Hashing it out: a brief glance at the historical usage of the cannabis plant.


Today, Hashish is wildly popular in the Middle East, even in places where its criminalization calls for capital punishment, like in Saudi Arabia, whose government beheaded 2 pairs of hashish-smuggling brothers this summer. Usage hasn’t always been so monitored, and since its introduction 2 centuries after the death of the prophet Muhammad, it has been used for reasons ranging from medical and religious, to pure entertainment.

The fact that Hashish was introduced 200 years after the Koran was written could explain why it isn’t an outlawed substance for ingestion and intoxication. Fermented beverages like wine and beer however, are blatantly outlawed. Historically, caliphates interested in curbing substance use would typically focus on alcohol. However, cannabis use was not necessarily “appreciated.” Accounts point to hashish being the drug of choice for the less cultured people of a lower class, perhaps due to its relative inexpensiveness. Most definitely, its use was looked down upon by the ruling class.

Yet early physicians swear by the substance. Muslim doctors ended up finding more medicinal uses for cannabis than the greek texts they poured over, and attempted to emulate. The respected Physician al Razi physician al-Razi (865-925) refers to using hemp leaves as treatment for ear aches, for dandruff and for dissolving flatulence. There is also evidence that early muslim physicians used cannabis to treat asthma, gonorrhea, constipation, and as an antidote for poisoning. Other Arab physicians reported that hashish could be used to stimulate hunger and curve sexual desire over a period of time.

Some early Sufis also used the drug, but for religious means. They considered the gentle  herb as a way to  an emotional peace and an  openness to Allah. Those who introduced it into their Muslim practices helped with its eventual popularity. However, most Sufism is  concerned with asceticism, or the denial of self-sensations. All the great sufi masters practice a drug-free life as a way to experience the mysticism.

Hashish has been used for medicine, for entertainment, and for inspiring self-awareness in a religious context. It has been part of Muslim counter-culture for centuries, and today is still very much a part of the counter-culture. Only recently has it become something somewhat socially acceptable to do in public, in small venues, behind closed doors. Even then, the practice itself is oftentimes illegal, like in Egypt, though the police do turn the other way.

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6 thoughts on “Hashing it out: a brief glance at the historical usage of the cannabis plant.

  1. This is super interesting and I feel like an often ignored subject in Middle East. Hashish or marijuana almost has the same culture resistance that the United States. It’s funny that there is a movement for medical marijuana there too. Not so different in this aspect… Just wonder if Sufi is the religious counter culture to mainstream Islam? like the hippies in the United States.

  2. Pretty interesting how some substances create the same culture and atmosphere in total different parts of the world. Also interesting that the desire is so strong that people continue to smuggle it into Saudi Arabia even though people get their heads cut off for it. You’d think that be quite the deterrent.

  3. I agree with Jonathan on how its crazy how substances create the same culture all around the world. I specifically thought it was interesting how hashish is used for religious purposes.

  4. I think that in the United States it is common for the police to turn the other way to certain things. The issue of corrupt law enforcement is a problem that many countries are facing currently. Bribes, extortion and blackmail, you name it and almost every country has it. The fact that people use this substance all over the world and it is still not legal, even for religous purposes is outrageous!

  5. This article was stimulating and enjoyable to read. Substance use is always a attention grabbing subject matter. Nice choice! The comment made by Jonathan, “Pretty interesting how some substances create the same culture and atmosphere in total different parts of the world.” I totally agree with that statement. It WOWs me how so many cultures can develop to be so similar even if they are many miles away!

  6. Are there any places in the Middle East that is working towards making it legal? I think that it is interesting to see that some of the same issues on marijuana are occurring across the world. It’s also interesting that, similarly to the United States, people will go through great measures to obtain it. I grew up in a very religious household and my parents, even though they smoked massive amounts of it when they were younger talked about it to me like it was the worst thing I could possibly ever do. It’s interesting that in other cultures it actually has religious ties in the Middle East

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