prehistoric hunters and gatherers lived, to ancient China and Viking ships,
cannabis has been used across the world for ages, and a new report presents the
drug’s colorful history.
report, author Barney Warf describes how originated
thousands of years ago in Asia, and has since found its way to many regions of
the world, eventually spreading to the Americas and the United States.
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.
idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction,” and the
fact that it is illegal is a “historical anomaly,” Warf said.
Marijuana has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history.
important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis
plant, Warf said. , known as marijuana,
has psychoactive properties. The other plant is (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.
psychoactive species of the plant, ,
was identified by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, and a third,
uncommon one, , was named in 1924 by
Russian botanist D.E. Janischevisky.
are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in
the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia, according to Warf. The
history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the
plant among , according to
information in the book “Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years”
likely flourished in the nutrient-rich dump sites of prehistoric hunters and
gatherers,” Warf wrote in his study.
cannabis seeds have also been found in kurgan burial mounds in Siberia dating
back to 3,000 B.C., and some of the tombs of noble people buried in Xinjiang
region of China and Siberia around 2500 B.C. have included large quantities of
mummified psychoactive marijuana.
in ancient China, Warf wrote. The first record of the drug’s medicinal use
dates to 4000 B.C. The herb was used, for instance, as an anesthetic during
surgery, and stories say it was even used by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in
2737 B.C. (However, whether Shen Nung was a real or a mythical figure has been
debated, as the first emperor of a unified China was born much later than the
supposed Shen Nung.)
coastal farmers brought pot to Korea about 2000 B.C. or earlier, according to
the book “The Archeology of Korea” (Cambridge University Press,
1993). Cannabis came to the South Asian subcontinent between 2000 B.C. and 1000
B.C., when the region was invaded by the Aryans — a group that spoke an archaic
Indo-European language. The drug became widely used in India, where it was
celebrated as one of “five kingdoms of ” in one of
the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems whose name translate into “Science of
to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., and it was probably used
there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The Scythians also
likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied
both territories for years, according to Warf’s report. Germanic tribes brought
the drug into Germany, and marijuana went from there to Britain during the 5th
century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions. [See throughout the world.]
|Click on image to enlarge–This map shows how marijuana spread throughout the world, from its origins on the steppes of Central Asia.|
have also been found in the remains of Viking ships dating to the mid-ninth
century,” Warf wrote in the study.