Cannabis, marijuana, hemp - we hear a lot about these terms in society, but many of us know very little about the history of cannabis. Where did it come from, what was it originally used for, and how have its uses changed to date?
The truth is that cannabis has a rich and fascinating history that we all ought to know more about! That’s why we’ve written this guide - to educate our readers on the history of cannabis, its uses and how it has come to be used today.
With that in mind, here is everything that you need to know!
What Is Cannabis?
First of all, let’s begin by answering one basic question - what is cannabis? Cannabis is technically a group of plant species all coming from one particular family, known as Cannabacae. There are a number of different species of cannabis too, so you may often see it referred to by different names based on the strain and species. It’s been around for centuries!
One thing to note though is that cannabis isn’t actually the same thing as hemp and marijuana. Hemp technically isn’t a biological species of cannabis, and it is generally grown in an industrial setting for different purposes.
Marijuana is what most people know as the recreational drug, and doesn’t always have pleasant associations.
TThis is because it contains a high amount of THC and can be used recklessly. In reality, marijuana again isn’t a biological species of cannabis, and it does actually have many beneficial uses beyond what it’s known for in the media.
In recent years, CBD oil has also become a lot more popular too, and this is extracted from Cannabis plants.
There are a number of different ways that people can take or use cannabis, depending on the form. It can be baked into food, brewed into beverages, smoked, eaten in capsules or even applied as a form of topical treatment.
There are some forms that can be mind-altering but this is not the case for all forms of cannabis. It ultimately depends on the level of THC in the form of cannabis used and how it has been grown.
It’s even used for medicine and more!
When Was Cannabis Found?
Now it’s time to talk history - where did cannabis come from and how was it consumed in the early days of its discovery? Here’s what you need to know!
Where Was Cannabis Discovered?
The history of cannabis is believed to have become around 2500 years ago in Central Asia. In fact, there’s even evidence that has been discovered by Yang Yimin and Ren Meng from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to prove this.
It has been around for much longer than this, of course, and it is believed that it initially evolved around 28 million years ago in the Tibetan Plateau.
The evidence of Cannabis was found in a 2,500 year old cemetary, though it has also been discovered in a number of other archaeological sites originating from around the same time and place. We have seen evidence of burned cannabis seeds in the graves of Shamans in these locations from around 500 BC.
How Was Cannabis First Consumed?
While we are not certain about when ancient cultures began taking advantage of the hallucinogenic properties of cannabis, what we do know is some ideas about what the plant may have initially been used for. Unsurprisingly, cannabis, marijuana and hemp were initially used primarily for religious purposes, though it did have other uses.
It is believed that in the early days (around 5000 years ago), people would make use of the cannabis plant for religious purposes.
The ritual burning of cannabis appears to be something that was common, though some analysis has shown that the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels in the strains were low at this point so the hallucinogenic effects would likely not have been so widely experienced.
Later in 500 BC, wooden artefact bowls were used to burn incense and plants - they were essentially braziers, and evidence of the cannabis plant has been found inside of these artefacts.
This kind of cannabis was likely marijuana, due to the high levels of THC. For this purpose, it was likely that the marijuana was inhaled.
There were also practical uses for the cannabis plant. In 8000 - 7000 BC, the first fabrics were made from hemp. In 6000 BC, people would use cannabis seeds in their foods. We also have evidence that in 4000 B.C, Cannabis was used as a form of anaesthetic when performing surgery.
The Use Of Cannabis:
Now that you know the ancient history of cannabis, it’s important to dive into the various forms of cannabis out there and the effects that consuming cannabis can have before we move on. Here’s everything that you need to know.
Forms Of Cannabis
As you may already know, cannabis comes in more than just one form. There are lots of different forms out there - many in the form of marijuana. Here are the main just a few.
The main kind of cannabis that people are aware of is known as flower by people that use it on a regular basis. As you can likely tell, this is in reference to the flower on the plant which is the part that is consumed.
There are a few different subtypes too. For instance, there’s the cannabis sativa, which is known for its energizing high. There’s also cannabis indica, which is known for relaxing and calming people that consume it.
Using ‘flower’ is the most common way that people take cannabis, and it’s generally taken in bongs, pipes, ‘joints’, and other forms.
If you’re not a big fan of smoking cannabis, you may instead wish to consume it through eating. Edibles are pretty popular. With this form of marijuana, the THC is baked or cooked into an edible item like chocolate, candy or gummies. It can usually take a while for someone to feel the effects after eating an edible though.
Topical marijuana generally isn’t used to get a high - instead, it’s a form of medicinal marijuana that’s used to treat various ailments. They have some amount of THC in them, but they are usually applied to the skin in the form of creams and lotions in order to treat muscle aches, arthritis and other ailments.
- CBD Oil
CBD oil is becoming more popular lately. With this, the THC and the psychoactive cannabinoids are taken out of the formula so you’re getting total CBD instead. Take a look at our What is CBD? article for further information.
CBD oil is often used for helping to deal with symptoms connected with acne, depression, anxiety and more. There’s some evidence that it may be effective for relieving side effects related to some cancer treatments, such as nausea.
Effects Of Cannabis Consumption
Now, you may already know some of this, but there are both positive and negative effects of consuming cannabis, in whatever form you choose. It’s worth being aware of both!
- Cannabis consumption can make you "high"
One of the main reasons why a lot of people choose to take illegal forms of marijuana is because of their psychoactive properties. Marijuana in particular contains high amounts of THC, and this stimulates certain areas of the brain that are related to pleasure.
Your brain in turn then releases dopamine, and this can cause a lot of positive feelings. Of course, how you react can often depend on the strain of marijuana or cannabis that you are taking, and how your body naturally reacts to it.
- It can distort your thinking
People will usually tell you not to take cannabis and drive - this is for good reason. It’s because taking cannabis can often make your thinking distorted, influencing things like your reaction times, your sense of time and it can lower your inhibitions.
- It can be addictive
Not everyone that takes marijuana or cannabis will become addicted, but some certainly will. That’s why it’s important to be careful if you plan on taking it, even if it’s for medical reasons.
- It can ease symptoms
If you’re struggling with a medical condition, marijuana and cannabis are generally quite helpful. In fact, that’s a large reason why medical marijuana is legal in a number of states in the U.S. including Washington, DC.
There’s evidence to suggest that medical marijuana is effective in treating stiff muscles, sleep issues, anxiety, nausea resulting from chemotherapy, and chronic pain.
- It may treat epilepsy
In 2018, a type of medication that contained cannabidiol (CBD) was approved for use in order to treat Lennox Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet syndrome, which are two severe kinds of epilepsy.
It was discovered that children with Dravet syndrome would have fewer seizures when using CBD than children who weren’t taking it. This is a pretty huge breakthrough considering how lethal the condition can be.
- It may protect the brain after having a stroke
Some studies conducted on rats have shown that there’s a chance that taking cannabis can actually protect your brain from damage in the aftermath of a stroke.
Pretty neat, huh? It may potentially be effective in protecting the brain after traumatic things like concussions too.
- It may reduce nightmares
It has been found that people who used synthetic cannabinoids had a reduction in the number of nightmares, especially those who suffered from conditions such as PTSD. This is because marijuana can often interrupt the sleep cycle. If you’re struggling with sleep, it may potentially be helpful for you.
As you can see, taking cannabis in different forms can have a number of different effects on a person, both in a positive and negative way.
New research is emerging all the time about the benefits of cannabis though, so we are sure to see even more information in the years to come, especially as it becomes legalized in more states across the country.
The Emergence Of Marijuana In The USA:
So how did marijuana make its way to the United States from the ancient days discussed previously in this article?
Well, it all started in the 1600s…
Marijuana has been in the United States for quite some time - since the 1600s, it is currently believed. There is always a chance that it may have been used before that, however.
There are some people that say that cannabis made its way over to America when Columbus came over in 1492. For the sake of this article though, we’re going to start in the 1600s.
In the early days, Americans found that cannabis sativa L, or hemp plants, were quite easy to grow. It was brought over to North America in 1611 by the Jamestown Settlers, according to Bernard Segal, PhD in his text ‘Perspectives on Drug Use in the United States, written in 1986.
In fact, there were farmers required specifically to grow hemp in Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut in the 1600s. As we have already established, Hemp contains incredibly low amounts of THC, so it was not yet used in the USA for its psychoactive purposes.
Instead, it was often used for things like ropes and clothing. Later in Virginia, people were even given penalties if they did not grow Hemp!
It started to become more prominent over the east coast in the 1600s as a narcotic and for medical use. Over on the other side of the pond in England, people were beginning to write about the benefits of using cannabis for treating ailments such as depression and were talking about how Hemp was great for alleviating physical pains.
1700s - 1913
The 1700s - early 1900s were a pretty big time for Marijuana in the United States. There’s even evidence to suggest that George Washington was growing hemp during some time between 1745 - 1775 based on his diary entries, according to Robert Deitch in his book ‘Hemp American History Revisited.’
Washington was fascinated by how cannabis was often used in medical circumstances. He was intentionally growing cannabis with high levels of THC - in other words, he was growing what we now know to be marijuana.
In the years shortly following this, Thomas Jefferson was also growing hemp, though there’s no evidence to suggest why.
By the time that the 1830s rolled around, an Irish Doctor by the name of Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy had found that cannabis was effective in reducing the physical symptoms of cholera in sufferers.
As it neared the 1900s, cannabis extracts were beginning to be sold in pharmacies all across the United States and Europe. It was also used to treat withdrawal from opioids after it was added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1850. In 1863 there was even some candy containing hashish in an episode of Vanity Fair.
Of course, medicine isn’t the only thing that marijuana was used for. During the 1900s, marijuana began to start its slightly murkier history in the United States, beginning with a decree passed in The Food and Drug Act in 1906, declaring that products containing marijuana must be labelled in the correct manner.
As you can see, cannabis and marijuana were known up until this point for their usefulness, but things changed a little in the US during the early 1900s. For starters, at this point, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S to make cannabis consumption illegal.
It was shortly followed by other states in the following years, including Wyoming, Maine, Colorado and more.
It is believed that Mexican immigrants moving to the United States began to introduce the practice of recreational marijuana smoking to America during the early 1900s.
Unfortunately what was soon to follow was large amounts of unemployment and uncertainty thanks to the Great Depression, which caused a lot of resentment towards Mexican Immigrants.
For the most part, cannabis was referred to by exactly this name up until the 1900s, but it was when this anti-Mexican sentiment started to emerge that the term Marijuana was on the rise for the recreational drug with high amounts of THC.
By 1931, a tremendous 29 states had already outlawed and introduced criminal penalties for using cannabis and all of its subcategories.
The one exception was Hemp, which was still grown in the United States even during the second World War.
As we move into the 1970s, Richard Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, declaring marijuana to be a Schedule I drug. It was thus illegal at this point, though a report was later released by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in an attempt to repeal the decision. This attempt was unsuccessful.
The idea that Marijuana was dangerous was one that continued into the 1980s-90s, especially following First Lady Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign in 1982. More police attention was brought to preventing use of the substance, with more wars on drugs to occur in the years to come.
A pretty huge breakthrough happened in 1996 when Proposition 215 was approved by voters in California. This proposition suggested the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.
It was the very first state in the US to make marijuana legal for this purpose. It was followed by Washington, D.C. and 29 other states legalizing marijuana for a small amount for medicinal purposes.
Cannabis In The UK & Europe:
Now that we’ve discussed Cannabis in the United States, how about in the UK and Europe? There’s a pretty big history in Europe with Cannabis too, so let’s dive straight into the facts!
First, let’s start in 500 B.C. At this stage, the cultivation of cannabis had begun in Northern Europe. Again, this was for practical uses. It was often used as a textile, to make hemp paper and other useful things in Europe at this point.
Going way back to 70 A.D then, It appears that cannabis was actually used by the Romans. In medical texts, it becomes clear that cannabis was often used as a therapeutic agent to treat things like earaches and for minimizing a person’s sex drive.
It was used for a variety of different purposes like arthritis and more. It is also documented that the Vikings would use hemp to create ropes, and in 1000 AD it was used for rope and sails in Italy.
In 1271, Marco Polo used cannabis. Thinking this was a great discovery, he shared his findings back in Europe about using cannabis.
It was also found that during the Middle Ages, cannabis was used by the Muslim population for recreational purposes.
Of course, even at this point, people were still growing Hemp for their textiles. It just wasn’t the only use!
One other event of note was in 1484. The pope at the time, Pope Innocent VIII declared that cannabis was an unholy thing and created a ban on using cannabis in medicines.
1500’s - 1900s
It’s entirely possible, based on evidence found throughout Europe by archaeologists and historians, that hash became quite popular during the 1500s.
There has been quite some debate regarding whether English Playwright, William Shakespeare, actually smoked hash based on a clay pipe found near to his house in Stratford Upon Avon. There has been some disagreement on this front, however.
During 1563, Queen Elizabeth I actually introduced a law to enforce that people who owned more than 60 acres of land must grow cannabis.
If they did not comply, they would get a £5 fine - this was quite the sum at the time! (She wouldn’t be the only one to approve of cannabis either - there’s evidence to suggest that she took cannabis to relieve menstrual cramps!)
Meanwhile in Spain, King Philip of Spain made a similar decree for the growth of cannabis, demanding that it be grown throughout Argentina right to Oregon.
It is believed that hashish really started to become popular in Europe throughout the 18th century when it was often used by French Troops. Throughout the 18th century, texts were produced studying the medical benefits of hashish.
It became quite popular as a recreational drug in literary circles too, particularly with names such as Charles Baudelaire, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas. In 1843, the ‘Hashish Eaters’ club, or Les Club des Hachichins, was founded in Paris too. In Germany, hashish was being used as a form of anaesthetic.
Of course, things changed a little during the 1900s, much like in America. In 1928 there was a ban imposed on using cannabis in a recreational setting. The UK would primarily choose to refer to it as cannabis rather than marijuana.
Following the law change on cannabis consumption, it was only a matter of time before enforcement came into place to prevent people from using cannabis. In 1952 came the very first cannabis bust, which took place in the Number 11 Club in Soho.
Later in 1961, the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics and Drugs came into place, ironing out drug classifications based on how harmful they were.
The ban on cannabis would be a huge thing later in the 1970s with the rise of reggae artists in the UK. Since cannabis was used as a spiritual practice in the Rastafarian ideology, many artists such as Bob Marley were adopting its use, and the drug was again coming into prominence in the media.
In 1971, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs became a permanent fixture in the UK in order to dictate policies of the government.
Not all governments took heed of the advice, however. In 1991, 42409 people in total end up having a conviction of possessing or consuming cannabis, though just under half of these people only get a caution and no penalty.
Cannabis In The 21st Century:
Things have certainly changed a lot since the ancient times when cannabis was first used, and cannabis has had a very extensive history! So how have things changed in the 21st century, and what noteworthy things have happened in recent years?
Well, in the 21st century there have been campaigns to legalize cannabis in many states in the U.S. For instance, in the year 2000, Hawaii actually became the 6th state that made medical marijuana a legal thing. It was closely followed by Colorado and Nevada in the same year.
In 2003, a Canadian patient with HIV by the name of Jari Dvorak received the very first government grown marijuana to help with his symptoms. Likewise in the same year, Dutch pharmacies began selling medical marijuana too.
It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing, of course. There has been some push back, even to the demand for medical marijuana to be legalized. In 2004, while medical marijuana was legal for medical purposes, people were restricted in the amount that they could have.
Medical marijuana would become legal in more and more states as the years continued on, though there are still many places where it remains illegal.
A huge stride was made in 2010 when the US Dept of Veterans Affairs made more allowances for marijuana use for veterans.
Up until this point, vets would be disqualified from things like clinical programs, pain control programs and substance abuse programs - this was no longer the case in 2010 for veterans that participate in medical marijuana programs in states where it is legal.
Medical Marijuana would then become legal in DC in 2010, and it was allowed for use by people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and chronic illnesses, but they were only allowed to have up to four ounces of it.
In more recent years, former US President Donald Trump signed a bill that legalized using industrial hemp which did not contain high amounts of THC.
In 2019, the government even provided $3m for research to be undertaken to learn more about CBD and the impact that it can have on pain. In 2020, the US House passed a Marijuana decriminalization bill too that would get rid of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
We still have a long way to go, but we’re learning more about marijuana, cannabis and hemp as the years go on, including both the benefits and the downfalls of it. We are sure to learn a lot more in the years to come.
And that’s the complete history of cannabis throughout the world! It all started in ancient times, and a lot has changed since then. Cannabis has been used in the form of hemp to manufacture items like rope, clothing and more.
It has also been used for medical purposes through the years, and has been very effective in treating pain symptoms for various illnesses.
Cannabis often gets a bad reputation, but more research is being conducted as the years go on to illustrate just how useful it can be. It comes with risks, of course, thanks to the psychoactive effects, but if used effectively it can often be more of a benefit than a hindrance.
We hope that you enjoyed learning more about the fascinating history of cannabis in this article. Let us know what you think!