It is important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant, Warf said. Cannabis sativa, known as marijuana, has psychoactive properties. The other plant is Cannabis sativa L. (The L was included in the name in honor of the botanist Carl Linnaeus.) This subspecies is known as hemp; it is a nonpsychoactive form of cannabis, and is used in manufacturing products such as oil, cloth and fuel. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]
In 1930, Harry Aslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) and undertook multiple efforts to make marijuana illegal in all states. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act put cannabis under the regulation of the Drug Enforcement Agency, criminalizing possession of the plant throughout the country.
“It likely flourished in the nutrient-rich dump sites of prehistoric hunters and gatherers,” Warf wrote in his study.
“For the most part, it was widely used for medicine and spiritual purposes,” during pre-modern times, said Warf, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. For example, the Vikings and medieval Germans used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches, he said.
“Cannabis seeds have also been found in the remains of Viking ships dating to the mid-ninth century,” Warf wrote in the study.
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?
Scythians, nomadic Indo-Europeans known to have cultivated cannabis for rituals and burial customs, introduced the plant to Iran and Anatolia between 2000 and 1400 BC as they roamed the Altai Mountains. These mountains later became part of the Silk Road, a vast, ancient network of trade routes that connected the eastern and western parts of civilization from the Korean Peninsula to the Mediterranean Sea. The Scythians used cannabis in numerous social rituals that were documented by the Greek historian, Herodotus. As the Silk Road began to formally take shape, cannabis was quickly introduced to Greece, Egypt, and Africa. The tomb of Ramses II contained cannabis pollen, and numerous mummies have been found to have trace amounts of cannabinoids, indicating the plant has been around since at least Egypt’s 19th dynasty, or around 1292 BC.
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.
The history of marijuana closely follows migration patterns, conquests, and trade routes and has experienced varying degrees of acceptance and use throughout history. The plant originated in Central Asia and spread quickly throughout the world.
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 Jirzankal cannabis features higher levels of mind-altering compounds than have yet been found at any ancient site, suggesting that people could have been intentionally cultivating certain strains of cannabis for a potent high, or selecting wild plants known to produce that effect.
The earliest direct evidence for human consumption of cannabis as a drug has been discovered in a 2,500-year-old cemetery in Central Asia, according to a research paper published today in in the journal Science Advances.
Traces of potent pot were identified in 2,500-year-old wooden artifacts buried with people who lived along the Silk Road in China.
The discovery at Jirzankal also provides the first direct evidence that humans inhaled combusted cannabis plants in order to obtain its psychoactive effects. No evidence of smoking pipes or similar apparatus has been found in Asia before contact with the New World in the modern era, but the inhalation of cannabis smoke from a heat source is described by the fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, who described in his Histories how the Scythians, a nomadic tribe living on the Caspian Steppe, purified themselves with cannabis smoke after burying their dead: “The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and, crawling in under the mats, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smolders and sends forth such fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass it. The Scythians howl in their joy at the vapor-bath.”
According to Spengler, this new study demonstrates that already 2,500 years ago, humans were potentially targeting specific plants for their chemical production.