Cannabis chronicles: Persia and Arabia


The term “hashish” comes from Arabian phrase “hashish al kief”, which means, “dried herb of pleasure”. In the ancient Arabic drug formulary, Makhsanul aldawaiya, cannabis is described as “a cordial, a bile absorber, and an appetizer, and its moderate use prolongs life. It quickens the fancy, deepens thought and sharpens judgment.” In the Herbarium amboinence written in 1095 AD, Rumphius reported that the followers of Mohammed used cannabis to treat gonorrhea and asthma. There are also claims that it reduces bile secretion and diarrhoea, and brings relief to hernia.

Early medieval Arabian manuscripts reveal that hashish was used in the Gardens of Cafour, near Cairo, by fakirs, who wrote poetry to praise the intoxicating properties of the plant. In 1251 the garden was destroyed and many considered this as God punishment because cannabis use was viewed as form of immorality.

In traditional Mohammedan medicine, Tibbi, the properties of cannabis have been described as: promoting insanity, causing unconsciousness, weakening the heart, annulling pain, inhibiting secretion of semen and enabling the individual to gain control over ejaculation.

Sir Richard Burton
Sir Richard Burton

Cannabis is mentioned in Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights from 1885. The series of mythological tales dates back to at least the 10th century, and is centered on Persia, Arabia and China. For example, cannabis was mentioned in the “Tale of the Kazi and the Bhang-eater”, “Tale of the King Omar and His Sons”. Burton also explains in his notes that the Arab “Banj” and Hindu “Bhang” derive from the old Coptic “Nibanj”, meaning a preparation of hemp.

The Arab “Barsh” or Bars [is] the commonest kind [of hashish]. In India it is called Ma’jun (=electuary, generally); it is made of Ganja or young leaves, buds, capsules and florets of hemp (C. sativa), poppy-seed and flowers of the thorn-apple (Datura) with milk and sugar-candy, nutmegs, cloves, mace and saffron, all boiled to the consistency of treacle, which hardens when cold…These electuaries are usually prepared with “Charas,” or gum of hemp, collected by hand or by passing a blanket over the plant in early morning; it is highly intoxicating. Another aphrodisiac is “Sabzi,” dried hemp-leaves, poppy-seed, cucumber-seed, black pepper and cardamoms rubbed down in a mortar with a wooden pestle, and made drinkable by adding milk, ice cream etc. The Hashish of Arabia is the Hindustani Bhang, usually drunk and made as follows. Take of hemp-leaves, well washed, 3 drams; black pepper 45 grains; and of cloves, nutmeg, and mace (which add to the intoxication) each 12 grains. Triturate in 8 ounces of water, or the juice of water melon or cucumber, strain, and drink. The Egyptian Zabibah is a preparation of hemp-florets, opium, and honey, much affected by the lower orders, whence the proverb: “Temper thy sorrow with Zabibah.” In Al-Hijaz it is mixed with raisins (Zabib) and smoked in the water-pipe.”

In 1298, Marco Polo prepared the story of his 26 years of travelling through the Orient. He recounts the middle eastern legend of the “Old Man of the Mountain” who lived in Mulehet in Persia. According to the legend the Old Man, called Alaodin, created a magnificent, secret garden in the valley between two mountains, whose entrance was guarded by an impregnable fortress. His garden was based on prophet Mohammed’s vision of Paradise. Alaodin selected young men with proven fighting ability and drugged them. Then he carried them to the garden where they woke up and thought they were in Paradise. Then he drugged them again and sent them back to the fortress where they begged to be taken back, believing that Alaodin was the prophet. Alaodin would order them out of the fortress to murder one of his opponents before allowing them back. They were happy to die knowing they would be taken back to Paradise.

Silvestre de Sacy
Silvestre de Sacy

Many believed that the drug used by Alaodin was cannabis. There were a Neo-Islamist sect, founded in eleventh century by Persian, that worshipped the legend. They were not popular within the neighboring Muslim communities and were named “Hashshashuns” (from Arabic – addicted to hashish). In 1809, Silvestre de Sacy concluded that the garden paradise did not exist and it was illusion created by hashish. According to his theory the Old Man was likely given hashish to the group of murderers, known as hashishins. This word gave rise to the western word “assassins”. [1]


Abu Ali Sina (known as Avicenna) devoted a chapter to medical use of cannabis in his most famous book – Al-Qanun fi-l-tibb (The Canon of Medicine). Cannabis was also described in pharmacology book, De Gradibus, by Al-Kindi. Another reference to cannabis’ medical properties could be found in “The Book On Poisons” by Ibn Wahshtya. [2]

According to the Persian legend of Sheik Haidar from Khorasan he used cannabis and other substances to reach the woman he loved – Hathor. She was the goddess of the underworld and helped him to destroy his enemies. [3]


1. CANNABIS The Genus Cannabis



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