Marijuana

Cannabis Time Capsule,1923: Ancient Chinese Remedy Was Actually Pot and Booze?

This story out of the Akron Weekly Pioneer circa 1921 is an odd one. Not for the ancient Chinese mysticism involved, though that's plenty intriguing. No, it's because we can't tell if it was meant to scare the general public, bewilder them or truly inform. It speaks of a "Chinese drug, used many centuries ago" that "had much of the effects of ether." But at least one of the ingredients gave off a certain skunky smell....

See also: "Medical Marijuana Dispensary Review: Herbal Wellness in Lafayette"

This potent mixture -- like ether or chloroform -- which had been in use since at least 220 A.D., appeared in an ancient medical text. "Ma yao", it's called. Translated: the remedy which takes away feeling.

So much feeling was apparently taken away that the ancient physician Haoua-t'ouo gave a dose of the mixture to a patient who became "as though he were deprived of life." The stuff was so strong that Haoua-t'ouo was apparently able to amputate limbs.

So what was this crazy mixture? Some crazy Chinese herb? Juice of an unknown plant? Nope. Just some pot and booze. According to The Science of Marijuana, an academic tome by Leslie Iversen in 2000, the "yao" part of the mixture was simply wine, even if the recipe for the mixture goes back to the Chinese god Shen Nung.

As for "ma," Iversen maintains that it's a Chinese pun for "chaotic," used in reference to the "stupefying and hallucinogenic" properties of the plant:

But hey, in 1923, an "ancient anesthetic" with a wild-sounding name allegedly as strong as chloroform was much, much scarier -- or at least print-worthy.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes