Cannabis seeds were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, the city frozen by volcanic ash in 79 AD. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Cannabis arrived in Spain after the Moorish invasion in the 8th century and Morocco remains one of the world’s largest producers of hashish, a potent cannabis concentrate.
The Scythians are also believed to have been responsible for cannabis’ introduction to Russia and Ukraine during various occupations. As early as 3000 BC the plant spread to Eastern Europe. Burned cannabis seeds have been discovered in archaeological sites from Finland to Bulgaria, and hemp seeds can be found in traditional Lithuanian and Polish recipes.
How long has marijuana been around?
Prior to domestication, the presence of cannabis in Mongolia, southern Siberia, the Huang He River valley, the Hindu Kush Mountains, South Asia, and Afghanistan fluctuated based on the movement of Pleistocene glaciers. Cannabis is a sun-loving plant and the cold conditions combined with the towering icy shadows cast by these glaciers prevented cannabis from thriving.
The marijuana plant originated in Central Asia and spread quickly throughout the world. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
By the 13th century hashish had become widely used for recreational and religious purposes in the Middle East as well, leading to an eventual crackdown by the governor of Cairo at the time. Also around the 13th century cannabis was introduced to Eastern Africa through Egypt, and to Ethiopia by way of trade merchants.
Cannabis provided an important opportunity for trade with the Dutch, whose use of the herb dates back to at least the 1600s. It was also commonly used by Tswana, Zulu, Sotho, and Swazi peoples at that time. During British rule in the 1800s, Indian indentured servants living in South Africa widely used cannabis. Anthropologists in the Congo and Ituri rainforest noted cannabis use among native tribes. In West Africa, cannabis use was uncommon until World War II, when British and French soldiers stationed there introduced the plant.
These early hemp plants had very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects.
In the United States, marijuana wasn’t widely used for recreational purposes until the early 1900s. Immigrants from Mexico to the United States during the tumultuous years of the Mexican Revolution introduced the recreational practice of smoking marijuana to American culture.
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two drugs with THC that are prescribed in pill form, Marinol and Syndros, to treat nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite in AIDs patients.
By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments.
An ancient Greek historian named Herodotus described the Scythians—a large group of Iranian nomads in Central Asia—inhaling the smoke from smoldering cannabis seeds and flowers to get high.
This discovery, the archaeologists said, is the earliest clear evidence of the use of cannabis for its psychoactive properties.
“To our excitement, we identified the biomarkers of cannabis and local chemicals related to the psychoactive properties of a plant,” archaeologist Yimin Yang of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a press conference.
In order to make absolutely sure of what they were seeing, the team then analysed ancient cannabis samples from the Jiayi Cemetery in Turpan, dating back to 790-520 BCE, to obtain a chemical reference signal.
Using an identification technique called gas chromatrography-mass spectrometry, the team started to analyse organic material from one of the bowls. In the very first test, biomarkers for cannabis showed up on the internal charred layer.
Then they proceeded to analyse the rest of the samples.