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Lighting Up the Past: The Story of 4/20 and the Enduring Legacy of Cannabis as Medicine

A clock with a marijuana leaf with the time of 4:20 pm
4:20 pm

April 20th, or 4/20, has become a sort of high holiday for cannabis enthusiasts around the world. But how did this seemingly random combination of numbers become such a beloved celebration of all things green and leafy? The answer lies with a group of mischievous high school students in California who were quite literally, well, high on adventure.


In 1971, five friends at San Rafael High School, calling themselves the "Waldos," embarked on a mission to locate a rumored abandoned cannabis crop. They'd meet up at 4:20 pm, after classes and extracurriculars, by the school's statue of Louis Pasteur (hence the original term "420 Louis"). While their search for the elusive pot of gold was ultimately fruitless, the term "420" stuck - becoming their not-so-secret code word for marijuana. Fast forward a few decades, and these high school hijinks have transformed into an international counterculture phenomenon.


But 4/20 isn't just about getting high (though, let's be honest, that's a big part of it). It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the fascinating history of cannabis as medicine. And let me tell you, this plant has been working its herbal magic for a very long time.


The earliest evidence of cannabis as medicine dates back to around 2700 BC in China. Emperor Shen Nung, revered as the "Father of Chinese Medicine," is credited with including cannabis in his legendary pharmacopeia, the Pen-Tsao ching. This text mentions using cannabis for everything from gout and rheumatism to, I kid you not, malaria. Talk about a natural cure-all!


Cannabis use for medicinal purposes wasn't limited to China, either. Evidence suggests its presence in ancient Egyptian medical texts for pain and inflammation. Traveling further west, we find cannabis mentioned in the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian, who described its use by Scythians for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. The Indian subcontinent also embraced cannabis for medicinal use, with the ancient Hindu text Sushruta Samhita detailing its use for various ailments.


The Middle East and Africa offer even more examples of cannabis as a historical medicine. Arab scholars like Ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna) documented its use for pain, inflammation, and mental health conditions. And in Africa, traditional healers have been employing cannabis for centuries to treat everything from dysentery and malaria to, uh, difficult childbirths.


Now, I know what you're thinking - if cannabis has such a long and storied history as a medicine, why did it become so stigmatized in the 20th century? Well, my friends, that's a tale of politics, propaganda, and a whole lot of reefer madness. But the times, they are a-changin'. Thanks to the tireless efforts of 4/20 enthusiasts and cannabis scientists, cannabis is once again being embraced for its incredible medicinal properties. And just like those high school Waldos, we're on a mission to uncover the hidden treasures this plant has to offer.

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