From increasing arousal to preventing postpartum depression, cannabis has long been used in traditional women’s health. Without the luxury of an epidural, marijuana seems to have been one of the better options for mitigating pain during birth. It may have helped women carry pregnancies to term. To shed some light onto the widely unknown history of cannabis and women’s health, here’s a simple review of the ancient uses of marijuana during pregnancy.
Turning up the heat
Throughout ancient India and Tibet cannabis was used as an aphrodisiac. Certain sects of Hindu and Buddhist tantric tradition consumed the herb to achieve heightened bliss and awareness during sex. These elevated biological states were a form of experimenting with the mind. Physical and mental explorations were thought to aid in achieving enlightenment.
Michael Aldrich documented the history of ancient Indian cannabis use back in the 1970s. In a piece published in the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, he writes:
“Marijuana fits into sex yoga […] for in Hindu folk medicine it is the aphrodisiac par excellence. Tantric practice brings together these 3 elements– the ceremonial use of marijuana; the conscious employment of ‘poisonous’ or dangerous substances; and the practices of drug and sex yoga– into a fully developed system for achieving ‘mahanirvana’.”
Drastically oversimplified, mahanirvana is the “great nirvana” or “great calm”. In Tantra, nirvana is the highest point of enlightenment, when a being is able to move beyond attachment to the physical world and achieve spiritual awakening.
A recipe from colonist Sir William O’Shaughnessy explains that cannabis preparations were used in India by “all classes of people”, especially in females. He writes:
“[Cannabis] is most fascinating in its effects, producing extatic happiness, a persuasion of high rank, a sensation of flying,voracious appetite and intense aphrodisiac desire.” -O’Shaughnesy
As we all know, it takes two to make a baby. Turns out, our ancestors may have relied on our favorite herb when they needed a little extra help getting it on. Ancient Indian medical texts articulate that marijuana was used to treat impotence in men.
In an essay on Indian cannabis pharmacology, Dr. Ethan Russo, neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher, cites research from the 1800s. The research gives a recipe for a bhang. Bhang is a potent edible preparation of cannabis and other herbs. The preparation was used for cough, bowel complaints, and impotence. It included a variety of herbs, but some of the active components include:
“Hemp leaves with flowers and seeds fried in clarified butter, equal in weight to all the other ingredients.” – Russo, citing Sir William O’Shaughnessy
Marijuana use during pregnancy and labor
The ancient use of marijuana during pregnancy and labor was surprisingly extensive. Surviving medical documents and archeological discoveries have found evidence of cannabis throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Central and Eastern Asia. Another excellent paper by Russo outlines the forgotten history of medical cannabis and women’s health.
Hemp preparations for pregnancy have been recorded as early as 2000 BCE. Tonics made with hemp seed, saffron, mint and beer were given to women Ancient Mesopotamia during a difficult childbirth. Ancient Mesopotamia was the stretch of land falling between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In Egypt, medical texts dated to 1534 BCE provided specific directions for the proper use of cannabis during childbirth. Ground hemp was added to honey and inserted directly into the vagina. This early medicine was thought to aid with contractions.
An archeological investigation in Israel/Palestine found cannabis ashes in a burial tomb of a 14-year-old girl who died during labor. Historians believe that materials from the plant were used in a type of inhaled vapor. This medicinal vapor was thought to ease the birth process.
During pregnancy, writings from 9th century Persia explain that cannabis medicines were used to help maintain pregnancy. But, these women weren’t smoking the herb. According to Russo:
“…An intranasal base preparation of juice from cannabis seeds was mixed with a variety of other herbs to treat migraine, calm uterine pains, prevent miscarriage, and preserve fetuses in their mothers’ abdomens.”
Postpartum uses of cannabis
Cannabis was also used to help new mothers cope with birth related ailments. These ailments are as diverse the treatment of tearing during labor to postpartum depression. Early analyses of Syriac medicine have found that cannabis was used to treat and heal anal fissures that occurred after birth.
In Marijuana Medicine, author Christian Rätsch explains that hemp preparations were occasionally given to mothers in ancient Tibet both during labor or shortly afterward. The preparations were thought to “strengthen mothers weakened by labor and to protect them from puerperal fever and postpartum depression.”
According to Rätsch, Cambodians have also used hemp in a similar way. Folk medicine called for the ingestion of “teas, flower decorations, and tinctures” to restore strength and wellbeing. Hemp preparations were also given to increase milk production. In more modern accounts, marijuana has been linked to decreased milk production.
Unfortunately, we’ve become quite disconnected from our history of herbal pharmacopeia. Thanks to the great work of researchers like Russo and Rätsch, some of that knowledge is beginning to resurface. The accounts presented in this article are only a small sampling of a long tradition of cannabis medicines. Needless to say, marijuana has been vital to women’s health throughout history.
Do any of these ancient uses surprise you? Share your thoughts with us on social media or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!