From the sites where prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived, to ancient China and Viking ships, cannabis has been used across the world for ages.
The correct name for the plant that provides marijuana is cannabis. The word marijuana comes from Mexican Spanish, but the reason for this name is not clear. Thousands of years before the illicit drug industry in the Americas, the cannabis plant was used medicinally and industrially. For more than 3,000 years, it has been known that cannabis fibers were strong and durable, and provided excellent raw materials for cord and rope. In ancient China and Egypt, cannabis was used medicinally for soreness from gout, rheumatism and other problems. The ancient Greeks also used cannabis to relieve inflammation. While the intoxicating ingredients of cannabis are very low when the plant is cultivated in the best manner to produce clothing or rope, there is evidence that the ancient Chinese knew about this effect of the plant. Around 100 AD, a medical reference book stated that if the seeds were taken in excess, it “will produce hallucinations.” The seeds were later mixed with wine to create an anesthetic that could be used during surgery. The Romans and Vikings began to use hemp fibers for ropes. Both cultures relied heavily on sailing ships for exploration, colonization and trade. They lived or died by the ropes securing their sails. If ropes broke during a storm, the ship could be lost. Much of the hemp used by the Romans was cultivated in Sicily. The Arabs had brought hemp seeds to Sicily, after using the plant for medicine, rope and cloth for hundreds of years.
The earliest cultural evidence of Cannabis comes from the oldest known Neolithic culture in China, the Yangshao, who appeared along the Yellow River valley. From 5,000 to 3,000 B.C the economy of the Yangshao was cannabis-driven. Archaeological evidence shows they wore hemp clothing, wove hemp, and produced hemp pottery.
Where did pot come from?
Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia, according to Warf. The history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity’s oldest cultivated crops, according to information in the book “Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years” (Springer, 1980). Burned cannabis seeds have also been found in kurgan burial mounds in Siberia dating back to 3,000 B.C., and some of the tombs of noble people buried in Xinjiang region of China and Siberia around 2500 B.C. have included large quantities of mummified psychoactive marijuana. From China, coastal farmers brought pot to Korea about 2000 B.C. or earlier, according to the book “The Archeology of Korea”. The first recorded use of marijuana as a medicinal drug occurred in 2737 BC by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung. He documented the drug’s effectiveness in treating the pains of rheumatism and gout. Both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were widely used in ancient China. The ancient Chinese used virtually every part of the Cannabis plant: the root for medicine; the stem for textiles, rope and paper making; the leaves and flowers for intoxication and medicine; and the seeds for food and oil. Cannabis seeds were also one of the grains of early China and ancient tombs of China had sacrificial vessels filled with hemp for the afterlife.
The earliest cultural evidence of Cannabis comes from the oldest known Neolithic culture in China, the Yangshao, who appeared along the Yellow River valley. From 5,000 to 3,000 B.C the economy of the Yangshao was cannabis-driven. Archaeological evidence shows they wore hemp clothing, wove hemp, and produced hemp pottery. Marijuana was introduced to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., where it was probably used by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The medical use of the plant in the middle east is recorded in 700 B.C. in the Venidad, an ancient Persian religious text purportedly written by Zoroaster.
From Asia to Europe
Cannabis came to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., and it was probably used there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The Scythians also likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied both territories for years, according to Warf’s report. Germanic tribes brought the drug into Germany, and marijuana went from there to Britain during the 5th century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions. Cannabis seeds have also been found in the remains of Viking ships dating to the mid-ninth century. Over the next centuries, cannabis migrated to various regions of the world, traveling through Africa, reaching South America in the 19th century and being carried north afterwards, eventually reaching North America.
How did marijuana get to the United States?
In 1545 the Spanish brought marijunana to the New World. The English introduced it in Jamestown in 1611 where it became a major commercial crop alongside tobacco and was grown as a source of fiber.
By 1890, hemp had been replaced by cotton as a major cash crop in southern states. Some patent medicines during this era contained marijuana, but it was a small percentage compared to the number containing opium or cocaine. It was in the 1920’s that marijuana began to catch on. Some historians say its emergence was brought about by Prohibition. Its recreational use was restricted to jazz musicians and people in show business. “Reefer songs” became the rage of the jazz world. Marijuana clubs, called tea pads, sprang up in every major city. These marijuana establishments were tolerated by the authorities because marijuana was not illegal and patrons showed no evidence of making a nuisance of themselves or disturbing the community. Marijuana was not considered a social threat.
Marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea, and rheumatism. Its use as an intoxicant was also commonplace from the 1850s to the 1930s. A campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) sought to portray marijuana as a powerful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction. It is still considered a “gateway” drug by some authorities. In the 1950s it was an accessory of the beat generation; in the 1960s it was used by college students and “hippies” and became a symbol of rebellion against authority.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug, i.e., having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use. Most marijuana at that time came from Mexico, but in 1975 the Mexican government agreed to eradicate the crop by spraying it with the herbicide paraquat, raising fears of toxic side effects. Colombia then became the main supplier. The “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana and in heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern borders. The “war on drugs” thus brought with it a shift from reliance on imported supplies to domestic cultivation (particularly in Hawaii and California). Beginning in 1982 the Drug Enforcement Administration turned increased attention to marijuana farms in the United States, and there was a shift to the indoor growing of plants specially developed for small size and high yield. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers. In the last decade, a plethora of scientific research has emerged providing evidence for the medicinal benefits of consuming cannabis, confirming what ancient people already knew thousands of years ago.
*In 1997, a hemp rope dating back to 26.900 BC was found in Czechoslovakia, making it the oldest known object to be associated with cannabis.
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