The Ritual History of Smoking: Why Smoking Hemp Might Actually Be Good for You

Published January 10, 2021
The Ritual History of Smoking: Why Smoking Hemp Might Actually Be Good for You - Secret Nature

Today, smoking is commonly regarded with a sense of disgust. Some of us are old enough to remember smoky restaurants filled with acrid air, and decades of government propaganda has fully convinced the populace that smoking isn’t just bad for you—it’s wrong.

The modern stance toward smoking, however, flies in the face of thousands of years of human history. While it’s undeniable that we’ve used tobacco in the wrong ways in recent centuries, that doesn’t mean all forms of smoking are reprehensible.

Join us as we explore the history of smoking throughout the ages. At the end of our journey, we’ll examine modern evidence that smoking hemp might be better for you than anyone expected.

How long have people smoked?

The history of smoking goes back at least 5,000 years. At the same time that Native Americans were discovering religious and medicinal uses for tobacco, ancient civilizations in Europe and Asia began experimenting with other smokable plants—often of the hallucinogenic variety.

High-nicotine, mind-altering tobacco took on a central role in the shamanistic rituals of both North American and South American natives. Various tribes also used tobacco for antiseptic, analgesic, and other medicinal purposes.

The “peace pipe” has been widely lampooned as a humorous aspect of popular culture. It remains a historical fact, however, that Native Americans commonly used tobacco to forge inter-tribe alliances and develop hierarchical structures within communities.

Historical records of smoking in Ancient Europe are sparse. It’s likely, however, that paleolithic Europeans smoked opium, and they may have also smoked hallucinogenic plants native to the region.

In Ancient India, cannabis was primarily ingested in the form of bhang, a mild, THC-infused drink. To this day, however, Indians also smoke charas, which is similar to hashish and smoked in a clay pipe called a chillum.

Smoking often had religious significance

In some cases, ancient peoples smoked plant substances simply because they enjoyed the effects. In the ancient world, however, practically everything had spiritual significance of some kind, and this principle largely held true when it came to smoking.

The Mayans, for instance, revered tobacco as a divine plant. The Vedic Indians associated cannabis with Shiva, and they believed that this plant was imbued with a guardian angel.

Hallucinogenic plants, sometimes smoked, played critical roles in the shamanistic rituals of Central and South American natives. Shamans in this region seem to have smoked everything from the leaves of the coca plant to DMT-bearing ayahuasca vines.

Even today, many traditional cultures include smoking in their religious practices. The idea of smoking psychotropic plants to achieve spiritual transcendence has enjoyed a modern revival among moderners seeking alternatives to conventional religious practices.

Ancient people smoked for medicinal reasons

In the ancient world, the medicinal benefits of substances were often conflated with their spiritual properties. Ancient peoples commonly attributed healings to the acts of deities, not the physical properties of a medicinal substance.

Nonetheless, human beings have, for thousands of years, smoked to achieve specific medicinal benefits that aren’t directly tied to spiritual principles. The primary medical purpose of smoking in the ancient world was pain relief, which parallels one of the main reasons people smoke cannabis today.

The rise of commercial tobacco

Europeans caught their first whiff of tobacco in the late 15th century. According to legend, Christopher Columbus was gifted with tobacco by a South American native, and interest in this seemingly miraculous plant rapidly spread throughout Europe.

American natives largely used tobacco sparingly and for specific ritualistic purposes. In Europe, however, tobacco rapidly became a novelty that was enjoyed for purely secular reasons.

Some Europeans, believing that tobacco offered drying and heating properties in the context of the medical system known as humorism, used tobacco for medicinal purposes. From the beginning of its history in Europe, however, tobacco has been plagued with controversy.

In an era during which opium smoking was also becoming relatively common, moralists believed that smoking tobacco was yet another harmful vice. Even hundreds of years ago, some skeptics also decried the potential of tobacco to cause biological harm. 

The Bonsack machine, additives, and more

Tobacco smoking remained a luxurious habit of the elite until the invention of the Bonsack machine in the late 19th century. This industrial device made it cheap and easy to roll cigarettes, and cigarette smoking suddenly became popular among all strata of society in both the USA and the UK.

As cigarettes exploded into popularity, cigarette manufacturers sought to make their smokes last longer and burn better. During the early 20th century, dozens of different flame-accelerating and preservative substances were added to cigarettes.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists discovered a definitive link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer. In the intervening decades, we’ve learned that both tobacco and the additives present in cigarettes can be profoundly harmful.

The contemporary smoking stigma

Since the 1950s, public outcry against smoking tobacco has reached a fever pitch. We’ve learned that not only smokers, but also those around them, can be harmed by tobacco smoke.

Smoking has been banned in most public areas. Simultaneously, a comprehensive, government-sponsored education campaign has thoroughly disincentivized tobacco use.

As a result, the act of smoking itself has received a bad name. Nevermind the fact that human beings had smoked safely for millennia or that tobacco and its industrial additives were to blame. From the modern viewpoint, smoking is universally harmful.

Research into the benefits of smoking hemp

It’s only recently that the scientific community has gotten over its tobacco trauma sufficiently to investigate the overall impact of smoking in an objective light. It's an incontrovertible fact that smoking tobacco is harmful, but what about smoking cannabis or hemp?

In 1986, a small pilot study found that smoking cannabis increased oxygen intake and CO2 expulsion. More recently, a 20-year longitudinal study published in 2012 found that smoking one cannabis joint per day did not lead to adverse effects in the lungs.

Even more surprisingly, this thorough, long-term study found that smoking cannabis increased total lung capacity over time. To summarize, the available research indicates that smoking Cannabis sativa in moderation does not cause lung damage, and it might increase both your oxygen intake and lung capacity.

What is the most effective way to use CBD?

It’s one thing that smoking hemp in moderation doesn’t appear to be harmful. It’s another thing altogether that smoking CBD-rich hemp is the most bioavailable and effective way to ingest this cannabinoid.

CBD has been studied intensively for its potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Researchers have also investigated this cannabinoid for its effects on stress, anxiety, pain, and dozens of other conditions.

If you’re smoking CBD to experience this cannabinoid’s potential medicinal benefits, then you want to use it using the most potent and efficient method possible. Given the fact that no scientific evidence indicates that moderate hemp smoking is harmful, ingesting CBD by smoking CBD-rich hemp flower is the most logical option.

Can smoking be good for your lungs?

It will take a long time for modern society to get over the social stigma left in the wake of tobacco’s unexpectedly harmful properties. Already, however, the world is waking up to the fact that smoking hemp might be beneficial to your lungs, brain, and other parts of your body.

If you decide to smoke hemp, it’s vitally important to choose clean, lab-tested CBD flower products that don’t contain any agrochemicals or other contaminants. Put your trust in organic, indoor-grown hemp flower as you unlock the hidden benefits of smoking.

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