Humankind has been cultivating plants for their medicinal and structural components for centuries. In fact, Cannabis is one of the world’s oldest cultivation successes. Evidence of Cannabis utilization by humans can be traced back to as early as 4000 B.C., where ancestral hemp plants were used by the ancient Chinese for fibers, strings, ropes, textiles, and paper. As the Chinese continued to cultivate and cross-breed ancient Cannabis plants to fit their material needs, they ultimately discovered it could be used for much more than just a source of fiber.
Cannabis in the Early Eras
Predating the Christian Era, the fruits and seeds of hemp were used as a food source and as a way to make kitchen oil. As the demand for Cannabis use for food depleted, ancient cultivators continued to discover new ways to utilize different aspects of the plant. In the world’s oldest pharmacopeia, published by the ancient Chinese in 2700 B.C., it was recorded that Cannabis derivatives were used to treat a variety of medical ailments.
The text cites that various Cannabis compounds were employed to treat intestinal constipation, malaria, menstrual and rheumatic pain. It also played a role in ancient surgical operations where compounds of the plant were combined with wine to make a potent anesthetic. The first reference to Cannabis use as a recreational drug is also reported in the pharmacopeia, where its euphoric effect was described as a way to “communicate with spirits” and “lighten one’s body.” The Cannabis spark in China, both as a material and as a medical remedy, lead to extensive dispersion of plant derivatives to India, the Middle-East, Africa, and ultimately the rest of the world.
Between 1000 and 2000 B.C., material use of Cannabis was first introduced to western Asia, Africa, and India, which subsequently spread north into Europe. The eruption of hemp cultivation was promptly followed by the spread of medical Cannabis products into India and the Middle-East, where their use as a universal drug was well documented. Much like the Chinese, early Muslims and Indians used Cannabis primarily as a source of medicinal therapy. In their medical compendiums dating back to 1000 A.D., Muslim physicians mentioned a variety of therapeutic properties of Cannabis compounds including a diuretic, anti-flatulent, and pain-depressant applications. This universal use of Cannabis as a material and medicine enabled its products to spread rapidly through the transatlantic slave trade during the 15th century.
Hemp Comes to America
Hemp cultivation was first introduced to the Americas during the 1500s when seeds were brought by African slaves to Brazil and Chile. Cannabis finally made its way into North America during the 17th century where hemp was first grown in Port Royal, Acadia in 1606. Worldwide trading and distribution of Cannabis products from the beginning of its domestication in 4000 B.C. to the present day, have allowed the generation of countless amounts of different ‘strains’ and hybrid species that vary in the chemical and structural content.
Throughout history, these variants have held significant economic and medicinal value and played a key role in the global trade economy. Cannabis was used almost universally in both eastern and western nations until it was removed from the American pharmacopeia in 1941 which ignited the marijuana prohibition movement.
Today, the legality of Cannabis is entirely dependent on your local government. In the case of the United States, it is up to the State Legislature to grant cultivation and possession rights for the different cultivars of Cannabis. However, two years ago, Congress approved the 2018 Farm Bill, in which it detailed how hemp would be differentiated from marijuana by using a chemical concentration in comparison to dry weight. Although governing bodies in the past have included hemp cultivars in prohibition laws, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and is now legally recognized as an agricultural crop by the US federal government, meaning anyone with the proper licensing can grow it.
Although more lenient policies regarding Cannabis cultivars are being adopted throughout the nation and the globe, the predominantly negative stigma that encompasses Cannabis use persists. By exploring the rich history humans have with Cannabis, we hope to shed light on the controversy surrounding this plant, hopefully increasing awareness about the potential benefits of the lawful distribution of Cannabis-derived products.
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