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Cannabis Origins


Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved nearly a quarter million years ago. There is currently no evidence that humans used agricultural methods prior to 15,000-20,000 years ago. Theories conjecture a warming climate and/or intellectual advances led to the invention of agriculture; stone tools were modified to help sow plants into the softening earth. (Bentley JH,Ziegler HF, Streets-Salter H. Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015:15-19.) The period of climate warming, agriculture invention, and new stone tools is called the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age).


Ancestors of the cannabis plant evolved over 100,000 years ago in Central Eurasia. (Clarke RC, Merlin MD, Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 2013:24.) Prior to the Neolithic Revolution (also known as the Agricultural Revolution), there is no evidence of how hunter-gatherers interfaced with the cannabis plant, though cannabis seeds would have been a source of nutrition. It is also thought that hunter-gatherers used various drug-plants for medicine, including spiritual experiences, as early as the Paleolithic Era (Old Stone age). (Merline MD. COVER ARTICLE. Archeological evidence for the tradition of psychoactive plant use in the old world. Economic Botany. 2003;57(3):296.) The earliest archaeological evidence of cannabis as an agricultural crop comes from the steppe regions of Central Asia, or China, approximately 5-6,000 years ago. Various regional groups used the cannabis plant for a variety of different purposes including food, oil, fiber, and medicine (including an intoxicant associated with ritual). (Merline MD. COVER ARTICLE. Archeological evidence for the tradition of psychoactive plant use in the old world. Economic Botany. 2003;57(3):312-13)


From Central Eurasia, cannabis was spread outside of the region by both natural phenomena and humans. Consequently, cannabis grew as both a wild and cultivated plant in regions across the world. Cannabis plants that developed a consistent set of characteristics through adaptation and/or cultivation are referred to as landrace strains. Over the past 10,000 years, landrace strains used for food, oil, fiber, and/or medicine developed all around the world as a cash crop and a driver of trade.


Chinese written text from the first century AD gesture to the use of cannabis as medicine as early as 2,900 BC for such conditions as gout, rheumatism, and malaria. In the second century AD, cannabis combined with alcohol was used as an anesthetic in China. An Indian book written between 2000 and 1400 BC discusses the anti-anxiety properties of cannabis, which was often consumed as a milk-tea with other herbs and referred to as bhang. Medical application, such as fever reducer, digestive regulator, and mood elevator, of bhang is cited by the Indian government into the late 1800s. A first century AD Greek collection on medicinal herbs discussed cannabis as a remedy for earaches and such was documented into the 1500s. (Abel EL. Marijuana - The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York, NY: Plenum Press; 1980:5-7.)


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