Cannabis continues to be a controversial plant in this country despite more than three-dozen states legalizing its use for medical and recreational purposes. Often times, our discussions about cannabis are framed by the 1970s-era ruling that made it illegal in U.S. Yet the history of the plant is far older. It goes back thousands of years.
Just how far back does cannabis use go? According to a scientific paper recently published in the European Journal for Chemistry, we’re talking as far back is 6000 years. The papers authors hail from Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais.
According to the authors, the oldest apparent uses of cannabis by ancient societies were industrial rather than medical or psychoactive. Understanding how ancient cultures first used the plant requires knowing the differences between cannabis, hemp, and marijuana.
Cannabis is a recognized plant species. Within that species there are multiple varieties, including hemp and marijuana. Hemp is considered an industrial plant while marijuana is an intoxicating plant for medicinal and recreational use. Here in the U.S., we draw the distinction based on the amount of THC a plant contains.
Cannabis with 0.3% THC or less is considered hemp. Anything over 0.3% constitutes marijuana. Hemp was legalized across the country with the 2018 Farm Bill. Meanwhile, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Researchers believe that ancient cultures in China, Kazakhstan, and other regions made significant use of cannabis plant fibers for functional purposes. The fibers were used to make ropes, sails, agricultural tools, clothing, and even paper. We see many of the same things today. For example, hemp fibers make an exceptionally strong rope.
In terms of medicinal and recreational use, the researchers have found evidence of it in India and China dating as far back as 3,000 years. Ancient cultures also used it to enhance their spiritual experiences.
Someone who has no interest in learning about the history of cannabis probably couldn’t care less about the Brazilian paper. However, much of what the paper’s authors assert is important in the ongoing debate over whether medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized.
Our modern knowledge of cannabis is limited. Unfortunately, it is only limited by our own unwillingness to dig into it more deeply. It is not like cannabis is a plant that was only recently cultivated. It has been cultivated for thousands of years for both functional and psychotropic applications.
The truth is that we need to know more about marijuana so we can actually make informed decisions about it. This is especially true in the medical field. According to the operators of dispensary Beehive Farmacy in Salt Lake City, UT, research into cannabis’ medical potential have been stifled over the last 50 years by federal restrictions. Researchers could learn a lot more about the plant if restrictions were lifted.
Meanwhile, Beehive Farmacy customers have access to only a limited amount of information presented from a scientific standpoint. They have lots of blog posts and articles discussing cannabis opinions and conjecture, but not a lot of proven fact to work with.
The fact that cultures have been cultivating and using cannabis for thousands of years says something important. Cannabis’ history does not prove that it is completely harmless to society, but it does show that cultures have used it responsibly for millennia. Cannabis has been alive and well for a long time. It has been around longer than the laws that regulate it.