420 looms, so why don’t we look at the origin and spread of cannabis? The plant’s been around, so it’d be nice to know how we got here today.

Like a lot of domesticated plants, cannabis has an origin point. It started out as a wild plant in parts of Central and East Asia. Humans then began cultivating the plant about 12,000 years ago in what is today modern China. Back then, we used cannabis as hemp, which we turned into fiber for making clothes and other useful applications.

As for when we started using cannabis as a drug, the archeological records aren’t too clear. The earliest record we have of marijuana dates back to around 2,500 years ago. Yet, we also have concrete scientific proof that humans cultivated cannabis specifically for drug use 4,000 years ago. But even this date is not a concrete starting point because we were likely using cannabis as a drug well before this.

The Spread of Cannabis to Europe and Africa

From its humble origins, cannabis started to spread out in both its hemp form and THC-fueled drug form about 3,000 to 2,000 years ago. It arrived in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent around this time. Both regions have a storied history with cannabis. In the Indian subcontinent, the Vedic scriptures detail the plant and its wonderful healing properties. While in the Middle East, hashish became a renowned drug, forming the basis for the English word “assassin.”

Cannabis then leaves its home continent of Asia and begins appearing in Europe in Africa. Shortly after arriving in the Middle East, the plant pops its head around Eastern Europe. Scientists suggest that the ancient Scythians, an ancient nomadic people, brought the plant over. Cannabis seemed particularly popular among the continent’s Germanic tribes. Researchers have found cannabis seeds on Viking ships, and it was the Anglo-Saxons who brought cannabis into Britain around 1,200 BCE.

Marijuana’s arrival in Africa comes quite a bit later, at around 700 BCE or so. The plant’s entry is closely tied with the expansion of Islam around this time. As the Rashidun caliphate spread through the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, it eventually found itself in Northern Africa. Interestingly enough, the caliphate circled around the Mediterranean and found itself in southern Spain, where they brought marijuana along with them.

To the New World and How We Got Here Today

Cannabis’ arrival into the Americas came quite a bit later. The plant was never native to either continent, and the vast waters separating it from the Old World meant that cannabis wouldn’t arrive until later. European ships brought cannabis to South America in the 1600s and to the Caribbean in the 1800s. Much of Latin America and the Caribbean has an intimate history with cannabis. For example, in Jamaica, cannabis serves a crucial ritual role in Rastafarianism.

Marijuana then makes its way northward into the United States and Canada during the 20th century. Hemp had already come from British settlers, but we didn’t get marijuana until Mexican immigrants left for the United States during the Mexican Revolution. Stricter regulations quickly followed, even though North America had already been cultivating hemp for centuries.

As we can see, cannabis has had a long history since its origins in Asia. It has since become a global plant with a rich history in many parts of the world.

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