From the sites where 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.
In the report, author Barney Warf describes how cannabis use 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.
"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.
"The 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. It is important to distinguish between the two familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant, Warf said.
(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. Cannabis plants 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.
[11 Odd Facts About Marijuana] A second psychoactive species of the plant, , was named in 1924 by Russian botanist D. The history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity's oldest cultivated crops, according to information in the book "Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years" (Springer, 1980).
"It likely flourished in the nutrient-rich dump sites of prehistoric hunters and gatherers," Warf wrote in his study.
Burned 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. have included large quantities of mummified psychoactive marijuana.
Both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were used widely in ancient China, Warf wrote.
The first record of the drug's medicinal use dates to 4000 B. 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. (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.) From China, coastal farmers brought pot to Korea about 2000 B. or earlier, according to the book "The Archeology of Korea" (Cambridge University Press, 1993). C., when the region was invaded by the Aryans — a group that spoke an archaic Indo-European language.
Cannabis came to the South Asian subcontinent between 2000 B. The drug became widely used in India, where it was celebrated as one of "five kingdoms of herbs ... C., and it was probably used there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group.
which release us from anxiety" in one of the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems whose name translate into "Science of Charms." From Asia to Europe Cannabis came to the Middle East between 2000 B. The Scythians also likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied both territories for years, according to Warf's report.