The Geographic Origins of Cannabis
It is generally agreed that cannabis was first used by humans around 12000BC somewhere in Central Asia, and southern Mongolia, and was first recorded by the Chinese around 3000BC in their medicinal book of Pharmacopoeia. Cannabis origins are found in most parts of the world and was eagerly grown for its medicinal, industrial or recreational benefits. It was the first domesticated agricultural plants known to man and has a rich and colorful history through different cultures, civilizations, and societies.
To work out the origins of cannabis one has to take multiple approaches to come to a comprehensive consensus of its probable original location. Scientists and researchers have never conclusively agreed on sub-species of cannabis sativa .L and/or the original geographical location of cannabis. In this article we take a look at the recorded history and trade routes cannabis sailed along to become one of the worlds most beneficial, abundant crops.
A study by Dr Barney Warf from the University of Kansas in the United States was completed and is the most well-documented study done on cannabis origins. Not much credible information has been written on cannabis and this paper pieces together most information available to us from studies through to samples of cannabis being found around the world.
One can conclude from the map above that cannabis was spread throughout the graphical route with help from the trade winds between 2000BC and 1800AD. Explorers, merchants and nomadic tribes used cannabis in their diet, nutrition, for its fiber and as a valuable renewable source for bartering and trading during their travels and exploration into the “new” world.
Cannabis was spread both east and west during 2000BC and like the Chinese, India has a long history of cannabis use as a medicine and its fibers. Between 1400BC and 1000BC cannabis, known as “bhang”, was documented in the four Veda books of knowledge and commonly used during religious and spiritual ceremonies in this region.
Cannabis origins were first documented on the northernmost tip of the African continent in the region of Kemet, in Egypt. It was also used medicinally and according to Diodorus Siculus, a Sicilian Greek historian, it was used to treat sorrow and “bad humor” in a woman! Additional modern research in the region has established that cannabis is linked to most royal Egyptian mummies.
The Greeks make mention of cannabis around 200BC as a medical treatment for an earache and inflammation. The Scythians transported cannabis to Europe from the Altai Mountains through to Germany around 2,800 years ago. From there marijuana went to Britain during the 5th century during Anglo-Saxon invasions and used for its military resource as a cordage and canvas.
The Spanish brought marijuana/cannabis to the Americas in the mid-1500s and the English introduced it at Jamestown in 1611, where it became a popular commercial crop, 2nd only to tobacco. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte brought marijuana back to France from his travels in Egypt where it was investigated for its medical properties, introduced by the Egyptians.
By this time cannabis had spread around the world and was used recreationally and commercially for its medical and industrial value as an agricultural crop. There were no laws or campaigns by governments to limit the cannabis harvests and crops of hemp and marijuana. Late in the 19th Century and with the expansion of the western “civilized” world, countries started regulating cannabis usage.
We can also look at the genetic characteristics of cannabis to understand cannabis origins. It is generally agreed that there are three sub-species of cannabis in the world, namely Indica, Sativa, and Ruderalis. Some researchers suggest that cannabis is one family of plant and some report that there are up to 5 sub-species and many varieties.
Cannabis indica is characterized by short, stocky plants with broad leaves and naturally originated in the Hindu Kush mountain area. Sativa plants are taller and leaves are thinner than the indica sub-species.
This is due to it being localized in tropical regions close to the equator with a lot more sun and heat. Hemp, a cousin of cannabis, seems to stem its roots from eastern Europe and Russia. Its uniqueness is that it is not sensitive to cannabis’s usual photo-period of a short day flowering cycle. Its considered an auto-flowering species of cannabis and can be considered a form of hemp which has been grown in this eastern region for centuries.
A fairly new development in cannabis is the extraction of compounds in cannabis called cannabinoids. You may be aware of Tetrahydrocannabinol or simply THC. This is one of the hundreds of compounds found in cannabis and can be further broken down into terpenes, terpenoids, and flavonoids. Research on these compounds is fairly new to the growing industry of cannabis but scientists are excited about the possibilities it is creating in establishing a standardized way of identifying cannabis origins. Cannabis seems to, over a period of time, adapt to its surroundings and could potentially mean that cannabis is a single species of plant with many domesticated varieties.
Many companies are looking deeper into the genetic makeup of cannabis and one such company, Phylos Bioscience digitally documenting a comprehensive profile list of cannabis varieties from around the world to distinguish and identify many varieties including closest relatives, clonal relationships, uniqueness score, population origin, variation and distant cultivars. This open database is updated in real-time and will eventually give us a better idea as to the cannabinoid makeup of cannabis. They have already identified a couple very unique strains such as Kush and Durban Poison, which although cross-bred with many strains, contain many exclusive cannabinoid profiles.
With research and development of cannabis, we are painting a clearer picture of the origins of cannabis. While people are unearthing the almost forgotten history of cannabis all around us, we will one day possibly know the truth of the plant. Maybe it did come from the star, Sirius. Who knows, but enjoy the journey.