Welcome to Cannabis Class Episode 3: The Journey
Today I’ll be tackling where cannabis comes
from, how it got to the US, and how it has
been used throughout different cultures.
There are a couple different narratives about
the history of cannabis, but I’ll try to
stick to the main threads.
The cannabis plant seems to have appeared
in Asia, with evidence that the plant evolved
28 million years ago on the Tibetan plateau
and the earliest usage being attributed to
the rope from Czechoslovakia that I mentioned
in the hemp video, circa 27000 BCE.
Its fibers were likely taken from wild growing
plants, including hemp and nettle.
Cannabis spread throughout Eurasia, growing
in Mongolia and Southern Siberia by 10000
In The Dragons of Eden, Speculations on the
Origin of Human Intelligence, Carl Sagan commented
on the possibility that cannabis was humanity’s
first agricultural crop.
This comment is supported by proof of its
use in the Stone Age in what is modern-day
At the Oki islands of Japan a large collection
of cannabis achenes (small, dry one-seeded
fruits that don’t open to release the seed)
were found in a stockpile dating to 8000 BCE
This quantity, being found alongside other
traces of organized human life, hints to its
place in society.
There is evidence of cannabis being used for
food and oil by 6000 BCE and medically by
Similarly to poppy and opium, cannabis was
used as a numbing agent, an anesthetic for
surgery as early as 4000 BCE from carbon dating
and the 1st century CE from documented use
by surgeon Hua Tuo, who reduced the plant
to powder and mixed it with wine, a concoction
called mafeisan (麻沸散), translated to
“cannabis boil powder.”
It was also listed in the oldest Chinese pharmacopeia,
the Shennong Bencaojing around 200 CE.
It refers to dama or ma meaning “hemp; cannabis;
The Chinese word for hemp, Ma, is depicted
by two symbols which are meant to depict hemp
– It looks like two stalks side by side.
And the term for “anesthesia” (mázui 麻醉)
is a derivative of “cannabis intoxication.”
Cannabis traveled to Korea around 2000 BCE
then moved to the South Asian Subcontinent
over a thousand years while Aryans (this being
the archaic Indo-Europeans) invaded.
It gained widespread use in India, medicinally
and ritually used as an offering to Shiva,
who was said to partake of the plant.
It is documented in the Hindu sacred text
Atharvaveda, “the knowledge storehouse of
atharvāṇas, the procedures for everyday
life, sometimes referred to as just “knowledge”
or as the “Science of Charms.”
The Atharvaveda talks of the five kingdoms
of plants, Darbha, bhang, barley, mighty power.
Now I don’t know exactly how these work
out as plants or even just as a list of five
things, but regardless bhang or “sacred
grass” is the version that gets translated
to hemp, although bhang is known to be an
edible preparation of the dried cannabis leaves,
seeds and stems being used in food and drink.
This Sanskrit vedic poem written around 1000
BCE, talks about these plants that release
us from anxiety.
Around this time the Middle East acquired
cannabis either from these Aryan cultures,
or from tribal communities like the Scythians,
who moved through the Middle East and Russia,
bringing cannabis with them, often as an entheogen
(a chemical substance used in religious or
Ritual use has persisted across many cultures
The Yanghai Tombs, in northwest China, revealed
the grave of a 750 BCE shaman, filled with
almost 800 grams of THC laden cannabis, preserved
by climatic and burial conditions.
This lends credence to its use as a psychoactive
agent or for divination.
Some of the earliest physical indications
of smoking cannabis have been found in the
tombs of Jirzankal Cemetery in Western China
from 500BCE, where cannabis residue was found
in burners with charred pebbles possibly used
during funeral rituals.
Another culture that gives us great insight
comes from Ancient Greece.
Their mythologies are ripe with mention of
the herb, and the Greek historian Herodotus
tells of the Scythians inhaling vapors of
hemp seed smoke for ritual and recreation.
In his book The Histories (440 BCE), he tells
how the quote “Scythians, as I said, take
some of this hemp-seed [presumably, flowers],
and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw
it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it
smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no
Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths,
delighted, shout for joy.”
Herodotus provides a lively window into the
rituals of the past.
Carbonized cannabis seeds were also found
in Pompeii, buried from the eruption of Mt.
Vesuvius in 79 CE.
So I guess you could say they were getting
baked in Pompeii?
Huh, no too soon?
Anyways, in the 1st century CE, Pliny the
Elder mentions cannabis root as a treat for
gout and joint stiffness.
In 800 CE the Vikings used hemp rope and carried
cannabis seeds to Iceland.
Vikings and medieval germans, both used cannabis
for pain relief during childbirth and with
The Germanic tribes moved cannabis to Germany
and then to Britain during the 5th century
From here it continued its global expansion
and presence even being linked to witchcraft
in 1484, banned by Pope Innocent the VIII.
Cannabis entered the Americas by means of
the Portuguese, who took it to Brazil, and
the British, who took it to Jamaica.
In both cases, it was used in the pacification
In 1896, Holmes in “Prehistoric Textile
Art of Eastern United States” mentions the
Native Americans using hemp, and there are
separate mentions of ritual use by other natives
like the Wampanog and Nauset people.
Separate from smoking cannabis, hemp had been
brought with Columbus and potentially arrived
beforehand from the Vikings.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had
cannabis plants on their plantations, most
likely for fiber and seed, with documentation
that Jefferson’s slaves planted his hemp
in March; Washington’s in April, and Henry
Clay, the speaker of the House, growing hemp
Widespread use in the US didn’t follow until
cannabis was more readily available as a narcotic,
being brought to the south, particularly Texas,
with Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution
There had been a long tradition of smokeable
cannabis in Latin America, after its introduction
via plantations, and networks of marihuaneros
in Spanish-speaking countries.
Then the backlash against cannabis began,
with El Paso being the first city to have
an ordinance against it, in 1914.
Many of the strains, styles, and growing techniques
used in the US, like sinsemilla, came from
locations across the globe.
THC production outdoors occurs optimally within
35° of the equator.
Outside of the US, typical growing regions
include Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Thailand,
Northern India, parts of Africa, Afghanistan,
Nepal saw huge growth in the 60’s, post
arrival of The Beatles, which caused a swell
in tourism, until the US and UN leaned on
their government to reduce production.
In the late 60’s Afghanistan saw big growth,
encouraged by their government, and followed
by a war in the mid 70’s, after which hashish
became the main component of their GDP.
Cannabis was brought to the northwest US in
the 70s by quote “hippies and back-to-the-landers”,
making its way to the promised land of Humboldt
Not to mention the influx of Vets, the most
influential generation likely being those
who served in Vietnam.
Soldiers not only used local cannabis to cope
during war, they also brought seeds home to
North America, leading to some of today’s
most popular strains.
According to veteran Bob Luciano quote ”During
battle, we watched what [farmers] did with
the soil because we just wanted an escape.
You’d smoke weed, and you’d watch the
monkeys play in the trees, and watch the farmers
Although Luciano, like many others, didn’t
return to the US.
He took his seeds to Jamaica and experimented
with cross-breeding and how environmental
factors affected the plant.
There he learned things like the cultivation
of nutrient-rich guano.
Since then, Cannabis has been evolving in
its growth methods throughout the US.
And where as recently as 2000, 95% of hemp
seed was used as animal feed in Europe, now
there rages a battle between the black and
white market for cannabis, with the curtain
being yanked away and exposure to average
citizens becoming commonplace.
Those are the origins of the cannabis plant,
the journey it took to the modern day US,
and several disciplines of its use.
As we’re approaching the holidays, why not
try go try some semientiatka, a soup made
from Hempseed, in slavic regions and traditionally
eaten on Christmas Eve.
Then come back and subscribe if it was good,
leave me a comment if it wasn’t.
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