History of Marijuana: An All-Encompassing Journey Through The Ages

History of marijuana

Cannabis has been used throughout the ages by many ancient civilizations and while the longevity of the relationship between humans and marijuana is already pretty much common knowledge among cannabis aficionados, the precise details are still relatively unknown, especially for the younger generations of weed smokers.

The history of marijuana is actually quite entertaining, so if you enjoy the calming feel-good effects of this incredible plant, you should definitely set aside a few minutes of your time to get to know your favorite photosynthetic organism a bit better.

For those who are uncertain, or even strictly oppose marijuana consumption for both medicinal and recreational purposes, perhaps a glance through the entire history and all the different cultures and nations who benefited in profound ways from the use of this plant will help change their mind, because the entire concept that cannabis is some kind of a devious substance is essentially completely modern, and entirely unrealistic to say the least.

Cannabis plants first evolved in Central Asia, particularly in the regions of today’s Mongolia and Siberia.

Evidence suggests that cannabis was grown by humans for 12,000 years, which makes it one of the oldest cultivated crops in the entire history of mankind.

Marijuana world map

Once first civilizations got established, China was the main cultivator of the region and around 6000 B.C. many of its numerous provinces heavily relied on the cannabis trade and production.

Different kinds of marijuana were needed and used in old China, and the first uncovered records of the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes dates around to 4000 B.C.

The legends of the Chinese people depict Emperor Shen Nung using marijuana as a medicine in 2737 B.C., for rheuma, gout and other similar ailes.

But the hard evidence of Nungs existence is still scarce to this day, so it’s still somewhat unclear if he was a mythical or a historical figure.

Scorched cannabis residue was uncovered in the Siberian kurgan burial mounds that dates around the year 3000 B.C., and the burial tombs of high officials had mummified psychoactive cannabis in the Xinjiang area of China, somewhere around 2500 B.C.

At approximately year 2000 B.C., Korean seaside farmers who were in contact with the Chinese, brought the plant to Korea, where it slowly started to spread throughout the nation.

Between 2000 and 1000 B.C., the Koreans were frequently attacked by the Aryans (who were a Indo-Iranian people), and they carried cannabis to India, where it quickly became broadly popular.

Marijuana’s next stop was the move to the Middle East where it was transferred most likely by the Scythians, and in that era they occupied Russia and Ukraine for numerous years, where the plant also made its first appearance.

Germanic nomadic groups transported cannabis to Germany and ultimately to other countries of central Europe, and during the fifth century A.D. Anglo-Saxon invasions, it was brought to the islands of Britain.

Traces of cannabis seeds have also been found in Viking shipwrecks, dating to the ninth century, and it was very common for the cultures who regularly used shipping to manufacture sturdy ropes from hemp.

From Europe, during the next few hundred years it slowly spread across Africa, and later on to South America with the conquistadors in the 17th century.

The majority of these archaic cultures have implemented the use of marijuana both for practical and medical uses.

Hemp was used for the creation of fibers, which were then used for fabric, rope and cords, fishnets and other similar commodities.

The first piece of paper (from approximately 500 B.C.), was made from hemp fibers, and the ancient Chinese used it for many different kinds of fabrics from 1000 B.C.. Cotton wasn’t used in China until approximately 900 A.D., which left hemp to be a go-to plant for all things fabric related.

The Romans also relied on hemp for rope creation, cultivating it mostly in Sicily.

Like their Roman ancestors, the Italians continued the tradition of rope utilization, and the main cropping regions were around Venice.

Venetian craftsmen were famous for the gorgeous fabrics they created from hemp, almost equal to the delicate beauty of silk.

Another interesting fact is that the hemp industry in Italy was precisely regulated, they even had several gradations to help determine the quality of the fibers, which varied from region to region.

It’s rather evident that all of these old cultures and civilizations had similar understandings of how hemp could be exploited for various practical uses, and it can be said that this was the primary reason for purpose for cannabis, but it’s also evident that many of these cultures also used it for medicinal and spiritual reasons.

In China and Egypt it was used from rheumatism, gout, and they added seeds to wine to create potions that were used as anesthetics for surgeries and other medical interventions.

In Ancient Greece it was a common cure for different kinds of inflammation, and also for tapeworms and other parasites.

As previously mentioned, the Anglo-Saxon attacks on western Europe during the fifth century transported cannabis to the British islands.

Around 1500 A.D., on orders of King Henry VIII, started the biggest demand for hemp in England’s history, to meet the growing requirement for a larger fleet.

Because England became such a fierce sea power so rapidly, the country’s farmers couldn’t produce enough cannabis, so they turned to Russia for the additional production of hemp.

This business agreement was immensely precious for the English, who were counting on the constant supply of hemp to construct and maintain the rope and fabric for their trading and colonization fleets.

On the other side of the world, once the Spanish brought the herb with them to the New World at the start of the 16th century, it slowly began to spread throughout the continent.

The English carried it with them to Jamestown in 1611, which was their first long lasting settlement in North America.

It was used as a major source of fiber, until the beginning of the 20th century, when cotton replaced it as the main fiber crop.

During this era only a small number of medical patents included marijuana, in direct comparison to the ones that had cocaine and opium in them.

During the 1920s cannabis fever started to take hold of the US.

Vintage cannabis grower

It was the product of several factors, one being the Mexican revolution which resulted in a great number of cannabis-enjoying immigrants fleeing to America, and some historian believe that the Prohibition had a large role in the popularization of marijuana.

At the start, consumption was reserved for emerging jazz musicians and other artistic individuals in show business.

The so called tea-pads were opened nation wide, and cannabis use was tolerated by the authorities, because there were very little complaints about the people who enjoyed it.

And of course, it was still completely legal at that time.

The biggest reason for the criminalization of marijuana was the racial stereotyping, which played a major role in understanding cannabis by everyday folk, because Mexican immigrants were frequently seen as uneducated refugees, who didn’t really have anything to contribute to the more advanced western culture.

The first country to put a ban pot was Utah in 1915, and by 1931 in was illegal in 29 states.

Eight years after, in 1937, cannabis was placed under the jurisdiction of the DEA, and with the Marijuana Tax Act they criminalized it nation wide.

Marijuana law history

In the 1950s cannabis was praised by the beat generation, and during the Vietnam War it became a powerful symbol for the anti-governmental hippie subculture, and they definitely shaped the understanding that cannabis wasn’t such a devilish substance as the government portrayed it, but a relaxant which ultimately brings people together, and makes them feel more connected with one another.

Cannabis was a part of the US Pharmacopeia since 1850 until 1942, and its medical uses were most commonly for nausea, rheumatism and labor pains.

In the 1930s, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics (a predecessor of the DEA) conducted a campaign that was portraying marijuana as an intoxicating, heavy-addicting drug, capable of turning a “normal” person into a drug-fiend in no time.

Fast forward to 1970, The Controlled Substances Act placed cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, beside heroin and LSD.

The majority of marijuana came from Mexico at that time, and in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate most of Mexico’s crops.

The Reagan and Bush “zero tolerance” administrations created a shift from importing to domestic cultivation, located mostly in California and Hawaii.

The next phase in the history of cannabis was when Netherlands decriminalized it in 1976, which basically meant the allowed possession and sale for up to 30 grams of weed.

Next up was California, the first state where cannabis was legalised for medicinal use in 1996, and Colorado was the first state to allow recreational use in 2014.

At the moment, 24 countries of the world have either decriminalized or legalized pot, with Uruguay being the absolute trailblazer, where the production, sale, transport and cultivation have been completely legalized in 2013.

Right now, Canada is the next in line to receive full medicinal and recreational legalization, which is due in summer 2018.

What a journey it is.

About the author
Marco Medic

A passionate cannabis enthusiast, Marco mainly writes about the latest research on cannabis use in health.

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