A Brief History of Marijuana

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Marijuana goes by many names, pot, weed, ganja, Mary Jane, sticky icky, bud, the list goes on and on, which attests to its global popularity. Throughout history there hasn’t really been any other plant as cherished and beloved as cannabis. Cannabis is the genus of plants with various species that all fall under the Cannabaceae family. Throughout history the distinctive plant has been used for textiles, cordage, medicine, food, and of course for its psychoactive properties linked to religious and recreational use. If you’re interested in learning more about this iconic plant, we’re about to discuss the history of weed smoking, the plants’ origin, and more because who knows, these facts might just come in handy at your next trivia night or party.

Who discovered weed?

It’s unclear who the very first person was who discovered weed since it was used so long ago, however we do know that the cannabis plant is native to Central Asia, probably coming from the region of Mongolia and Southern Siberia. There are many early written and archaeological accounts linking the Chinese to the plant, which they cultivated for a variety of purposes. Some studies believe that cannabis may actually be one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Hemp grows very quickly and generates a very strong fiber. One acre of hemp can produce four to ten times more fiber than trees within the same amount of time, making it a great alternative for today’s paper based products. The Chinese took advantage of this high yield by crafting rope and string for bow and arrows as well as cloth, paper, food, and medicines. The Japanese, Greek, Roman, Aryans, Assyrians, Indians, Scythians, Thracians, and Dacians, were all known to have used cannabis in ancient times as well. These civilizations were using marijuana well before it made its way into Northern Africa, Western Europe, and finally the Americas.

We’ve been talking about hemp, but if you were wondering when weed was first smoked, this is a difficult question to answer. Surprisingly to some, there is no hard evidence that the ancient Chinese actually smoked the weed they were growing. This is probably because unlike today, where strains are grown specifically for their high THC content, the cannabis plants of the past had very low levels of the chemical compound. Much later there are accounts of people around Central China or Eastern Europe inhaling hemp seed smoke during rituals, however they were not smoking weed in the traditional sense.

marijuana plant

Marijuana and hemp history timeline

As you now know, cannabis has been grown and used for thousands of years. Some of the first accounts of smoking bud were for religious purposes and cultivation of hemp has been essential to the survival of many groups including early American colonists. In modern times, cannabis history focuses mainly on medicinal purposes and recreational use, however hemp cultivation is making a comeback as well. These are a few of the key moments in marijuana and hemp history:

  • Approximately 10,000 B.C. - First archaeological account of cannabis use was found in China where traces of hemp rope were imprinted on pottery.
  • Approximately 4,000 B.C. - First record of medicinal marijuana where it was used in China as an anesthetic during surgery.
  • 315 to 392 A.D. - First physical evidence of medicinal marijuana discovered in the abdomen of a female who likely died during childbirth just outside of Jerusalem.
  • 1533 - King Henry VIII of England imposes a fine for farmers that don’t cultivate hemp.
  • 1616 - The first American colonists grow hemp to produce cloth for sails and clothing. By the early 1700s, it was required by law for farmers to cultivate hemp.
  • 1937 - The Marijuana Tax Act is signed into law taxing all cannabis including hemp discouraging farmers growing it. The act was reversed in 1969.
  • 1976 - The first coffee shops selling marijuana for recreational purposes open in The Netherlands.
  • 1996 - California approves Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act) becoming the first in the country to legalize medicinal marijuana.
  • 2012 - Colorado and Washington are the first states to legalize recreational marijuana.
  • 2013 - Uruguay becomes the first country in the world to legalize cannabis at the national level.
  • 2018 - The Farm Bill of 2018 removes CBD and industrial hemp from controlled substances under U.S. federal law.

History of medical marijuana

Cannabis is listed as one of the 50 main herbs in traditional Chinese medicine and as previously mentioned, was used as an anesthetic during surgery around 4,000 B.C. in ancient China. Hua Tuo, a Chinese surgeon is often referred to as the first person to use marijuana in this way. Early Japanese, Korean, Indian, Greek, and Egyptian doctors also used marijuana during their practice to treat numerous kinds of ailments.

After spending time in India, Dr. William Brooke O'Shaughnessy brought the drug into Western medicine sometime in the 1830s. In the U.S., marijuana was added to the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1850 citing its use for treating typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, leprosy, incontinence, snakebites, gout, excessive menstrual bleeding, and other health issues. Currently, pot is legal for medical use in 33 U.S. states and legal for anyone over the age of 21 to buy in 11 states. The FDA has approved four cannabis prescription drugs: a CBD derivative to control seizures, two drugs for anorexia and issues with weight loss, and a synthetic THC compound to treat the side effects of cancer treatment.

If you want to dig deeper into the topic of medicinal marijuana, check out our articles on the health benefits of cannabis or ways to consume CBD.

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