The Legend of the Red Emperor

The oldest evidence of cannabis use dates back to China 10,00BC. We have found pottery with hemp fibre imprinted into the design. There has been multiple times hemp has popped up throughout Chinese history. Hemp clothing from the Chou Dynasty (1122-249BC) , the stalks of cannabis sativa was also made to make bows for war.

The oldest confirmed medical use of cannabis was in China 3750BC . At this time China was a land ruled by warlords which meant villages at the beginning of the Stone Age started building walls to protect themselves from invaders. In what is now called Hubei lived one particular farmer called Shen Nung. This man saw the potential in cannabis and made it his mission to learn everything about it. One of his greatest contributions was teaching his community about the cannabis plant. He taught them how to grow the plant, how to harvest and eat the seed, how to make the fibre into clothes and nets for fishing. This was a big step in the progression of Chinese civilisation and catapulted Shen-nung into the role of Emperor and even ancient Chinese mythology.  

Legend tells us that he made it his duty to collect and create the first ever pharmacopeia, the Pen Ts’ao. Unfortunately the original was lost but later reconstructed during the Han Dynasty ( 206 BC – 220AD). Many historians actually consider Shen-nung to be a mythical character as he reigned for being a collection of multiple people who were important figures of the time. 

The female plant was recommended for Malaria, constipation, gout, rheumatism, beri-beri and absent mindedness. However evidence of recreational use was only found 2500 years ago in a wooden brazier which contained stones that the cannabis would be burned upon (see photo below). High THC levels were found in this brazier which suggests recreational usage.


This is a photo from a 2,500-year-old burial at Jirzankal Cemetery in western China featuring wooden braziers that burned cannabis plants containing an unusually high level of the psychoactive chemical THC.

Hope you enjoyed learning about Shen-nung as much as I did – Lee (The cannabis alternative journalist)

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