis remedies connect with current medical knowledge. There are promising signs certain cannabis compounds may help with pain, inflammation, seizures, digestion issues, and more! Ongoing research will uncover more about cannabis’s properties and proper usage.


There’s still much to learn about how cannabis acts in the body. Traditional knowledge provides fascinating clues to dig into further. The long history of cannabis as medicine in China can hopefully advance technological assessment of its risks and benefits.

Conclusion

More conclusive research on cannabis’s medical value is needed. But Chinese history shows cannabis hasn’t always been banned like today. There are precedents for its responsible use as medicine.


With an updated understanding of dosages, plant compounds, and interactions, cannabis may have the potential to treat some conditions. Any medicinal use should rely on sound science and human welfare concerns.


By learning from the past while prioritizing safety, we may find respectable modern uses for this historically significant plant. Time will tell if cannabis can make the journey from ancient remedy back to modern respectability!

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