Cannabis has been with humans since we figured out how to plow, literally. Since humans first began to move away nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyles and began early attempts to settle and farm in small groups, cannabis has pretty much always been there for us. The roots of cannabis go back even further, to central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Cannabis had its earliest human interactions due mostly in part to how fibrous it is. As early as 8,000 BCE the plant was discovered to have been used in ancient Mesopotamia (the area surrounding modern day Iraq and Iran). China has the longest known history of cultivating early, fibrous hemp plants. In 2016, over thirteen cannabis plants were unearthed from a tomb over 2500 years old. The plants were over 20 inches long each and were used to form a “shroud” over the burial inhabitant.
In 2006, researchers excavating the Yanghai cemetery in China’s Turpan Basin discovered a “large supply of processed female Cannabis flowers” that the researchers believed “were likely selected because of their ‘psychoactivity, possibly to facilitate communication between the human and spirit worlds and/or for its medicinal value’".
By 2700 B.C.E the Chinese had begun developing cannabis for medicinal use as well. The ancient emperor, Shen-Nung (c.2700 B.C.) is credited with being the father of Chinese medicine, and often relied on the cannabis plants to aid many symptoms like: gout, rheumatism, malaria, constipation, and absentmindedness. The Chinese were also the first to begin processing the valuable cannabis plants, and as early as 150 B.C.E began producing the world’s first forms of paper from hemp.
As time passed hemp became a popular commodity, and as countries began setting trade routes, cannabis travelled and became increasingly valuable.Western scholars consider the Scythians in Siberia to be originators of cannabis in Europe around the 7th century BC. Marijuana was an integral part of the Scythian cult of the dead in which they paid tribute to their deceased leaders by honoring their spirits and memories. Cannabis seeds were also widely used in daily life by Scythian people; cannabis was smoked for pleasure and was also used in religious practices. During the middle ages, hemp became a cornerstone of the economy and supplied much of the world’s need for food and fiber. Ships became dependent on hemp for Canvas, hemp ropes due to it being 3 times stronger than cotton while being resistant to salt water. In the United Kingdom, Henry VIII passed an act forcing all landowners to sow 1/4 of an acre, or be fined.
Cannabis remained the most popular textile for growing for centuries, even finding it’s way here to America as British colonies began to settle and lay the groundwork for our founding fathers to come forward. Cannabis, along with Flax, was the fashionable and profitable crop of the era. In fact Washington, Franklin, Madison and most notably Jefferson. Washington who grew hemp on all five of his farms, has left clues in his diaries that some speculate point to him growing not just industrial hemp, but possibly also recreational cannabis as well. The first president to officially have been on record as “smoking hashish” was President #5 James Monroe, who began consuming prior to becoming president while acting as ambassador to France (where recreational consumption was fashionable during the era) and continued to smoke until his death at 73. As America entered the turn of the century, conflicts began related to various waves of immigration into the young country.
After the Louisiana purchase, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, and the Mexican-American War, along with the numerous wars against various indigenous tribes, the demographics of the country began to change and with it the first growth in not only cultural diversity as a united country, but also the first inklings of class/wage gaps began to emerge. As established property owners began to feel at odds with growing numbers of citizens and inhabitants, tensions began to rise leading to racial clashes over the next several generations including the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movements, and various movements to protect and support indigenous peoples. By 1937 the tensions had led to the rise of the cult classic “Reefer Madness” ideology, and the first cannabis prohibition was put into full effect. By the 1970’s American climate toward recreational cannabis consumption had become so hostile that cannabis was included in the Nixon “War on Drugs” and as a result elevated to a Class 1 Substance by the newly formed agency that would later become the DEA. Learn more about the history of the prohibition and the legalization movement into modern day, here.
Cannabis has deep roots in human civilization, what are your thoughts?