Scripture never mentions marijuana directly. You will not find it on the pages of either the Hebrew or the Greek texts. But then, neither are oranges, bananas, peaches, asparagus, spinach, artichokes, potatoes, tomatoes, rosary peas, castor beans (perhaps the most poisonous plant known to man), yews, poison ivy, poison oak, and numerous other plants both good and bad for health.
There are some who see Exodus 30:23 as a direct reference to marijuana. They cite Sula Benet, an etymologist from Poland who concluded in 1936 that the Hebrew words "q'nah-bosem" found at Exodus 30:23 were etymologically related to "cannabis" and then reached the further conclusion that the anointing oil included marijuana. She noted the similarities with words from other Middle Eastern language groups. She noted that the word could be used to reference a reed plant or a hemp plant, but she reached the definite conclusion that in the Exodus passage it meant the hemp plant. (I realize this was not the main point of her treatise, but it is the point that most impacts the present debate.) Others have stated that the Hebrew University supports this view, although no one apparently has been able to come up with a definitive source at that university for this statement. If you check out the Wikipedia article on cannabis (etymology), Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University suggests a different etymology for the word "cannabis." [Please note that people differ on the way to transliterate the relevant Hebrew words (to show the Hebrew word using English characters). I use "q'nah-bosem" for the passage in Exodus (the only place where the basic Hebrew word "qaneh" appears with the Hebrew word "bosem") and "qaneh" elsewhere. Some might use "kaneh" or other transliterations. The underlying Hebrew word "qof," "nun," "hey" (the three letters of the Hebrew alphabet used for "qaneh") remains the same.]
In my view Dr. Benet's evidence falls far short of proving the conclusion that "q'nah-bosem" was marijuana. The problem with her conclusion is at least seven-fold. First, there are no clear references that I have been able to find to cannabis in ancient Hebrew before the time of the Mishnah. The word "qaneh" is not associated with traditional aspects of hemp, either as rope, medicinal use, food use, or narcotic use in any of the ancient Hebrew texts, at least that I can find. Given this paucity of evidence, I do not think that anyone is able to reach a definite conclusion that the Hebrew word "q'nah-bosem" was a reference to cannabis.
Second, the fact that the Mishnah used a different word spelled with different Hebrew characters to reference marijuana lends support to a conclusion that the rabbis did not think that the word "q'nah-bosem" was a reference to marijuana. This is not a situation where the words "qaneh" and "bosem" ceased to exist and were replaced by "qanabos." The words "qaneh" and "bosem" continued to be used by Hebrew writers at the same time that "qanabos" came into the Hebrew vocabulary. And the words "qaneh" and "bosem" in post Biblical writings are not associated with hemp. Dr. Benet's thesis that "q'nah-bosem" over time became "qanabos" is undermined by this continued use of "qaneh" and "bosem" to mean something other than "qanabos."
Third, the support for linking "qanabos" to "q'nah-bosem" is not particularly strong. Of the six letters in the two Hebrew words "q'nah-bosem" (Hebrew words do not include the vowels), that is, the letters "qof," "nun," "hey," "bet," "shin," and "mem," only three of them appear in the word "qanabos." The letters shared are qof, nun, and bet. The letters hey, shin, and mem are not shared. Further, the word "qanabos" contains the letters "vav" and "samech," letters not contained in the earlier "q'nah-bosem." Given that three letters from the earlier word are left out and two letters are supplied, in a five letter word, does not provide great confidence to me that the source word for "qanabos" is "q'nah-bosem," even if the sounds are somewhat the same. While I acknowledge that the loss of the "hey" and the inclusion of the "vav" may be due to shifts in spelling, and while I acknowledge that the letters "shin" and "samech" sometimes cross over into each other's territory, I am at a loss to explain the loss of "mem." The "mem" in "bosem" is not a plural or other additive to a stem as it is in "elohim," as some sites wrongly state. It is the basic stem of the word.
Fifth, cannabis or hemp has long been a source of rope and yet the words for rope or cord in the Hebrew have no correlation to the term "qaneh."
Sixth, Dr. Benet's speculation is perhaps the best an etymologist can do, but it is hardly "proof" of the conclusion that "q'neh-bosem" is the source for "qanabos." Several web sources state that Dr. Benet's conclusions were confirmed by the Hebrew University in 1960; but no one seems to be able to say who at the Hebrew University provided the confirmation. Hebrew University is a big place. Unverifiable facts do not build credence to claims. As stated above, Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University suggests a different etymology, though he is far more cautious in asserting that his conclusion is the definitive statement on the issue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_(etymology
Seventh, even if the modern word "qanabos" should be properly traced back to the words "q'nah-bosem," a position I do not accept for reasons stated in this article, the conclusion that the ancient meaning of "q'nah-bosem" was cannabis is a leap. This is especially true given the continued use of "qaneh" in Hebrew to mean something different than "qanabos." Word etymology is interesting, but hardly conclusive as to what a word meant in ancient times. Our modern word "dynamite" comes from a Greek word "dunamis," but one should never read "dunamis" in the New Testament and think the ancient author meant "dynamite." Even within languages, the meanings of words change. One would be foolish to transpose the modern usage of the word "gay" to its intended meaning in 18th century documents. The modern word "matzpun" in Hebrew means "conscience," but the ancient Hebrew word meant "treasure." The word did not slowly change into another meaning. The modern word meaning "conscience" entered the Hebrew vocabulary in the Middle Ages as a new word, displacing the old word of the same spelling. This and other examples of changes in meaning in Hebrew words can be found in an article by Professor E. Y. Kutscher, Professor of Hebrew Philology at Hebrew University (http://www.adath-shalom.ca/hebrew_words_history.htm
). Even if one were to accept Dr. Benet's conclusions as the etymological source for the modern word "cannabis," which I do not, I have found no evidence, outside of what I see as a weak conclusion drawn from etymology, that the word "qaneh" ever meant hemp in ancient Hebrew. However, the fact that the word can mean the reed plant seems to be admitted by all, including Dr. Benet.