CANNUSE database has been created by scientists from the EtnoBioFiC research group based at the Institut Botànic de Barcelona and the Universitat de Barcelona. The research interests of the group are focused on the study of plant genome evolution and the exploration of the traditional knowledge of plants.

Publication search strategy

Our publication search was carried out in four major databases – Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed and Google Scholar – using the following set of keywords and exact terms: Cannabis AND ("folk medicine" OR "traditional medicine" OR “ethnobotany” OR “traditional knowledge”). In this first release of CANNUSE database, we focused on literature published in English language until the end of October 2020 containing first-hand information obtained through ethnobotanical interviews. Information obtained from review papers and books was only used when original research papers could not be found. In further steps, papers containing inconsistencies (e.g. wrong citations, unclear uses, uses in review papers not matching with the original research papers) were eliminated, and additional ethnobotanical papers were searched using the snowball method (Goodman, 1961).

After filtering and excluding the papers that did not fit our criteria, we obtained a final reference list that included 649 publications. Most of them were research papers (607 references, including six conference proceedings), while there were 38 review papers, two doctoral theses and two master theses. We registered a total of 2,330 data entries on traditional uses of Cannabis.

Data mining

For each reference, the following information was recorded: (1) type and year of publication, (2) country and region, (3) taxon, (4) vernacular name, (5) part of the plant or plant product used, and (6) type of use (medicinal, alimentary, fibre, psychoactive or other). We also recorded whether Cannabis had (7) animal or human use, if the plant was considered (8) toxic and noxious, and included (9) modes of preparation and administration, whenever they were provided by the authors. When other ingredients (plant, animal or other products) were added to the recipes and medicinal preparations, they were considered a (10) mixture. For medicinal use, (11) type of administration (external, internal) was also recorded when possible. Any additional information available (12) was also recorded. When vernacular names related to the use of the plant were provided (disease name, name of the recipe or product, etc.), we added them in square brackets.

Structure of the CANNUSE database and search options

The database is divided in five main use categories: medicinal, alimentary, fibre, psychoactive and other uses. Since Cannabis is sometimes considered poisonous, with several side effects, an additional category named toxicity was included. Each database entry was attributed to one or more adequate categories. For instance, in the case of a reference stating “traditional drink thandai, which has a sedative effect and is narcotic”, the entry was included in three categories: medicinal use (sedative), alimentary use (drink [thandai]), and psychoactive use (narcotic). The majority of authors also provided vernacular names of Cannabis, that can be found in a separate category next to each use. The database includes two search options. The first one – general search with key words, or the second – advanced search, where different filter options are available (country, year of publication, plant part used, etc.). Search through the database is facilitated by a user-friendly interface, which can be easily accessed from a variety of devices (e.g. smartphones, laptops and tablets).

Detailed information about CANNUSE categories

Medicinal use was divided into human or animal medicinal use. Depending on the reference, the uses were formulated in many different ways – sometimes as a name of the disease or condition treated with Cannabis (e.g. diabetes) and sometimes by its effect (e.g. antidiabetic). To simplify and make the search more efficient, uses were unified and renamed according to the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary (Law & Martin, 2020), but the original use (as stated in the paper) was also kept. To make search faster, human medicinal uses were classified in 16 human body system categories, according to Cook (1995) with minor modifications. Animal medicinal uses were not further divided into system categories.

Alimentary use was divided into food and drink categories. Traditional drinks containing Cannabis, which had medicinal, psychoactive or religious uses, were automatically added into the alimentary use category, even if this use was not additionally specified.

Fibre use category contains information on Cannabis use for the production of fabric, rope, sacks or other textile confections, and was not divided into more detailed categories.

Psychoactive use includes reports related to ‘narcotic’, ‘intoxicating’ and other effects altering perception, mood or consciousness. The term ‘narcotic’ can be defined as “a drug or other substance that affects mood or behaviour and is consumed for non-medical purposes, especially one sold illegally”, or as “a medical drug that relieves pain and induces drowsiness, stupor, or insensibility” (Stevenson & Waite, 2011). Precise interpretation of the term in publications was not always possible, hence all ‘narcotic’ references were classified into the category psychoactive use.

Other uses were separated into four additional categories: cosmetic, magicoreligious, firewood and miscellaneous use.

Toxicity: Even though in most regions plants from the genus Cannabis are considered as valuable medicinal plants, in certain regions of the world, they are considered toxic, with their consumption causing several side effects (e.g. diarrhoea, nausea, poisoning, etc.). All these reports were gathered under the category ‘toxicity’.

Vernacular names: Wild, cultivated or commercialised, Cannabis is largely distributed all around the world, and many of its parts are used for a diversity of purposes. For these reasons, it has not only been popularly named in many languages, but often with several terms in each one, depending on the part, the product or the use (cf., just in English, hemp, cannabis and marijuana). For the majority of references, authors provided vernacular names for Cannabis and they can be found here.


This research was supported by projects WECANN (CGL2017-84297-R, AEI/FEDER, UE) from the Spanish government, 2017SGR1116 from the Generalitat de Catalunya, PRO2020-S02-VALLES from the Institut d’Estudis Catalans. Manica Balant benefited from an FPI predoctoral contract of the Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades (PRE2018-083226). Airy Gras benefited from a postdoctoral contract from WECANN project. We thank Dr. Joan Uriach from Uriach laboratories and CIJA Preservation S.L. for their support in the project. We further thank Inés Fuentes Garcia for her help with the design and Mario Ruz for collaborating with the publication search..