A Brief History of Cannabis
From the First Civilizations to Modern Life
Marijuana, kush, pot, cannabis, bud; this important plant goes by many names, and has been a crucial aspect of human society and culture for millennia. Despite its precarious position, and ever-changing place in our culture, cannabis and us humans have had a very long and intertwined history. From ancient Mesopotamia to the modern day halls of the worlds most prosperous governments, cannabis seems to always wiggle its green flowers into what is going on. For better or worse, it seems cannabis has always been there, to help us, or to cause strife. No other plant has ever, in our history, been so controversial as the cannabis plant, in either of its forms. Used for its wide range of properties for thousands of years, marijuana has long been used by ancient peoples for a cacophony of reasons, from medicinal, to religious and just plain utilitarian. Despite this, in the last few decades cannabis has come under fire, and has recently become one of the worlds most controversial, and supposedly dangerous substances. In many modern day nations across the world, cannabis has become illegal, barred, and banned from use for a myriad of reasons, some more realistic than others. Today, the place of cannabis in modern culture is as precarious as ever and is always changing, but if its long history has shown us anything, it is that cannabis is here to stay. Join us as we explore the long history of cannabis use, from ancient civilizations to today, and learn perhaps why cannabis holds such a crucial place in our lives, and culture, even when it seems the opposite. Sit back, relax and join us on this brief, but explorative tale of cannabis origins.
The Origins of Cannabis:
Depending on who you ask, our story of developed cannabis use begins in the ancient Middle East, modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq, also known as the cradle of civilization because it is here, that our first cities began to rise out of the sands. While it is very likely that earlier hunter-gatherers used cannabis for a variety of reasons, it is here where cannabis truly began to take shape in a way that we would recognize it. When humans migrated out of Africa, around 60,000 years ago, they traveled north, and up through modern-day Israel, and the Arabian Peninsula, finally into Europe and Asia beyond. It is around 10,000 years ago, in the Middle East that our first cities begin to rise until finally, they grew into the ancient mega city of Mesopotamia. It is here that we find the first evidence of cannabis use. The ancient Mesopotamians used cannabis for medical, religious, and trading purposes. We know of this because it is depicted in the ancient hieroglyphs, (a form of pictorial writing). While we have no direct evidence of cannabis use, that we find in later societies, we know that the Mesopotamians not only possessed, traded, and used cannabis, but they cultivated it as well. Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. And why is this? Well, from what we know today cannabis has many non-psychoactive uses. From the industrial level quality of the hemp that can be produced from it to the apparent medicinal capabilities, our ancestors seemed to have a good understanding of marijuana’s properties and use.
It was from Mesopotamia, that cannabis soon began to spread to all human settlements and cities. From India to China, and even the Vikings, as well as everywhere in between, graves have been discovered with cannabis present, from seeds to fully grown and harvested plants. While we can only guess at the reasons why, it is notable that many of those buried with cannabis has been found to be suffering from a variety of health ailments ranging from less serious problems all the way to cancer. It can be surmised that these individuals were using cannabis as a means to alleviate their pains. Along with burial goods, we start to see more written records from China, detailing the herbal properties, and medical value that was assigned to the plant at the time. It seems that in the ancient world, cannabis was a highly valued commodity, so much so that our ancestors valued it in the afterlife, and as a spiritual asset. But how exactly was cannabis used? We know it was, but it’s not as if ancient peoples were smoking it out of a bong, right? What were the main methods of use and consumption in the ancient world? Let’s find out!
How Cannabis Has Been Used Over Time:
Now that we have established the fact that cannabis has a long history of usage by our species, how was it actually used, and why? Well, this might be harder to answer then when one first thinks, but we do have some clues as to its usage. First off, it’s important that we establish that there are different categories of use to make things easier. We have three main reasons why ancient peoples used cannabis, and they are the following:
Spiritual or Religious: It is clear by the placement of various forms of cannabis, both male and female, seeds, and fully grown plants, and all in between in ritual burials that there is a clear connection with the afterlife. More so than this, we have written records be they hieroglyphics or ancient Chinese, that detail spiritual meanings and religious usages. Even more, in certain burials, notable one from Scandinavia, a shaman woman was buried with cannabis in a pouch, tied around her waist. Combine all of this together and a picture begins to form, it seems that cannabis has long played a religious role, although we may not know exactly why, the connection is clear.
Medicinal: Most of what we know about the ancient medicinal uses of marijuana again comes from written record. Even one of the first emperors of China is known to have used cannabis and wrote about it extensively for its medicinal value. Of course, we know much more about cannabis and its effects today, but it seems our ancestors knew quiet a bit as well. Some of the graves that we have found are occupied by individuals who died for various reasons. One particular individual seemed to have suffered, and possibly died from breast cancer, she was buried in a shroud of cannabis plants, the first complete plants ever found. It seems we are not the only ones who know of the medicinal value of marijuana.
Monetary: Of course, whether we like it or not money seems to be one of the key aspects of what makes the world turn, and cannabis has played an important role in this for thousands of years. Going back to Mesopotamia, and every place cannabis has touched since, it seems that marijuana has played an important role in trade, quickly becoming a popular commodity. Today, as we know cannabis is a multi-billion dollar business, but from the evidence, it, seems that this is not a new phenomenon. The ability to create hemp from cannabis, a very durable and useful material, made cannabis a highly sought after material, even when one disregarded the religious, and medicinal uses.
Cannabis over the millennia has been used for a variety of reasons, and many of them not for the psychoactive. Of course, leisure is an aspect we humans love, so surely it was used much as it is today, “to get high,” but as we have seen there have been many other uses over the years. Even today, the uses of the cannabis plant are great and many, only the future holds what cannabis will be used for next.
Changing World Views:
Of course, as we have mentioned cannabis is one of the most controversial substances out there, but it was not always so. Only recently in fact did the negative stigma towards cannabis arise. It was in the 1920’s, in the United States that the war on cannabis began. Negative propaganda turned what was a medicinal herb used in many prescriptions at the time, to the “devil’s lettuce.” A plant that was used for thousands of years, for many reasons, was now being stigmatized and made evil by the very people who were afraid of its benefits the most. Hemp and cannabis, in fact, were too productive, too lucrative for the government to handle at the time. Thus they started a war against it, the easiest way to eliminate the competition within the industry. Today, however, and over the last decade, that stigma is slowly being overturned with the use of medical marijuana in many places, and now even the legalization of recreational cannabis. Hopefully soon, marijuana will return to its place of appreciated value.
Cannabis is truly an amazing plant, one in which has been intertwined with our species for near ten thousand years, if not more. Today, our view of cannabis is polar, there are those who support it and its many qualities, and those who wish to see it destroyed and those who use it imprisoned for the rest of their lives. Only the future can determine what will happen, but if the past is anything to gauge by, we are going to be dealing with cannabis for a long time to come, for better or worse.