East vs West – The Pioneering use of Cannabis in Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Known as da ma in Chinese medicine, cannabis is considered one of the 50 “fundamental” herbs. It first appears in The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica – one of three foundation books of Chinese medicine. Although written more than two millennia ago, the book – edited and expanded upon in the intervening two thousand years – is still in clinical use.

According to this text, cannabis is said to govern the five taxations (excessive use of the eyes, excessive lying, sitting, standing, and exercise), rule the seven damages (over-eating, cold food and drink, climatic extremes, rage, fatigue, grief, and fear) and benefit the five viscera (the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and spleen.) And it’s far from the only honourable mention the herb gets in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Around the sixth century AD, The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica was expanded, modernised and edited. Tao Hongjing added that cannabis can be used to “break accumulations, relieve impediment, and disperse pus.” So that’s pleasant. 

Around that time, another famous Chinese physician, Sun Simiao (581–683 AD), suggested using cannabis to treat pain. He recommended crushing the leaves to extract their juice to treat severe pain due to bone fractures in the 30-volume book Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold for Emergencies.

His text also recommends cannabis for mental illness characterised by depression and a desire to be alone.

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