Related Timeline Items
Chinese Emperor Shen Nong discovers many medicines (c. 2737 BCE)
According to Chinese legend, the Emperor Shen Nong discovered a wide range of medicines almost 5000 years ago. These included cannabis, the first caffeinated tea and ephedra (used in making amphetamine).
Emperor Shen Nong prescribed cannabis tea for gout, malaria, beriberi, rheumatism, and, curiously, poor memory. Caffeinated tea was recommended as an antidote to the poisonous effects of many other herbs. Ephedra was a natural stimulant that helped asthma.
Pedanius Dioscorides includes cannabis and opium in his list of medicines (c. 77 CE)
"De Materia Medica" (On Medical Matters), written by Pedanius Dioscorides, was the leading pharmacological text for 16 centuries. The five-volume work contains excellent descriptions of nearly 600 plants, including cannabis (for lessening inflammation, treating earache, and birth control). It also describes the medicinal value of animal products such as milk and honey and discusses chemical drugs such as calcium and arsenic. Dioscorides clearly refers to sleeping potions prepared from opium and mandragora as surgical anesthetics.
"De Materia Medica" is the prime historical source of information about the medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other cultures of antiquity and became the precursor to all modern pharmacopeias.
Greek physician writes of pleasures, benefits and drawbacks of cannabis (129 - c. 200)
Galen from Pergamon (129-c.200 CE) was a Greek physician and scientist whose writings contain three references to cannabis. Ancient medicine was founded on the utilization of herbs, and physicians were often developed herbalists. Personal observations, popular superstitions, medical experience, and information from other sources were collected in ancient medical treatises, which concentrated on the description of plants and their uses.
In “De alimentorum facultatibus,” he describes cannabis in some detail and says some people eat it toasted along with other substances to increase the pleasure of drinking during the meal. But, he warns, cannabis has a “hot” characteristic such that, if it is ingested in too much quantity in a short time, it is “painful for the head.”
In another text, he says that the juice from cannabis can be used for ear pain but too much can cause male impotence. And in a third text, he repeats the earlier point: “in the same way the agnocastus’ seed and the cannabis’ seed are not only pharmacological, but painful for the head.”
Hua T’o uses cannabis and wine to sedate patients for surgery (c. 140 - 210 CE)
Chinese physician and surgeon Hua T'o (c. 140-210) was famous for numbing his patients’ minds and bodies with mafeisan (a cannabis and wine concoction) before complex surgeries involving incisions and sometimes removal of body parts. As a young man, Hua T’o traveled and read widely. He probably first became interested in medicine while trying to help the countless soldiers who had been wounded in the many wars of that violent period. Hua T’o is believed by some to have been the discoverer of anesthetics, but he may have learned it on his travels, and the practice may have dated back hundreds of years in Chinese medicine.
Hua T’o performed operations as a last resort. He was also famous for his medicines and for a series of exercises known as the frolics of the five animals, in which the patient imitated movements of the tiger, deer, bear, ape, and bird (a kind of early physiotherapy). None of his original medical documents still exist. These seem to have been burned on his death. Hints of his work come from records from the 3rd and 5th Centuries CE.