The Chinese word for cannabis is Má. Such a simple one-syllable word is indicative of China’s long-standing tradition of using cannabis. Not even mom is as simple (Māmā). Cannabis in ancient China was used ubiquitously: as both a healing herb and widely-used textile.
Cannabis has been so important to Chinese tradition that current medical terms like anesthesia (Mázuì) and numb (Mámù) have an adage to the plant. The same goes for other grains that the Chinese currently hold in high regard: flax (Yàmá) and sesame (Zhīma).
The start of cannabis in ancient China
Shen-Nung was the Chinese emperor in 2700 B.C.and is widely known as the father of Chinese medicine. He is the presumed author of Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medicine), the classic encyclopedia of Chinese herbal remedies.
Legend has it the farmer/doctor-king tried all his experiments on himself. He calls the cannabis plant “Ma Fen,” and notes both its medical and psychotropic effects:
“Ma Fen (Cannabis) is acrid and balanced. It mainly treats the seven damages, disinhibits the five viscera, and precipitates the blood and cold qi. Taking much of it may make one behold ghosts and frenetically runabout. Protracted taking may enable one to communicate with the spirit light and make the body light”
By the “seven damages”, Shen-Nung is referring to damage to the liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney, bone, or vessels; ‘ by “five viscera”, he means the five zang organs: heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidney. The Great Shen-Nung also proved even back then that experts used impenetrable medical jargon. He was also a big fan of personalized medicine — a practice that is only now taking full shape in modern times.
Given that the Chinese honor balance within the five viscera of body (much like how there is a natural balance to the five elements) it is no surprise that they have respected cannabis– Cannabidiol (CBD) one of the most commone cannabinoids found in the plant has been shown to promote homeostasis (balance) throughout the mind and body.
People had been using hemp fibers for cloth and rope for thousands of years before Shen-Nung tripped out on ghost visions and wrote about it, but his account is the first to denote the medicinal, psychotropic, and spiritual effects of cannabis in ancient China.
China has always been ahead of the curve. Their ancient civilization recognized the vast medical benefits and spiritual enlightenment properties of cannabis while the modern U.S government still classifies the plant as a Schedule I substance. Unfortunately, cannabis is now highly illegal in China and possession can be punishable by death. As a parting note, here are some Chinese vocabulary words to impress your smoke circle with.
Má (麻) means cannabis in Mandarin — the national language of China.
MáFen (麻粉) literally means “powdered cannabis” and was the original way Shen-Fung referred to it. This could mean “ground” cannabis.
Da Má (大麻) literally means “big cannabis” and is the more colloquial way to refer to the plant.
Má Ren (麻仁) is the Mandarin word for cannabis seed.
Mábó (麻勃) can be used to say “hemp erection” — a term that acknowledges the aphrodisiac effects of cannabis.
Xīyān (吸烟 ) means to smoke (technically “to suck smoke”). Usually used to describe smoking cigarettes. xī Da Má would mean to smoke cannabis.
In a sentence: Wǒ yào (I want) xī Da Má (to smoke cannabis) — 我要吸大麻