Cannabis products are one of the fastest-growing markets in the United States. Each year, cannabis products become more and more commercially successful. But how did cannabis become such an industry behemoth? We need to look back to the past to discover how cannabis is so popular today.
A comprehensive history of cannabis could fill volumes upon volumes of books. To spare you some time, this is our abbreviated history of cannabis. First, we will go over the emergence of the cannabis plant. Then, we will talk about early cannabis use. From there, we will address the proliferation of cannabis into worldwide culture. Finally, we address the history of cannabis in the United States and where cannabis stands today. Buckle up, because our whirlwind history lesson stretches from ancient times to the modern day.
The Biological Origin of Cannabis
For years, the exact origin of cannabis was unclear. Despite cannabis becoming so popular, the evolution and cultivation of cannabis puzzled scientists. Thankfully, some brilliant scientists called paleobiologists tracked down the biological origins of cannabis.
These paleobiologists discovered that modern cannabis emerged 12,000 years ago in East Asia, specifically in the Altai Mountains in Northern China and Mongolia. The modern cannabis plant evolved from its wild ancestor, the basal cannabis plant. Soon, ancient cultures began to cultivate the cannabis plant.
Ancient Asian cultures were the first to tap into the numerous applications of cannabis. Scientists believe that many cultures first used cannabis for its fiber. Ancient people wound the strong fibers of the cannabis plant into rope and nets, a practice that continues to this day. Also, people ate the seeds of the cannabis plant and pressed them into oil. Although none of these uses exploited cannabis’ psychedelic properties, these creations were the first cannabis products. However, ancient peoples would soon discover the psychoactive properties of cannabis.
Early Cannabis Products
Ancient people likely discovered the psychoactive high of cannabis by accident. Most likely, some hunter-gatherers burned cannabis on one of their campfires, and they began to feel a bubbly cannabis high as they indirectly inhaled the smoke. Word spread quickly that burning cannabis resulted in an enjoyable feeling, and we began to see the first evidence of cannabis use about 4,000 years ago.
There are many references to cannabis use in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern texts. Egyptian texts in 1500 BCE referenced the application of topical cannabis creams to curb inflammation. In Homer’s Odyssey, there are several references to medicinal cannabis use. So, ancient cultures created various medicinal cannabis products to cure several ills. However, there is also evidence of cannabis use specifically to get stoned.
Recently, archeologists discovered the earliest evidence of ancient cannabis use in a cemetery in China. Cannabis was central to an ancient Chinese religious ritual where loved ones would spiritually connect with the deceased. People would bring wooden braziers inside the tomb of the deceased. Then, they would burn the cannabis in the enclosed space. Anyone inside this space would inhale the fumes and become high to experience a spiritual connection. Many ancient Asian cultures, such as the Indians, would use cannabis during spiritual rituals. However, ancient Asia was only the nexus of cannabis, and cannabis products soon spread across the globe.
Although there is a long history of Asian cannabis use, it did not make a splash in the Western World until the 19th century. Cannabis had arrived in Europe in small quantities, but it took a physician to renew European interest in cannabis. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was an Irish physician who traveled to India to study Eastern medicine. He ended up studying the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant impressed O’Shaughnessy so much that he brought cannabis back with him to Europe. Even though Europe was beginning to get a taste of cannabis in the 19th century, cannabis arrived in the Americas much earlier.
Hemp was far more popular than cannabis in the early Americas. Colonists brought hemp to South and North America in the 17th century and began cultivating the plant. In one instance, colonists in Virginia were encouraged to plant as much hemp as possible on their properties, as it could provide fibers for rope, clothes, and sails. Although the United States originally had a strong relationship with cannabis, much of the United States history is mired in misinformed cannabis regulation.
The United States and Cannabis Products
The United States cultivated hemp and cannabis for most of its history. In the 19th century, it was common for pharmacies to sell marijuana over the counter and include it in many medications. However, around the turn of the last century, attitudes toward marijuana began to change in the United States.
In 1910, the Mexican Revolution caused many Mexican refugees to flood into the United States. These refugees brought along their affinity for marijuana, which was quite common in Mexico. Racist anti-immigrant sentiment, propelled by the Great Depression, targeted these Mexican refugees and immigrants. White Americans (many of them immigrants themselves), afraid of losing their scarce jobs to Mexican labor, demonized Mexican immigrants for their stereotypical “lazy attitude.” Along with the demonization of Mexican immigrants, racists targeted one of their cultural pastimes, smoking marijuana. Even today, the negative stigma surrounding marijuana traces back to these racist roots.
As the 19th century progressed, the United States continued its complicated relationship with cannabis. In the 1930s, the United States attempted to outlaw hemp and cannabis, but this was a short-sighted move. At the beginning of WWII, the United States desperately needed raw materials for its soldiers. The hemp industry was instrumental in providing strong fibers for rope and clothes for the United States military. After the war, the United States relaxed cannabis and hemp regulations. In the 1960s, many Americans embraced the healing powers and psychoactive pleasures of cannabis, and several states decriminalized marijuana use. Then, cannabis regulations took a turn for the worse.
The War On Drugs and Modern Day
In the 1980s, the War on Drugs again turned the public against cannabis. Instead of decriminalizing marijuana, many states began jailing people for simple cannabis use. Then cannabis sentiment started its slow climb back to public respect.
In the 1990s, California legalized medicinal cannabis. Many more states began to follow, with medicinal legalizations, decriminalization, and recreational legalization. Hopefully, someday we can celebrate when the United States fully embraces cannabis and hemp like it did hundreds of years ago.
The cannabis products you use today, from CBD to Delta 8, all have a history dating back thousands of years. Cannabis originated in East Asia thousands of years ago, and ancient peoples cultivated the crop. Afterward, people stumbled upon the psychoactive properties of cannabis, and they spread cannabis across Asia. It took a while for cannabis to arrive in the Western world, but all types of cultures widely embraced it. The negative stigma surrounding cannabis, especially in the United States, only emerged in the last hundred years. Today, cannabis is finally healing its reputation, and people are coming to embrace it like they once did thousands of years ago. Now, the next time you toke with your buddies, you can drop some knowledge about the history of the cannabis products you enjoy.