The Early History of Cannabis

The History of Cannabis

They throw the seed upon the stones which have been heated red-hot . . . and the Scythians being delighted with the vapor-bath how like wolves. – Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Volume 1, Book 4 500 BCE

They throw the seed upon the stones which have been heated red-hot . . . and the Scythians being delighted with the vapor-bath how like wolves. – Herodotus, The History of Herodotus, Volume 1, Book 4 500 BCE


            Now I know that everyone who reads this is going to fall into one of the following camps: Those who smoked, but didn’t inhale and those of you who burn like an evangelical at a Planned Parenthood seminar. Regardless of your personal relationship with weed it has a fascinating history dating all the way back to the dawn of civilization and there are a lot of things in here that even the most talented stoner wouldn’t know, or forgot because you were high when you learned it the first time. Ah, short term memory. As transient as a cloud of smoke from a fat, bong rip being carried away with the wind into mystical unknown allowing cannabis connoisseurs across the world to live everyday as his/her first. So, let’s get down to business

The highly versatile and oftentimes enlightening wonder plant, Cannabis, feared by republicans and refrigerators everywhere, has been at the side of mankind for thousands of years. Psychoactive properties aside cannabis is a remarkable plant. The stems possess dense fibers, which make incredibly strong textiles for clothes, paper, rope and sails. The oils inside of the seeds are full of nutrients. As far as plants go, it is as resilient as they come. It is in fact a weed and it grows quickly and reliably under nearly every condition. This makes it easy to cultivate and, since all you need are a couple of seeds, cannabis became a widely traded crop in the ancient world.

In fact, ‘weed’ is actually one of the first crops cultivated by the early agriculturalists in Central Asia where it was domesticated on the steppes of Mongolia and Siberia around 12000 BCE. In Taiwan, archeologists excavated pottery shards from 10000 BCE with hemp chords pressed into them as decoration. In Siberia, burned cannabis seeds dating back to 3000 BCE have been found in burial mounds. By 2000 BCE, weed had made it to Korea and Japan as well as India and the Middle East and Eastern Europe where it was widely utilized for industrial and medicinal properties. China used to be known as ‘the Land of Mulberry and Hemp’. In Japan, it was given as a wedding gift and used to cast out evil spirits. Once the Romans discovered weed they spread it throughout their empire as well. By 400 AD cannabis was in Britain. By 600 AD the Saxons and the Vikings had it. Though the Vikings may have brought it with them to the New World weed was not heavily grown in North or South America until colonialists arrived in the 16th Century.

Cannabis grows in nearly every environment, but it is highly susceptible to the conditions in which it is grows. Though people have always a found a way to make use of the final product, temperature, sunlight, and soil composition alter its characteristics enough to affect the purpose of its cultivation. In harsher climates, like Germany and Virginia, the psychoactive properties are diminished because the plants don’t produce much THC resin and may have been altogether overlooked. However, the stalks grow to be much sturdier and are more useful for using as textiles. In temperate climates, like India, the industrial traits of the cannabis plant are diminished, but the psychoactive uses are maximized. These are the places where weed was used in shamanic and religious ceremonies, which in turn had a strong impact on the development of spirituality and religion in these regions. It’s said that the Hindu god, Shiva, rested under a cannabis tree, ate some of the plant, felt revitalized and gave it to mankind as a gift. Because of this, Shiva is also known as the god of Bhang, bhang meaning cannabis. Bhudda is said to have eaten one hemp seed every day during the six years he spent meditating under a tree searching for enlightenment.

This is a pretty rough overview of the ancient significance of cannabis, but hopefully it has shown you a few things that you didn’t already know. Stay tuned for the follow up articles on the more recent history of weed. The next article will focus on the significance of Cannabis in Europe and the Americas or if you’re really really stoned while reading this and you want to read the next article right now just hit the refresh button at the top of the page.