A global perspective - The cultural significance of cannabis

Published May 5, 2023 01:00 p.m. ET
Unsplash / Jeff W

Throughout history, humans have used cannabis for its cultural, recreational, and medicinal benefits. This phenomenon dates all the way back to ancient Chinese medicine. Today in modern societies, cannabis plays an integral role in cultures, religions, and traditions from all around the world.

Here, we’ll explore the cultural significance of cannabis from a global perspective.

Cannabis in ancient cultures

Several ancient cultures documented their use of cannabis for medicinal and spiritual purposed. The plant has always been utilized as a medical aid to treat common ailments and diseases, like malaria, rheumatism, arthritis, and constipation. In India, the history of cannabis has roots in some of the most highly practiced religious ceremonies.

In the Middle East, cannabis was often consumed or applied topically for its medical benefits. There it’s also viewed as a healthy sometimes integral ingredient in certain traditional foods, such as hashish candy. In Africa, cannabis is historically viewed as a therapeutic tool, with several tribes relying on its healing properties for hundreds of years to treat common issues like dysentery, snake bites, and low sex drive.

Cannabis in modern-day cultures

Cannabis has historically influenced cultures around the world, so it’s really no surprise that it continues to play an important role in modern-day societies of today.  In Jamaica, cannabis is still deeply connected to the Rastafarian religion which calls for its use in several traditional ceremonies as a sacrament. In this country, the plant is also used as a natural remedy for many common ailments.

The Western world has been slow to accept cannabis as either a medicinal treatment or recreational outlet, but as more countries and states legalize it, we’ve witnessed a significant shift in how people feel about the plant. One great example of this is California, where the plant is so deeply ingrained in the local culture due to exposure, as dispensaries and products have quickly become commonplace.

Cannabis in Indigenous cultures


Cannabis is prevalent and important in many indigenous cultures all around the world, from South America where the plant has deep roots and connections to medicinal and spiritual wellness, to the Amazon rainforest, where it’s a commonly used essential ingredient in many traditional healing rituals

In North America, there is a well-established relationship and history with cannabis in indigenous cultures, who often considered the plant to be sacred, using it to deepen spiritual connections and heal. Recently, indigenous cannabis growers, processors, and suppliers have become key players in the industry as demand for natural remedies and homeopathic healing practices is on the rise.

Challenges and opportunities

Historically cannabis has played a major role in cultures and religions all over the globe, but in this modern era, people’s attitudes aren’t always quite so accepting. The war on drugs stigmatized both the plant and anyone who uses it, especially in Western cultures.

However, legalization and decriminalization have laid a healthier foundation making it possible for researchers, educators, consumers, and businesses to take full advantage of the fully regulated industry.


The cultural significance of cannabis is clear from ancient civilizations to modern-day societies. Its widespread use as a medicine and a way to deepen one's connection to religion is clear, while the future of the plant's role in culture remains blurry and full of potential opportunities, many of which we may not have even considered yet.

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