Medical Marijuana And Aka Foragers: Hunter-Gatherers Using Marijuana To Fight Intestinal Infections


Modern hunter-gatherer culture in Central Africa has been the subject of numerous studies, however, the one that we found most interesting is the one that reported on the correlation between the quantity of cannabis consumed (smoked) and infection with parasitic intestinal worms in modern foraging tribes. What remains unclear for the researchers is whether or not the ancient hunter-gatherer was aware of this benefit – did they use marijuana intentionally for this purpose or for some completely different ones. We know that ancient people relied of herbs heavily when medicine is concerned; pharmaceutics that we know of today didn’t exist and because of that, it is difficult to paint a realistic scientific picture of the motivation behind the consumption of marijuana in those ancient times. That is why scientists are relying on studies that look into the life and culture of modern hunter-gatherer culture in Central Africa.

Hieroglyphs Made A Difference

Cannabis has been around for thousands of years now and, together with other psychoactive plants, has played a significant role in civilizations throughout its history. We know that ancient people have been using cannabis to treat numerous illnesses as well as wounds. It was often used as a painkiller, mostly for treating headaches and chronic pain. It is also known that ancient surgeons in China used it as an anesthetic during surgery. Thanks to hieroglyphs, we learned that ancient Egyptians treated hemorrhoids with marijuana.

In the light of all those discoveries, it doesn’t come as a surprise that hunter-gatherers used cannabis to fight parasitic intestinal worms. Recent study conducted by a team of anthropologists from Washington State University looked at marijuana use among Aka (pronounced AH-kah) foragers, a small group of people that resides in Central Africa. You might know of them as Pygmies, which is a disrespectful term that refers to their physical appearance –most often they are under 5 feet tall. They are known for their strong identification with the tropical forest, which is why anthropologists describe them as tropical forest foragers. Anyhow, considering the psychoactive qualities of the plant that often has toxic effects on people who consume it, it is still a mystery as to why did the ancient Aka people decide to continue the consumption of cannabis despite its, at times, toxic effects.

Anthropology Saves The Day

“In the same way we have a taste for salt, we might have a taste for psychoactive plant toxins,” Ed Hagen, an anthropologist at Washington University Vancouver and an author of the study, said in the press release. “So we thought, ‘Why would so many people around the world be using plant toxins in this very recreational way?’ If you look at non-human animals, they do the same thing, and what a lot of biologists think is they’re doing it to kill parasites.” This suggests that ancient Aka people (as well as the modern ones who continued the tradition) might have been using marijuana “unconsciously” to fight parasitic worms in the same way that our dogs have the urge to eat some type of grass when they have stomach related problems.

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