In the US, marijuana use has been a heated topic for many years; many states have already legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes, and additional states are attempting to do the same. 

Marijuana has been used for therapeutic, spiritual, and recreational purposes for at least 10,000 years. While the benefits of cannabis medicine may seem like a recent discovery to Westerners, it has been utilized and studied by Eastern societies for thousands of years. 

In India, China, Africa, and Assyria, archaeologists and paleobotanical studies have discovered that cannabis has been widely used for its medicinal and psychoactive properties but also materials or food, dating back to the first millennium BC.

So, let’s learn more about our favorite plant’s history and origins!

What was the first evidence of cannabis use?

Cannabis was first used in western China or central Asia, and according to paleobotanical research, cannabis was present around the Altai Mountains about 11,700 years ago. 

For thousands of years, people have utilized cannabis for its medicinal benefits. Its use was first recorded in 2000 BC when it was included in the pharmacopeia of Emperor Shen-Nung, who is regarded as the founder of Chinese medicine. 

The scriptures of the Indian Hindus, the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans all describe the therapeutic uses of cannabis and these texts claimed that cannabis could be used to treat a wide range of ailments, including asthma, amenorrhea, inflammation, pain, arthritis, depression, and loss of appetite.

How was the plant spread through the world?

Cannabis is thought to have originated in Central Asia and then traveled from there to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Hundreds of years later, it eventually traveled to Europe and the Americas.

Between the years 2000 and 1400 B.C., cannabis arrived in the Middle East and was undoubtedly used there by the Indo-European nomadic Scythians. Given that they long occupied both countries, the Scythians are also likely to have brought cannabis into southeast Russia and Ukraine.

In particular areas, various strains of cannabis began to emerge; these are now referred to as landraces. These strains, like the Hindu Kush from the Kush Mountains in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are indigenous to that area and are shaped by its climatic conditions, topography, soil composition, and habitat.

Cannabis in China

The Pen-Ts’ao Ching, the world’s oldest medical text, was made from ancient manuscripts and became known in the late Han Dynasty in the second century CE. It refers to Emperor Shen-Nung, the founder of Chinese medicine who recognized cannabis’ therapeutic value for more than a hundred diseases. The Pen-ts’ao Ching, which emphasizes the curative powers of the plant and how safe its use was, provides the oldest evidence of cannabis being used as a medication.

How did cannabis get to the US?

Since the country’s founding, cannabis has had a long and occasionally turbulent history in the United States. Through the years, this plant—first utilized as a textile material and then as a medical ingredient—became incredibly controversial. Cannabis traveled to the Americas in a variety of routes across the Atlantic Ocean and it is believed that it entered through the Spanish after their invasion of the Americas began in 1492.

Cannabis in the Modern Times

Cannabis was introduced to Western medicine in 1839 as there was a general increased interest in the plant in the 19th century. More than 100 studies were carried out in the second half of the 19th century, and pharmaceutical firms in the US and Europe started producing and selling cannabis tinctures. 

Cannabis-based medicines have become increasingly accessible to the general population, with several companies promoting the plant’s ability to treat a range of conditions. However, according to federal law, marijuana use is still prohibited in the US. State marijuana regulations, meanwhile, are constantly evolving.

Even now, marijuana is still categorized by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and addiction, no recognized medical benefits, and no safe usage level.