Aelius Galen, or Galen of Pergamum, is considered the founder of the scientific method as it applies to medicine. He was a Greek who studied under Hippocrates and practiced in Rome, first stitching up gladiators, then tending to emperors and nobles as his career advanced.
Fun fact: Hippocrates felt it was more important to “cure the person a disease has” instead of curing the disease a person has. This kickstarted the personalized medicine movement.
Needless to say, he got a lot of practice at triage and trauma working in the Coliseum, and he was a prolific writer.
He wrote that “hemp cakes” could produce a feeling of well-being. He warned, however, that too much could lead to intoxication, dehydration, and impotence. Thus, it was unlikely that gladiators used cannabis during battle, but they may have been prescribed some by Galen for recovery.
In one of his books, “On the Properties of Foodstuffs,” Galen noted the psychotropic effects of cannabis.
“The seeds create a feeling of warmth, and if consumed in large amounts – affect the head by sending to it a warm and toxic vapour,” he writes.
The good doctor noted it was customary to offer guests cakes made with cannabis seeds to get a little buzz on for social gatherings and stimulate appetite. Such practice turned into a tradition of good manners for hosts throughout ancient Rome, as cannabis was generally considered to be a “promoter of high spirits”.
Anti-marijuana propoganda has been known to cite to the Scythian’s use of cannabis. As ruthless warriors who used cannabis ritualistically, it was speculated by many that the plant could turn people into cold-blooded killers. Seems like the perfect drug for men about to enter a literal fight-to-the-death arena, right? I think we all know the answer to that.
Nonetheless, it’s unclear if Roman gladiators got stoned or if Galen used cannabis to help the gladiators recover.