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Weedcraft: A brief history of cannabis and witches
History of Witchcraft and Cannabis

In the recent imagination, most people imagine stoners as apathetic 20 something guys, when in actual fact the sacred relationship between women and cannabis is a bond that was forged thousands of years ago through herbalism and traditional medicine, and even witchcraft.

Cannabis and hemp were a stable plant in folk traditions and traditional herbal medicine, which was widely practiced by women long before the invention of modern medicine. There is evidence of ancient Egyptians mixing salves of honey and cannabis to assist women during childbirth, and ancient Chinese medical practitioners also used cannabis as an anesthetic (with the Chinese term for anesthesia, “mázui”, literally meaning “cannabis intoxication”).

During the evolution of European universities in the middle ages, women were systematically excluded from studying medicine academically, which gave male medical practitioners a legal monopoly on “legitimate” medicine. Women practicing herbalism and non-legitimate medical practices could be charged with illegally practicing medicine, which further stigmatized female healers who were usually poor women. This combined with the Catholic Church branding women healers as “witches” the emergence of witch trials in Europe in the 1400’s lead to moral panic and full on hysteria, and practicing herbalism and traditional medicine could leave you hung or burning at the stake.

100s of Women Healers were accused of Witchcraft during Witch Hunts in the 17th Century
100s of Women Healers were accused of Witchcraft during Witch Hunts in the 17th Century

Not all these white dudes were too bad though, and in his 1652 publication The Complete Herbal Nicolas Culpeper, an English botanist and herbalist sang the praises of hemp and recognized ordinary women’s administration of the plant, writing “this is so well known to every good housewife in the country, that I shall not need to write any description of it.”

And if you ever wondered where the image of witches riding broomsticks came from, this stereotype has its roots in women practicing herbalism in the middle ages. Mentions of “flying ointment” in the middle ages describe the salve as a hallucinogenic concoction which witches would rub on their bodies and their broomsticks to enable them to fly cackling into the night (or even to just go on one hell of a spiritual trip).

Witch flying
The Stereotypical Witch stems from herbalism practitioners in the middle ages


Women would mix a salve made up of psychoactive plants like belladonna, mandrake, opium poppy, foxglove, and of course hemp, mixed with a base of butter or beeswax. These healer women were smart, and highly knowledgeable about the human body given the resources of the time (and the fact that nobody would let them into a medical school) – and knew that such salves would be absorbed into the body much faster through sweat glands and mucous membranes than by ingesting them orally. But how did they do it? Look no further than the investigation of Alice Kyteler, the first ever Irish woman charged with witchcraft in 1324 –

“in rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin”

You read that right – the easiest and most effective way to ingest your hallucinogenic flying ointment was simply by smearing it on the handle of your broomstick to deposit it into your vagina (or your rectum). This method worked much faster than ingesting the plants orally, and it also meant that the psychoactive substances from the plants could be absorbed by the body without being metabolized by the liver, which would cause severe intestinal discomfort and other negative side effects. In fact, vaginal cannabis suppositories are making a comeback – just look at companies like Foria making cocoa-butter infused suppositories for menstrual pain, and cannabis infused lubricant.

So, the next time you reach for your bong, blunt, weed vaporizer, weed-lubricant, dildo, or even just your broomstick to do a quick sweep around the house – remember the women who sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of pleasure, medical ingenuity, and maybe a little bit of occult fun. Ride on, my wayward daughters.

Happy Halloween from LeafScience!