The Origins of Cannabis in Asia

Cannabis is as old as human history itself, and like RVD, Asian culture is a part of who and what he is today. To read about Rob’s formative time in Japan, click here. To read more about the worldwide traces click here. Ancient traces of hemp are throughout Asia. Thousands of years ago, the first paper came from cannabis for writing and keeping records. Cannabis has also been a staple food source, but civilizations use it to boost the economy in times of war as well. And of course, hemp has many medicinal properties. The psychoactive side of cannabis used in recreation today stemmed from religious rituals after it spread to India. It’s important to note, the earliest intoxicating artifacts found are in religious and medicinal settings.

Marijuana Discovered in Asia

No one knows for sure when cannabis was first discovered, but Asian medical texts are legendary. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM) during the Neolithic period the mythological Chinese emperor Shen-Nung, aka the Divine Farmer, wrote the Shen-nung pen ts’ao ching or the Divine Husbandman’s Materia Medica, a book filled with 365+ medicines made from minerals, plants, and animals. The record contributions of Eastern Asian Emperors have shaped Medicine, wellness, and neutron the world over. 

Much later, around 1368-1644 AD Li Shih-chen 李時珍 compiled the Pen ts’ao kang mu, orThe Great Herbal, which outlines the many uses for the parts of the cannabis plant.

  • Ma-p’o (Cannabis flowers), treat open wounds.
  • Cannabis seed peels(ma-len) and the resin, stimulate the nervous system.
  • Ma-jen (the seeds) fight inflammation of the skin. Seeds can be used as tonics, laxatives, diuretics, and deworming meds.
  • Hemp oil (known as ma-yu), strengthens hair and can also be used to counteract sulfur poisoning.
  • Cannabis leaves, when juiced are an anecdote for scorpion bites.
  • Plant fibers make ropes, fabric, and paper.

The Oldest Hemp Paper Artifacts

Paper is one of the top inventions in the world up there with the wheel and tools, and if you didn’t know, China invented it. The Chinese court official, Cai Lun, pronounced Ts’ai Lun, from the Eastern Han dynasty invented the process of making paper and paper itself. Fragments of the oldest paper found comes from hemp fibers at Chinese graves dating before 100 B.C. For more info on Cai Lun’s process click here. 


The Dharani prayer texts, from around 700 AD, entirely made from hemp, can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK. This Dharani text, pictured, has been dated from 1000 AD and is a Pancaraksa manuscript in Pāla dictating spells and rituals. These ancient texts are preserved as part of what is known as the Stein collection.

Cannabis Textiles

All Asian cultures, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc. spun and wove hemp into fibers then made into wearable garments, bags, or rugs and blankets. Hemp cloth artifacts from Japan date around 10,000 BC, while relics from Korea from 3000 BC. Silk may be the fabric synonymous with Asia, but hemp is much more common. Silk is a symbol of wealth. Japan did not have silkworms. Silk cloth back then was an import from the mainland of China. Imported goods are still pricey. Lower classes throughout Asia made textiles from cotton or hemp. 

Clothing wasn’t the only textile product, however. Hemp’s amazing properties lent the textile to other practical and artistic areas. Hemp is a much stronger fabric than cotton. Because hemp is so strong, it breathes well and grows freely, it is possible ancient armor was made from Cannabis too. Hemp ropes also offered an outlet for culture and art. In China, they used it to decorate pottery with textures made from rolled-up hemp ropes. Yangshao pottery comes from 5000 BC and shows the hemp fiber imprints.

  • A-woman-dressed-in-white-and-red-weaving-hemp-on-a-loom
  • hemp-string-in-bundles
  • hemp-loom-with-woven-hemp
  • artifact-shirt-made-from-hemp
  • ancient-Chinese-Yangshao-pot-made-with-hemp-rope-designs
  • ancient-armour-made-from-cloth

Cannabis’s Many Eastern Names

Country or Region LangageWordPronunciation
IndonesiaJavanese (Jawa)RamiRami
VietnamVietnamesecây gai dầukay guy zao

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