Cannabis in Ancient Greece

Cannabis use has a long documented history in Greece. Many cannabis enthusiasts will no doubt have read the oft-cited passages from Herodotus, written between 450 and 420 BCE, in which the historian documents cannabis use among the nomadic Scythian tribes that habitually traversed northern Greece and Asia Minor.

Hemp rope dated to circa 200 BCE has been discovered in tombs in northern Greece, and it is believed that textiles for garment-making were also produced. Cannabis fibre was widely used in the manufacture of rope, sailcloth, and other textiles—in rope-making, cannabis was specifically used to make nautical ‘reefing ropes’ known in ancient Greek as kaloi.

Ancient recreational use of cannabis appears to have been fairly limited, although some sources describe the seeds being occasionally used as an intoxicant (it appears that ‘seed’ in this case refers to the whole flowering tops). In around 460 BCE, the philosopher Democritus described a concoction known as potamaugis or potamasgis, which was a blend of wine, cannabis and myrrh that was said to cause hallucinatory, visionary states.

In 70 CE, the physician Dioscorides recorded cannabis in his pharmacopoeia; it is thought that cannabis was extensively used in Greek medicine by this time. Cannabis leaf was commonly prescribed as a cure for nosebleeds, and the seeds were used to treat tapeworms, earache and inflammation.