Scientists now believe people grew the first cannabis plants in Asia. Exactly where and when is the focus of recent genetic research. It’s now possible that people in east Asia used cannabis sativa as long as 12,000 years ago.
While the history and significance of 420 seems like ancient history to most people, it’s now clear that the human race’s relationship with cannabis stretches back thousands of years. In some cases, farmers grew cannabis for hemp and rope. In others, it had medicinal purposes or became part of ancient rituals and ceremonies.
And yes, ancient cultures knew cannabis could get you high. “There’s some evidence that ancient cultures knew about the psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant,” History.com writes. “Burned cannabis seeds have been found in the graves of shamans in China and Siberia from as early as 500 BC.”
The Latest Study on Cannabis Origins
A recent study by a team of international researchers pinpoints east Asia as where farmers grew the first cannabis plants. They found evidence through genetic profiling of plants that indicates people in early Neolithic times grew cannabis sativa. They believe all modern cannabis emerged from these plants.
The researchers also wrote that these people in what is now China used the plant for fiber and medicinal purposes. They also theorize that growing cannabis to get high did not start until about 8,000 years later, much of it in Europe and the Middle East. There’s already evidence that people in China used cannabis as part of funeral ceremonies about 2,500 years ago.
To discover the first cannabis plants, the scientists sequenced 82 new genomes using seeds, leaves and plant materials from cannabis plants around the world. They combined this with 28 publicly available cannabis genomes. Through gene analysis, they determined the evolutionary relationship between the genetic information from different plants.
Anti-Cannabis Sentiment Is a Modern Thing
Before the 20th century, researchers or historians can find few if any examples of governments opposing the use of cannabis. That all changed in the 20th century, although legalization has reversed much of that in just the past decade.
History.com points out that people have known about the medicinal value of cannabis since ancient times. And in the last two centuries, scientists and doctors have found use of cannabis. For example, Irish doctor Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy wrote in the 1830s that cannabis helped reduce nausea in cholera victims. And pharmacies across Europe and the United States sold cannabis extracts by the late 1800s.
Recreational weed also was perfectly legal in many parts of the world. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Iranian nomads inhaled cannabis smoke to get high. History.com also noted that the popularity of cannabis grew throughout the Middle East in ancient times because while The Quran forbids using alcohol and other intoxicating substances, it does not specifically prohibit cannabis.
So, while the first cannabis plants may have grown in east Asia 12,000 years ago, the popularity of cannabis has spread throughout the world ever since. Even in ancient times, people understood its value, something the modern world is now coming around to once again.