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Did women use cannabis as medicine in ancient Egypt?




An empire that spanned 3,000 years, from 3100 BCE to 332 CE, ancient Egypt amassed enormous wealth thanks to its rich agricultural lands and abundance of minerals such as gold, granite and, turquoise. Protected from invasions by the area’s unique geography of desert, coastline, and Nile river floods, the region also benefitted from relative political stability—especially when compared to neighboring regions where warlording was fierce and ongoing.

Wealth and stability in ancient Egypt allowed for specialized education to flourish, especially medicine. Egyptian doctors—both men and possibly women—were the best in the ancient world and highly sought after by foreign kings and queens. Even as Egypt’s political power faded, scholars say medical knowledge flowed up from Alexandria into the bourgeoning empires of Greece and Rome, and not the other way around.

Ancient Egyptian remedies included things like honey, crushed insects, opium, and also cannabis, according to some scholars (but not all). Archeologists think a woman’s role in medicine was mostly relegated to gynecology and obstetrics, with medical treatments listed in ancient scrolls that include cannabis. In the late antique era, many more women functioned as professional practitioners of magic and spells. Could cannabis have been among the common herbs used in their rituals? 

Was cannabis used in ancient Egypt?

Whether through human activity or blown in with the desert sands, cannabis pollen was found in the tomb of Ramses II, circa 1200 BCE, along with two additional soil samples from pre-dynastic periods (prior to 3200 BCE). While archaeologists maintain there is weak physical evidence of cannabis use in ancient Egypt, there are written references to a plant some scholars are confident was indeed cannabis.

In 2350 BCE, the Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom were carved into stone. On these stone tablets is the hieroglyphic symbol smsm.t—or “shemshemet”—which references “a plant from which ropes are made.” Archeologist W.R. Dawson argued in a 1934 edition of The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology that this is a reference to hemp. Not all scholars today agree, but many accept that shemshemet refers to cannabis, as it’s also written in medicinal contexts on ancient scrolls, called papyri. 

Whether or not ancient Egyptians used cannabis for its euphoric qualities is also debated by archeologists—“let’s get high!” was not explicitly written down by ancient scribes. However, medicine and magic were inextricably linked in the ancient world: ritual fumigations accompanied by spells and incantations were as much a part of medicine as diagnostics.

Could cannabis have been used in fumigations for the unwell, spiritually compromised, or to rouse the gods? There is no hard proof, but it’s possible.

Women, medicine, and magic

Women in ancient Egypt had full rights under the law and enjoyed more freedoms than their contemporaries in neighboring lands. They held property, personal wealth, and ran their own businesses. While peasant girls (and boys) weren’t typically educated, daughters from wealthier households were privately schooled alongside their brothers.

In the medical field, midwifery was largely the domain of women, while it’s thought mostly men became physicians. In Women of Ancient Egypt (2013), Egyptologist Barbara Watterson writes of a school of midwifery at the Temple of Neith (goddess of creation) in the city of Sais.

A school thought to have trained women, one can speculate Agnodice of Athens went here to learn. As the legend goes, Agnodice, from the 4th century CE, went south to Egypt for medical training after being denied it in her native Greece. Upon her return to Athens, disguised as a man, she was so good at her job that jealous Greek doctors accused her of seducing patients and put her on trial.

In addition to obstetrics, midwifery students learned of herbs, spells, incantations and special amulets to protect mothers and newborns from malevolent spirits. Writes Watterson: “The earliest ‘doctor’ was a magician, for the Egyptians believed that disease and sickness were caused by an evil force entering the body.”

It wasn’t just educated women that deployed herbaceous healing spells—or curses. From the late antique era, between 250 and 750 CE, multiple manuscripts have been found for common folk containing magic recipes. Listing things like “wild herbs, froth from the mouth of a black horse, and a bat,” these spells were drawn up and carried out by professional herbalists and healers who were often old women.

Because we know Greek and Roman doctors were writing about cannabis in the same time period, and the plant had long been used in neighboring Syria and Mesopotamia, it’s easy to speculate cannabis was also included in these laypeople’s spells for love, luck, health, and revenge. The Coptic Magical Papyri Project is currently collecting hundreds of these recovered manuscripts on magic in an attempt to decode and organize them all, with a projected completion date of 2023.

Seshat: Goddess of medicine, learning, and cannabis

Seshet, egypt, medical cannabis

The goddess Seshat, with her seven-pointed-star headdress. (Bradhenge/AdobeStock)

We can’t talk about ancient Egypt, medicine, magic and cannabis without mentioning goddess Seshat or Seshet: patroness of scribes, mistress of builders, goddess of the House of Life—a term to include all medical schools.

Seshat’s headdress, a seven-pointed star, bears a striking resemblance to cannabis. It was thought that when mortal scribes committed words to paper, Seshat received a copy and catalogued it with the gods. When temples were built, rituals in honour of Seshat included “stretching of the cord” which some scholars say was hempen rope.

It was uncommon for a female deity to preside over men, making Seshat a curious choice to officiate medical schools. Because we know that writing things down in ancient times was expensive, time-consuming, and mostly reflected the interests of those who could afford scribes (i.e., men of influence), it’s possible more women were active in medicine, magic, and the healing arts than what was recorded a few thousand years ago. 

What is clear is ancient Egyptian elites placed immense value in writing down diagnostics and medico-magical treatments, which could have been used by anyone trained to read, male or female.

A timeline of ancient medical cannabis use

If we follow that shemshemet is cannabis, there are a number of applications cited by ancient papyri that make sense today, given modern cannabis’ track record of easing pain, nausea, and anxiety. Here’s what’s been found so far:  

1880 BCE: The Kahun Papyrus is considered the first textbook on gynecology and believed to be a copy of a much older document. While it doesn’t mention shemshemet directly, it does include fumigation, suppositories, edible medicines, and massages made from plant, animal, and mineral matter for almost all maladies of the uterus.

1700 BCE: According to ethnobotanist Ethan Russo, the Papyrus Ramesseum III has the earliest mention of cannabis as an eye treatment: “celery, hemp, is ground and left in the dew overnight. Both eyes of the patient are to be washed with it early in the morning.”

1500 BCE: A complete medical tome, the Ebers Papyrus is 65 feet (20 meters) long, listing hundreds of spells and remedies. Shemshemet is mentioned:

  • To “cool the uterus”: shemshemet is ground in honey and used as a vaginal suppository. Whether this was for laboring women, menstruation, or a different gynecological issue is unclear.
  • To dress a painful toenail, shemshemet was mixed with honey, ochre, and other herbs as a poultice. (Many Egyptians worked barefoot in flooded agricultural fields, making infected toenails a common problem.)

1300 BCE: The Berlin Papyrus offers a treatment for aaa, thought to be schistosomiasis, or fluke worms, which enter the bloodstream via the soles of the foot. Driving away aaa included fumigating the patient with a combination of shemshemet, ground up insects, and grains. Another passage mentions cannabis made into an ointment for fever.

1200 BCE: The Chester Beatty Papyrus offers a rectal suppository made of shemshemet, goose fat, and acacia leaves to treat diarrhea (likely cholera). Another prescription for headaches is said to include cannabis.

800 BCE: In the Greek epic The Odyssey, Helen of Troy sprinkles into wine “a drug that can lull all pain and anger,” a remedy shown to her by an Egyptian woman. Called “nepenthe,” some scholars say the drug in question was opium, while others argue the effects described in the story are closer to cannabis.

In the first century CE, Greek historian Diodorus Siculus documented Egyptian women using nepenthic potions reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey. Egyptian wine vessels excavated from the Coptic era (third and fourth centuries CE) also contain traces of cannabis, making it plausible nepenthes were cannabis-based.

100-200 CE: Ethan Russo offers that the word for cannabis changed to msˆy during these centuries. A papyrus from this time mentions treating abscesses with cannabis poultices, and tumors with cannabis heated along with minerals and other plants. “The latter passage is particularly interesting in its specification for heated cannabis, suggesting decarboxylation of phytocannabinoid precursors might have been operative,” he wrote.

Egyptology is an evolving science. The painstaking academic care used today to uncover and classify artifacts, along with technologies that can back up educated guesses, were not in place when Western archaeologists lifted ancient objects from their resting places in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

As such, what has been written (in the West at least) about ancient Egypt can be refuted in the future with a new discovery or by re-evaluating old assumptions with a fresh perspective. The controversy surrounding ancient Egyptian use of cannabis, and medical women who wielded the herb, may not be inconclusive forever.  



Jay-Z announces new line of cannabis products dubbed Monogram




Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z is launching his own cannabis brand in partnership with Caliva, the California-based weed company that hired the star as its chief brand strategist last year. 

Named Monogram, Jay-Z’s line of marijuana products launched its website and social media accounts on Friday.

“Monogram marks a new chapter in cannabis defined by dignity, care and consistency. It is a collective effort to bring you the best, and a humble pursuit to discover what the best truly means,” Monogram’s website highlights.

No further information on the specific products that will be sold under the Monogram brand has been released yet. 

However, according to the website, the flower used in Monogram’s products is grown in small batches, with a board of “cannabis experts” tasked with grading and hand-selecting each flower that goes into the line. 

The New York rapper joined Caliva in 2019 as a brand strategist, which entailed overseeing the creative direction of the company. Furthermore, Jay was focused on Caliva’s social equity efforts as he aimed to increase economic participation of people disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition in the newly legal industry. 

As for when consumers can expect to try Jay-Z new products, a spokesperson told the New York Daily News Monogram still hasn’t set its dispensary release schedule. The line will “definitely be available across all of California,” according to the spokesperson.

In other news, basketball star Shawn Kemp who played for the Seattle SuperSonics is also showing his love of pot. Kemp is set to open Seattle’s first black-owned marijuana dispensary this Friday. The Sonics legend named his dispensary Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis and is hoping to serve as a model for others in the black community who might be interested in foraying into the legal marijuana business in the area. 

“I’m looking forward to welcoming Sonics fans on a regular basis, starting with opening day. I hope that Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis will be an inspiration for people to get involved with the legal cannabis industry, especially people of color,” the Reign Man said in a press release. 


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Analysis: Legal weed in Texas would generate over $500 million in tax revenue per year




Legalizing marijuana in Texas could generate over half a billion dollars in tax revenue per year and create more than 40,000 new jobs, according to the results of a report released by Vicente Sederberg LLP earlier this month. 

Legal cannabis sales in Texas would reach about $2.7 billion annually based on the fact that there are more than 1.5 million residents over the age of 21 that consume pot on a monthly basis, the analysis calculated. 

The estimated tax revenue was calculated under the assumption Texas would tax marijuana sales at the same rate as Colorado at 20.6%. This would amount to $1.1 billion in taxes per biennium, while Texas could collect an additional $10 million per year through the issuing of marijuana business licenses.

The report notes Colorado has raised nearly $13 million on average per year just from license and application fees. Furthermore, the report indicated that current taxpayer dollars that go towards marijuana arrests and prosecutions amount to $311 million per year – money that Texas would save should it legalize pot.  

“States across the country are seeing the benefits of legalizing and regulating cannabis. It is inspiring lawmakers in prohibition states to reexamine the efficacy and costs of their current policies and take a closer look at the alternatives,” said Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente Sederberg.

“The goal of this report is to provide a snapshot of the economic benefits Texas would experience if it started treating cannabis more like alcohol for adults 21 years of age and older,” he commented on the new report

Aside from the tax revenue that legal weed in Texas could generate, the report highlighted marijuana’s job creation potential. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 new jobs would be available in the newly legal industry, with tens of thousands of additional indirect positions, the report estimated.  

Hauser also pointed out the added economic benefits of legalization in Texas given current uncertainties provoked by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Texas is leaving an enormous amount of money on the table by keeping cannabis illegal,” according to him. 

Texas was once known for having the strictest drug laws in the U.S., but the state has softened its stance on cannabis in recent years. A very limited medical marijuana program was established in 2015, while, more recently, cannabis possession arrests in the state have been significantly declining after hemp became legal.   


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Cannabis Businesses Invest in Their Futures with Political Donations




Cannabis companies have been making political donations for years, and in 2020, those donations have continued to grow. In fact, some companies are investing aggressively to shape the future of the cannabis industry either by donating directly to campaigns and politicians or through political action committees (PACs) that support cannabis-friendly candidates and legislation.

So far in 2020, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that the leading cannabis companies, cannabis-related companies, and cannabis trade associations making donations to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups are (in order of 2020 donation amounts to date):

  1. Canty Ventures
  2. National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
  3. Have A Heart
  4. Beyond Broadway LLC
  5. Sea Hunter Therapeutics
  6. Cannabis Trade Federation
  7. MedMen
  8. Dan Kopp & Co
  9. Acreage Holdings
  10. Weedmaps
  11. Trulieve

Compare that list to the list of large cannabis company donors in 2019, which included Curaleaf, Parallel Brands (formerly Surterra Wellness), Tweed Inc. (part of Canopy Growth Corporation), Canndescent, and Trulieve. Even ancillary cannabis companies like Dama Financial, WeedMaps, and Acreage Holdings donate large sums of money in 2019 according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

State Donations in 2020

There are a number of legalization (adult-use and/or medical use) and decriminalization measures on state ballots in 2020, and cannabis companies, ancillary companies, and professional associations have been actively donating directly to related campaigns and initiatives at the state level.

In Arizona, Harvest is the biggest donor in support of legalization (Prop. 207) followed by Curaleaf, MedMen, Cresco Labs, Copperstate Farms, Arizona Dispensaries Association, Herbal Wellness Center, and Oasis Dispensaries.

Mississippi’s medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot (Initiative 65) has received donations from the CEO of Heritage Properties (George Walker III), Ghost Management Group (which owns Weedmaps), and the owner of ABKO Labs (Robert Lloyde II).

Ghost Management Group and its Weedmaps subsidiary also donated to support Montana’s and New Jersey’s legalization initiatives. In addition, New Jersey’s legalization Question 1 on the November ballot received donations directly from The Scotts Company (the maker of Scotts Miracle Gro), Pashman Stein Walder Hayden (a New Jersey cannabis law firm), and Compassionate Care Research Institute (a New Jersey dispensary).

Keep in mind, these donations don’t include the donations that cannabis companies and ancillary businesses donate to PACs or that they invest in lobbying. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the biggest investments in lobbying from cannabis companies, ancillary companies, and trade associations in 2020 have come from the Cannabis Trade Federation, National Cannabis Roundtable, Canopy Growth Corp, Curaleaf, Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, Parallel Brands, Cronos Group, Charlotte’s Web, NCIA, Acreage Holdings, Dama Financial, Trulieve, California Cannabis Association, and Oregon Cannabis Association.

Political Donations from Cannabis Interests Are Not New

One of the biggest political donation stories happened in California when cannabis businesses donated aggressively to former Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s campaign to become the state’s governor in the 2018 election. According to the Los Angeles Times, he secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from cannabis cultivators, processors, and retailers.

By May 2018, Newsom had raised nearly $500,000 from cannabis companies, but he wasn’t the only politician in California to receive money from cannabis interests. At the time, the state’s Treasurer, John Chiang, and Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, also secured donations from the cannabis industry

And of course, these donation numbers don’t even include the many donations from PACs that businesses and individuals working in the cannabis industry donate to. Many of these funds go directly to specific candidate’s fundraising efforts. For example, the Coastal Pacific Political Action Committee held a fundraiser in June 2017, and six days later, the PAC donated $50,000 to Newsom’s campaign.

Another noteworthy political donation happened in Florida over the course of multiple years. The Miami Herald reported that Surterra donated $1.1 million to Florida political candidates and committees between the summer of 2016 and March 2018. Trulieve donated $564,000 during the same period, and Curaleaf donated $469,000.

In Illinois, the doors for cannabis companies to make political donations opened in March 2017 when a federal judge ruled an Illinois provision that did not allow marijuana companies to make campaign contributions in the state was unconstitutional.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the provision prevented contributions to political committees that were established for the purpose of promoting candidates for public office. Since that decision was made, cannabis companies like PharmaCann and Cresco Labs have donated significant amounts to the state’s political candidates and committees.

Business and individual donations to marijuana-friendly political candidates have also become standard in Nevada and Colorado. During the 2016 elections, dozens of marijuana cultivators, processors, and dispensaries donated $75,000 to Nevada legislators according to the Nevada Independent.

Looking back further in history, Florida Senator Rob Bradley received his first donation from a cannabis company in 2015 when Costa Farms donated $10,000 to his political committee.

Similarly, cannabis businesses have actively contributed to Colorado political campaigns for years, and many of those businesses have been holding political fundraisers to support their preferred candidates. PBS reported back in 2014 that Colorado’s congressional delegation had received $20,000 during the first nine months of 2014 from marijuana businesses. Also in 2014, a fundraiser to support political candidates that was held by Tripp Keber of Denver, Colorado’s Dixie Elixirs & Edibles generated $40,000 in donations.

What’s Next for Political Campaign Donations from Cannabis Businesses?

As the cannabis industry continues to grow and more states legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis, laws will continue to evolve. Cannabis businesses and ancillary businesses should absolutely be concerned about which politicians are making those laws.

With that said, it’s safe to assume that political donations from the cannabis industry will get larger and more frequent in the coming years. Let’s put the donations from cannabis companies to political campaigns into perspective. During the first half of 2019, the cannabis industry gave more than $200,000 to members of Congress, which was up from $248,504 donated throughout all of 2018. Compare that to the $42 million that pharmaceutical companies donated to political campaigns across the United States in 2018.

With those numbers in mind, it’s guaranteed that political donations from cannabis and cannabis-related companies will continue to grow. Savvy businesses are paying attention and getting involved in an attempt to influence the regulations that could make or break their companies’ futures.

Originally published 8/24/17. Updated 10/23/20.


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