In a world where cannabis is the one of the most widely used recreational drugs, it’s worth considering how cannabis has become so wide spread across the earth. Few people may even consider the fact that cannabis is not even native to the vast majority of the countries in which it is smoked and in most cases, considered illegal.
This pervasive little plant has achieved such widespread notoriety not because it has invaded countries like some kind of triffid creature, but because it has been cultivated for a massive variety or reasons throughout human history. Cannabis has been traded and reaped much like any other herb and here we look at how and why it navigated our globe.
Almost as far back as human history itself has been recorded there has been documentation of cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Used in treatment for a range of ailments from gout to constipation and even malaria the use of cannabis in medicinal practice can actually be tracked as far into antiquity as 2800B.C. Furthermore this was no isolated chapter in human history…
While documented use of cannabis for medicinal purposes started in China, there are clues present that suggest that it is in Western Asian in which we can find the roots of cannabis. The first documentation of a cannabis based remedy in India may only date back to around 1000BC, but the manner in which the plant seemed to haphazardly stray across the Asian continent suggests a far earlier human influence than even China could document.
Ancient Asian Colonisation
The first great migrations out of Africa (the birthplace of man) can only really be traced through fossil records and conjecture, but what is apparent is that swathes of early humans headed through North East Africa, Western Asia and onwards into the East. With them they brought primitive tools, animals and plants.
One such plant that seems to have originated in Western Asia and been used for shamanic rituals was the cannabis plant and it prospered due to the nomadic nature of man, who carried it across the continent in its many diverse varieties.
Africa & Eastern Europe
Some speculation suggests that cannabis was spread to Africa centuries ago but it was not until cannabis in its medicinal guise began to spread west from Asia in 500BC that there was any solid documentation of its use. Once again it was used for a wide variety of ailments and in an often ritualistic fashion. It was in this time that this Asian influence also began to sweep over Eastern Europe as new medicines were sought far and wide.
Britain & the West
It would take more than a century for cannabis in its medical form to make its way into the Western world. In fact it took until the 1800’s before this was even considered, having been utilised for industry since as early as the 15th century. A modern renaissance in pursuit of herbal medicines brought the potential uses of cannabis into France, Spain, and Britain. In fact Britain for a time quite emphatically embraced cannabis as a form of medication for many ailments.
These medical seeds where germinated in Britain was for a wide range of ailments from chronic back-pain to head-aches and insomnia. It is also alleged that Queen Victoria was prescribed cannabis as a pain-killer by her physician.
It was however most predominantly the industrial uses that finally took cannabis full circle around the globe into the new world…
The United States of America
In the infancy of the United States the need for quality resources for housing, animal feed, textiles and more where apparent and hemp which had already been used widely throughout Europe was an ideal solution.
In the early days of independence, presidents and dignitaries alike promoted the use of hemp widely as it provided for a wide range of industries, from animal feed to ship rigging. In addition it was an easily renewable resource that also allowed year round crop rotation due to the rejuvenating effect it had on farmed soils.
In fact it was so important that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington actively promoted growing cannabis and developing new methods of harvesting to make America’s cannabis farming stronger.
As a medicine, cannabis was widely tested in the US around the same time that this dawned in Western Europe.
The Banning of Cannabis
In the years that followed however, cannabis would become increasingly marginalised. By the turn of the 20th century more proficient medicines were available and views of cannabis as an intoxicant spread leading to its decline in the western world in particular.
The hemp trade was also severely damaged by powerful slander campaigns based on this ‘intoxication’ funded by the rival lumber industries.
Perhaps however the sun might rise again on cannabis and hemp as we just weren’t ready for it. Already medicinal cannabis is being utilised in the US for the treatment of a range of ailments. Furthermore, with a stronger understanding of the damage that the logging industry is doing to our planet and the apparent renewable benefits of hemp, it may only be a matter of time before things turn around once again.