Chemistry Medical Research News

Ancient Cannabis Intoxication Cures – The Past Proves the Present

Cannabis sativa has been a documented part of the human experience for several millennia. In the modern day, cannabis has become a popular illicit—and now legal—pharmaceutical compound enjoyed by many for its effect. But almost every person who uses cannabis has experienced ‘acute THC toxicity’: aka, getting too high.

It is no surprise to discover that our ancestors suffered from the same problem. And it turns out that they also tried to solve it. We were surprised to discover how many cures physicians and historians (who clearly suffered much less of a stigma against cannabis research) recorded for ingesting too much THC, from eras as long ago as the Roman Empire. And, even more intriguingly, the use of these remedies is actually supported by modern science.


The concept of consuming citrus fruits or products to modulate the effects of cannabis consumption has been present for hundreds of years. In 10th century Persia, medieval doctor Al-Razi offered a prescription for over-ingestion of cannabis seeds or hashish that includes drinking fresh water and eating “any acid fruit” (2). This advice was repeated in the surviving works of ibn-Sina and other Middle-Eastern physicians of the middle ages. When Cannabis sativa was first imported to England from India in the 1850’s, Robert Christianson recorded his experience with cannabis consumption and noted the usual aftereffects of his hangover “ceased entirely in a few minutes after taking lemonade” (2). American writers of the same period repeated the same advice as well, giving credence to the use of limonene to treat THC effects.


The Indian Ayurvedic tradition dictates that Calamus root, also known as Sweet Flag, is the best antidote for cannabis toxicity, and recommends adding the root powder any time cannabis is smoked to “completely neutralize the side effects of the drug” (2). Acorus calamus has been found to contain the compound beta-asarone, which functions as an acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor. Interestingly, alpha-Pinene has been shown to possess the same antagonistic activity towards AChE, an enzyme responsible for breaking down certain neurotransmitters in the brain.   Over-functioning of the enzyme can lead to memory loss—such as those associated with THC use! Inhibition of the enzyme can, therefore, decrease the memory-loss side effect of cannabis use.

Figure 1. The root of the pond plant Acorus calamus can be dried and ground to provide a source of AChE inhibiting molecules, a pinch of which fully negates the toxic effects of cannabis use (3).


Roman historian Pliny the Elder called cannabis gelotophyllis; literally, ‘Leaves of Laughter.’ He prescribed the ingestion of pine-nuts and black pepper in ‘palm wine’ to end the endless laughter and “all kinds of phantoms [that] beset the mind” (2). The pine-nuts and wine provide additional sources of limonene and α-pinene, but the black pepper contributes beta-caryophyllene to the mixture, which helps potentiate the activity of other therapeutic terpenes.

These ancient remedies for cannabis intoxication are both supported by and provide further proof of the experimental evidence gathered by modern science. Proving these claims experimentally could provide even further proof for the synergetic activity of these terpenes with THC, and provide a rational scientific basis for the consumption of terpene-rich cannabis products, or the use of terpenes to reduce unwanted THC side effects in patients and recreational consumers alike.


  1. Brooks, Mel. History of the World, Part I. 12 June 1981 (USA).
  2. Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011;163(7):1344-64.
  3. Paul Bromfield Aquatics. Acorus Calamus – Sweet Flag marginal. [April 2, 2018].

About the author

Terpenes and Testing

Leave a Comment