There is a long but often untold history of cannabis and women’s health. This International Women’s Day, we at CLN want to celebrate this history.
Women have always played an integral role in medicine, holding positions of authority and regard in society as providers of care. For many healers, midwives and herbalists, cannabis was one of the stars of their toolkit, used to treat patients, especially women, for a variety of ailments.
However, as the perception of cannabis evolved over the centuries, many societies that once saw the plant as central to their healing arsenal began to regard it as something taboo. Much of this healing prowess and knowledge has since been cast into the backlogs of history.
As such, it is no surprise that women play a pivotal role in cannabis advocacy, fighting to bring it back to the mainstream. People used cannabis to treat nausea, pain, bloating and other ailments related to female biology for thousands of years. Naturally, losing access to it disproportionately affected individuals who experience menstruation, childbirth, menopause and more.
As cannabis regains credibility in the world of medicine, we must not forget the history of cannabis and women’s health. We must pay tribute to women’s role in cannabis cultivation, use and advocacy. With the tide of recent cannabis reforms all over the world, many assumed that men were more likely to use cannabis than women. However, new data now suggests that women are actually the fastest-growing consumer base for cannabis. This follows a long-established historical pattern of women using cannabis in their day-to-day lives:
2300 BC – Mesopotamia
Ishtar is the Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, sex, war, justice and political power. Her followers associated her with the healing arts and would burn the herb Sim.Ishara in her honour. Outside of religious rituals, many also used the herb as a remedy for a myriad of ailments. Experts now theorize that this herb is cannabis.
1550 BC – Ancient Egypt
The Ebers Papyrus is a medical papyrus detailing herbal knowledge from Ancient Egypt. It contains information on a wide variety of herbal remedies, including cannabis. Specifically, it prescribed the application of cannabis for inflammation and menstrual pain as well the insertion of the plant in ground form into the vagina as an aid for childbirth.
500 BC – Siberia
The Princess of Ukok was a young woman, found mummified and buried with cannabis near the Altai Mountains in Russia. Upon examining her remains, scientists determined that she suffered from breast cancer and used cannabis to deal with the pain.
5th Century to 15th Century AD – Medieval Europe
As cannabis arrived in Europe through trade, healers began to use the plant for a variety of obstetric and gynaecologic ailments, including as an aid for childbirth. Descriptions of the plant can be found in the Old English Herbarium, a document from around 1000 AD. The writer recommends using cannabis in a mixture with lard to relieve swollen breasts. A 12th century Benedictine abbess by the name of Hildegard von Bingen also wrote about hemp in her book Physica, detailing various uses for the plant. Many cannabis aficionados now recognize her as one of the more prominent historical women advocates of cannabis.
19th Century AD – Queen Victoria
Plagued by menstrual pains throughout her life, Queen Victoria is one of the most famous women in history to have used medicinal cannabis. She was given liquid concentrations of cannabis to help with the pain. According to her physician, Sir J. Russell Reynolds, cannabis “is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.”
As the 20th century came around, cannabis became a scapegoat for society’s ills and the law cut off women’s access to this important resource. Women had to seek alternatives, which often brought along a slew of side effects. This is particularly saddening, considering a natural solution has been around for millennia.
Thankfully, medicinal cannabis for women has regained traction, with a renaissance of women-led businesses bringing the plant back to the forefront as a treatment for menstrual ailments such as painful cramps, bloating and abnormal bleeding. There have also been important developments in using cannabis to treat menopausal symptoms and certain complications related to childbirth.
Indeed, women have something of a love affair with cannabis. Cannabis’ history is indisputably intertwined with women’s health, and it should be no surprise that its future is too.