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Ancient Rome & Cannabis

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Pedanius Dioscorides (Born c. AD 40 - Died c. AD 90) was a Greek botanist, physician and author that served in the Roman army and travelled on many campaigns throughout the Empire at the time.

Between 50 AD and 70 AD, he wrote a 5 volume #pharmacopoeia called “De Materia Medica” (On Medical Matters). This work is arguably the best source for information about the medicines of ancient Rome and has been the foremost classical source of modern botanical terminology and the leading pharmacological text for 16 centuries.

Detailing approximately 600 plants and over 900 remedies, this text refers to cannabis.

Aside from prescribing cannabis for earaches, it was recommended to Roman soldiers for the suppression of sexual longing.

During the Roman Empire, the medical use of cannabis was mentioned by Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and Galen. In “Naturalis Historia”, the oldest extant encyclopedia from the Graeco-Roman world, Pliny the Elder (Born c. 23 AD - Died c. 79 AD) discusses the psychoactive effects and the medicinal uses of cannabis as an anti-inflammatory.

There are also many references to cannabis in the medical writings of the Roman doctor Claudius Galen (Born c. 129 CE - Died c. 216 CE). In his “On the Properties of Foods”, he writes that medicinal cannabis was used to treat a variety of symptoms and ailments, including ear blockage, burns and cuts, inflammations, and tumors. He also

wrote that it was customary in Italy to serve small cakes containing marijuana for dessert and remarked that the seeds create a feeling of warmth, that if consumed in large amounts, affect the head by emitting a warm vapor.

Cover Image Shown: A depiction of the ancient Greek physician Dioscurides and below “Kannabis Emeros” - Plate 167 from the Vienna Dioscurides, an early 6th century copy of “De Materia Medica” by Dioscorides.


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