Did you know that cannabis is possibly one of the oldest crops known to be cultivated by humans? Despite its controversial reputation, the history of cannabis is a surprising tale of medicinal uses and even sacred offerings. Let’s look more carefully at the history of this fascinating plant.
Cannabis in Ancient History
Cannabis originated in Central Asia, possibly around modern-day Siberia and Mongolia. In 2019, researchers discovered wooden bowls at a burial site in Western China. The bowls had been used to hold hot rocks that incense was poured on, and analysis showed that 9 out of 10 of the bowls had traces of cannabis on them.
Were these bowls used for ritual purposes, or was the cannabis used medicinally? We may never know, but it’s certainly intriguing to think that 2,500 years ago, cannabis was as crucial to humans as it is to many people today.
In ancient China, hemp plants were also used to make fabrics, and the seeds were pressed to obtain a nutritious oil.
History of Cannabis Around the Globe
Beyond China, other ancient civilizations made good use of the cannabis plant. You probably don’t think of the Ancient Egyptians as being huge hemp smokers, but scrolls from around 2000 BCE confirm that they used cannabis as a medicine. The mummy of Ramses II, a famous Pharoah of Egypt, was found to have traces of cannabis pollen or kief on. This suggests more than a casual relationship with the plant, and shows that the Egyptians may have held it in high regard.
Cannabis made its way around the world, from Korea to India, then onto the Middle East. Later, Eurasian nomads brought the cannabis plant into modern-day Europe, where it found a home in both Greece and what is now the U.K. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French took a liking to cannabis after finding it a great substitute in countries where alcohol wasn’t available. They brought it home with them, and hemp quickly became a crucial crop for cash.
A Fraught History in America
While all this was going on in Europe, what was happening in America? Well, the United States wasn’t formed yet, but South America was quickly being colonized by Spanish and English invaders, who brought hemp with them and began to farm it in earnest. By the 18th Century, cannabis farming was a growing industry throughout Mexico and even up into California.
In the 19th Century, cannabis was perceived positively in America which just shows how quickly attitudes can change! Cannabis or marijuana was approved as a medicine for:
Of course, we certainly don’t recommend you try treating tonsillitis with cannabis nowadays. It wasn’t long before cannabis lost this reputation as a cure-all. By the early 20th Century, cannabis became associated with immigrants and criminals, which suited many large corporations just fine because hemp posed a threat as a cheaper source of fabric and paper.
The inevitable happened: cannabis was banned. An insidious propaganda campaign smeared its previously positive reputation. The word marijuana itself was an attempt to irrevocably link the plant to Mexican immigrants who were, unfortunately, treated very badly but with whom corporations longed cannabis to be associated. By 1937, cannabis was regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and no longer recognized as a medicine in any form.
A similar timeline occurred across the pond, with the U.K. also outlawing cannabis by 1928. This was in startling contrast to just a few decades earlier, when Her Majesty Queen Victoria happily consumed cannabis to aid in pain management. In neither country, though, did cannabis just fade away. Users found ways to continue taking the plant, even at the risk of arrest, fines, or time in prison.
Different countries have, in recent times, adopted widely differing attitudes towards cannabis. The Dutch, famously, allow the smoking of cannabis inside coffee shops, although restrictions on that have tightened somewhat in recent years. It’s no longer a criminal offense to hold cannabis for personal use in either Portugal or Canada. In many places in America, medical marijuana can now be prescribed to help with a range of conditions or diseases, from pain to seizures.
Cannabis and Hemp Products Today
Today, cannabis is just about starting to shed its shadowy reputation and reclaim its place as an aid for health and wellbeing. Whilst studies are still ongoing into many aspects of cannabis extracts, supplements such as CBD oils and gummies have exploded in popularity in recent years. According to popular stats site Statista, CBD sales hit over $1 million for the first time in 2020, and they’re expected to almost double that by the end of 2022. But why are cannabis-based supplements suddenly so popular?
CBD promotes a state of balance and wellbeing known as homeostasis. It’s taken much like a vitamin or mineral supplement, usually daily or a couple of times a day. Users report that CBD helps with:
- Weight management
- Mood management
- Pain and inflammation.
The good news is that some studies are now starting to back up many of these claims, so we could be moving back towards cannabis being considered more of a conventional medicinal herb rather than a catalyst for illicit drug use. As more research comes to light, it looks like there might be a brighter future ahead for both the cannabis plant and cannabis users.