The Ancient Use of Hemp in Chinese Medicine

Hemp has a long history of medicinal use, and in traditional Chinese medicine, hemp seed is associated with the channels of the spleen and large intestine. It is used as a laxative to loosen the bowels and relieve constipation, as well as for cramps, anxiety, dry cough, asthma and spasms. Cannabis or hemp seeds have been used as remedies for constipation for over 1800 years, and it is considered one of the fundamental herbs of traditional Chinese medicine. Hemp seed is still consumed as food in modern China, and advances in DNA research have added complexity to the picture. The first mention of cannabis in Chinese medical literature is found in The Divine Farmer's Materia Medica.

Shen Nung, the second emperor of ancient China and considered the father of Chinese medicine, is believed to have been the first to document the therapeutic role of cannabis. All parts of the cannabis plant have been recorded in historical Chinese medical texts, including the achenium (seed), the female inflorescence, the leaf and the root, as well as the bark of the stem and the water used to process the stem into fiber. Most Chinese publications that have tried to address the topic of speciation with regard to the historical application of cannabis in Chinese medicine use a relatively simplistic taxonomic model that does not take into account recent scientific advances. While primitive Chinese medical literature suggests that both the pharmacological and fiber biotypes of cannabis were known in ancient times, more research is needed to clarify the implications of these different biotypes in medical applications. Chinese medicine is one of the oldest healing systems in the world and has been used for more than 2500 years. The main applications of cannabis in Chinese medicine focus on the use of achenes, but old indications for female inflorescence and other parts of the plant include conditions such as pain and mental illness.

Cannabis and CBD Hemp, or maffen, was one of the 50 original fundamental herbs registered in The Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica. Preserving traditional Chinese medicine terminology is essential for translations to capture the original meaning of historical sources. This review can only scratch the surface of Chinese medical literature on cannabis and the questions it raises, but further research is expected to help further clarify these issues through a multidisciplinary approach. It can also help clarify many details about the historical applications of cannabis in Chinese medicine, in addition to providing clues to the historical prevalence of different biotypes as ancient Chinese farmers gradually selected superior varieties for fiber and seed crops.

Kelli Prellwitz
Kelli Prellwitz

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