People have been benefiting from the many uses of the cannabis plant for a very long time. Since the plant was discovered, cannabis cultivation has been beneficial to a wide variety of human uses and consumption, from medicinal use, to creating useful everyday products like fiber and rope, as biofuel, and for its psychoactive properties for religious ceremonies and recreational use. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to this magical plant, which begs the question – why does the cannabis plant have such a complex history? To truly answer this question, we have to go back in time to get a solid understanding of where the history of cannabis cultivation begins.
Ancient Origins of Cannabis
Humans have had a relationship with cannabis for thousands of years. It is believed that humans first discovered cannabis during the Stone Age – roughly 8,000 BC, whereas other reports believe the first encounters date back even further to around 10,000 BC. Regardless of the exact timing, there is no debate that cannabis has been utilized by mankind for a very long time. Asia is unanimously agreed upon being the birthplace of cannabis cultivation, although exact roots in Asia are still unknown. Cannabis is an indigenous plant to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. There are reports of China, South or Central Asia being the location of the origin, with many specifically pointing towards Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains as the birthplace of cannabis cultivation.
Hemp is widely believed to be one of the earliest plants to be cultivated for use by man. In Sanskrit, hemp is called ganja – a reminder at the ancient origins of the cannabis plant. Regardless of the specific cultivation origins in Asia, China was one of the first civilizations to widely implement cultivation of the plant to use it in medicine, food, pottery, textiles, paper, shoes, rope, clothes, and oil. The Chinese had a wide range of uses that greatly benefitted daily life, particularly in the oldest forms of Chinese medicine. Ancient Japan and Korea also utilized cannabis as an important staple crop for the wide range of uses.
Globalization of Cannabis
Trade routes and cross cultural contact through battles helped spread cannabis across the globe beginning around 1,500 BC. Aryans first introduced the cannabis plant to the Assyrians, Scythians, Thracians, and Dacians for shamanic uses. According to studies, Shamans from these cultures burned the flowers to induce a trance like state during ceremonies. Through trade routes and the ancient history of ritual and pharmacological uses, cannabis began to spread across the Persain and Arab worlds around the turn of the millennium. Iranians, Egyptians, and Africans were all introduced to cannabis due to trade and travel routes. In Africa, the plant spread southward, notably seen through ancient Ethiopian smoking pipes from around 1320 AD.
History shows that the spread of Cannabis throughout the world was unstoppable through the wide variety of medicinal, functional, and edible uses. Greek writer Herodotus wrote of cannabis in “The Histories” (dated somewhere around 500 BC and 425 BC), where he described rituals that the Scythians were partaking in using cannabis. He mentioned uses of offerings and also recreational marijuana smoking, which is the first known written report of cannabis being used in a recreational way.
Eventually, hemp made its way to Europe (introduced again, by the Scythians) where Europeans quickly began to cultivate hemp. The Greek, Roman, and even English isles all have evidence of a presence of hemp dating far back. The Vikings even brought hemp and hemp seeds to Iceland and Norway after acquiring them through their journeys even though they were difficult to cultivate in colder climates. Nearly the entire globe had come into contact with the magical plant by the time the 14th century began. Notably late to the party, North and South America came into contact with Cannabis fairly late after likely being imported through various ship expeditions and slave routes.
Modern Cultivation of Cannabis
The modern world is no stranger to cannabis, and in the early modernization of marijuana there were very few restrictions and regulations around cannabis, other than rules to grow more hemp. Restrictions began being placed on cannabis as early as the 14th century in the Islamic world, only to be followed by restriction in colonial countries around the 19th century. Cannabis plantations in the United States flourished in the early cultivation days of North America. Around 1753, the first classification of the Sativa L Cannabis species was officially documented by Carl Linnaeus. Five years later, Indica from India was discovered and classified by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. This marks the earliest stages of cultivation and classification of marijuana in the modern world.
Today, legalization and regulations are placed heavily on the cultivation of cannabis throughout many parts of the world. Although we have a robust understanding of the ancient history of the plant, decades worth of restrictions have been enacted to give cannabis a whole new meaning. Over the past few decades, the United States has been through many phases of legalization, from no laws whatsoever, to federal illegality, to medicinal legality, to where we are now with many states now legalizing and decriminalizing the cultivation and use of cannabis for many of the same purposes people have been using the hemp plant for thousands of years.
Mankind has a long and complex history with the cultivation and many uses of the cannabis plant. There is no doubt through the widespread use and spread throughout the world that humans have a unique fascination and relationship with cannabis. Luckily, we are getting over the loop of cannabis being illegal and widely frowned upon. There is no doubt that cannabis has helped shaped civilizations in the past, and will continue to be a part of our future.