Marijuana, or Hemp, is of the genus Cannabis and contains the species Cannabis indica, Cannabis rustica, and Cannabis sativa. Cannabis is dioceious and recognizable by its digitate leaves and minute hairs. Its origins are believed to be the desert region southeast the Caspian Sea. Human use of Cannabis goes back to at least 6000 years ago.
In China, the legendary emporor Shen-Nung wrote the herbal Pen Ts'ao Ching. In it, Cannabis is recognized with both its male and female sexes, but with emphasis on the female, which produces the desired resins. By 15th century B.C. the herbal Rh-Ya mentions Cannabis under the name Ma, and refers to the use of fibers, the potent resins, and in ritual. Texts of antiquity call Cannabis the “giver of delights” as well as “liberator of sin.”
The Greek term, cannabeizein, “to smoke Cannabis,” refers to the inhaling of vapors from incense. Democritus (ca. 460 B.C.) knew Cannabis as potamaugis, which was drunk with wine and myrrh for intoxicating effects. Greek botanist Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.) described Cannabis under the name dendromalache. Cannabis hemp fiber was the most prized of all fibers by Roman ship builders.
The ancient nomadic Scythians of Asia Minor used hemp smoke to induce visions. Hemp seeds have been found in funeral urns. Contemporary accounts tell about how the Scythians dance and sang after vapor baths. In India, Cannabis was brought into ayurvedic medicine and religious ideas. Indian doctors claimed it treated dysentery, sunstroke, phlegmatic tempers, indigestion, lack of appetite, lisping, and muddled intellect.
African use of Cannabis involved pipes from gourds, bamboo stalks, and coconut bowls. The North Africans invented the water pipe and Cannabis was a very important aspect of their lives, in which over twenty vocabulary terms were given to the plant and its resin kif. Kif has social importance and is smoked with friends and inside specially built kif rooms inside houses.
A European ritual documented by Theophile Gautier in 1846 included French, Egyptian, and Algerian aspects. Le Club des Haschischins was formed in 1844 and held monthly meetings. Resins were given in a green paste and drunk with coffee.
In Mexico, Cannabis rituals are even more recent, as the plant didn't arrive until New World discovery. The Tepehua of northwest Mexico use marijuana in a communal curing ceremony, in which they call the plant Santa Rosa, "The Herb Which Makes One speak".
Sources: Ritual Use of Cannabis Sativa L., William A. Emboden, Jr., 1972