Born in Poland, Benet was fascinated with peasant culture of Poland since her early youth. This interest eventually led her to enroll as a student of literature and philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities in the University of Warsaw, graduating with a degree in anthropology. Upon receiving her degree in 1935, she attended graduate school at Columbia University, where she received her doctorate in 1944. Also at this time (1936) she first made known at a seminar in Warsaw her theory that "calamus" in the Bible is hemp.
One part of Benet's writings which has attracted some modern attention is her claim that the herb known as kaneh-bosm or kneh-bosm mentioned in the Hebrew Bible may relate to religious use of cannabis. Kaneh-bosm is listed in the Book of Exodus as one of the ingredients of the holy anointing oil used in the tabernacle and later in the temple, and has historically and also by modern lexical and botanical scholars today been interpreted as calamus or related plants. By an argument based on comparative etymology Benet asserts that the word kaneh-bosm actually refers to the drug cannabis and was used in ancient Jewish religious rites, possibly as an intoxicant. Some pro-cannabis advocates have cited Benet's work as evidence that cannabis use has a long culturally important history, and that the criminalization and demonization of cannabis is a recent invention. According to Benet, cannabis appears in ancient Hebrew texts spelled with the Hebrew letters: “Kuph, Nun, Hé Bet, Shin, Mem,” translated into western alphabetic forms as ¹aneh-bosm, kaneh-bosm or kineboisin. The book of Exodus records the event of Moses receiving the instructions for making and distributing the hemp enriched holy oil, in the most auspicious tones.
Sulah Benet's claim has not found support in the academic community - neither among lexicographers nor botanists. The standard reference lexicons of Biblical Hebrew, and reference works on Hebrew Bible plants by scholars such as University of Jerusalem botanist Michael Zohary, do not even mention Benet's suggestion.
While Benet's conclusion regarding the psychoactive use of cannabis is rejected by most Jewish scholars, the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article on Plants follows Carl Linnaeus ("Linn.") in identifying kanabos (קַנַּבּוֹס) in the Mishnah as cannabis sativa hemp fibers, as hemp was a common commodity before linen replaced it.
- Konopie w wierzeniach i zwyczajach ludowych (1936)
- Song, Dance, and Customs of Peasant Poland (1951)
- Festive recipes and festival menus (1957)
- Riddles of many lands Carl Withers, Sula Benet (1956)
- Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp (1967)
- Abkhasians: the long-living people of the Caucasus (1974)
- How to live to be 100: the life-style of the people of the Caucasus (1976)
- Sula Benetova 1936 Le chanvre dans les croyances et les coutumes populaires. Comtes Rendus de Séances de la Société des Sciences et des Lettres de Varsovie XXVII.
- Sula Benet, Early Diffusions and Folk Uses of Hemp. (Reprinted in Cannabis and Culture, Vera Rubin, Ed. The Hague: Moutan, 1975.)
- Sara Benetowa (Sula Benet), Tracing One Word Through Different Languages. (1936). (Reprinted in The Book of Grass, 1967.)
- Sinai Scholars Society - Daniel Weissman "a finding that Sula Benet first mentioned in the 1930s3. Since then, much has been written on the subject, but no great evidence beyond the linguistic similarity has been found. This, along with the fact that other cognates of keneh bosem (like sweet calamus) are more accepted, leads one to believe that the “marijuana is in the Torah” argument is purely speculative and most likely false."
- Encyclopedia Judaica. Volume 8. p. 323.
- Booth, M. (2003). Cannabis: A History. Doubleday. ISBN 1409084892.