Cannabis has a long, long history. In fact, a number of researchers identify is as one of the planet’s oldest cultivated crops. Hemp (the cannabis used to make materials like cloth, paper and rope) has an extensive history of its own throughout the whole world. But what about marijuana, AKA the variety of cannabis that we smoke?
As you might expect, all evidence seems to suggest that people have been toking up for some time, though perhaps not for the same reasons as we do now. The psychoactive form of the plant is thought to have first emerged in the steppes of what is now Mongolia. Somewhat ironically given the region’s stringent drug laws, some of the oldest evidence of it’s use is way over East, with records of medicinal use in China dating to 4,000 B.C. and signs that it had made it up to Korea by 2,000 B.C.
Yes, like many things that we take for granted, the art of smoking cannabis use was most likely created in Asia. Bare in mind that these probably weren’t drum circle and campfire sessions; most likely the herb was used medicinally and spiritually.
It seems that it didn’t take too long for the smoking of marijuana to spread. Remnants of burned cannabis seeds have been found in Siberia dating back to 3,000 B.C, too, while tombs the central-Asian Xinjiang region of China have been found to contain mummified marijuana plants. From the plains of central Asia the plant made its way to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe, making it all the way to Britain by the 5th century.
It most likely made it’s way around the Earth thanks to a good ol’ mix of trade and conquest, before becoming tied up in spiritual practices in places like India (it’s been mentioned in sacred texts like The Vedas as early as 2000 B.C.) and medicinally in Europe, where it was originally transported by Germanic tribes.
Even though they never seemed like they were particularly chill dudes, even the Vikings are thought by some to have used it to ease aches and pains and even childbirth, and the word ganja actually has roots in Sanskrit, an ancient sacred and philosophical language of the Indian subcontinent. Weed went global way before globalization, is what we’re saying.
We’re leaving out one particular country here that likes to smoke a lot, and can already hear you asking; when did weed make it to States? It took a while; a few of the Spanish were probably holding when they arrived in the New World, and the British may have brought hemp with them too.
Since then hemp crops have been grown throughout U.S. history, particularly since the country gained independence from England and found it’s fabric supply was cut off (as has been documented, both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were hemp farmers; we’ll leave the discussion over whether they really smoked bowls for another day).
Smoking took a little longer to take off, but it did begin to; marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia and experienced growing popularity in recreational use. However (as we all know) things eventually took a turn, thanks to everything from general cultural shifts to negative attitudes towards immigrants and refugees who enjoyed smoking weed and became associated with it.
Surprisingly, it was California that first outlawed consumption in 1913.
Given marijuana’s centuries of history, the war on drugs and sometimes judgmental, punitive attitudes can be seen as a blip. Without getting too political about it, it’s interesting to realize that if these researchers are correct weed has, at the very least, been legal for a majority of its history.