The Origins of Cannabis

The origins of cannabis date back to the pre-Neolithic period when it was used in different cultures and regions for various use cases. Cannabis is considered to be native to the ancient South and Central Asian regions. Many scientists believe that the hemp plant was amongst the “first crops” through the ancient cultivation research.

East Asia

Magu, Hemp Goddess
Magu: The Hemp Goddess Who Healed Ancient Asia. Image:

Studies show the cannabis plantation in the Japanese regions in a time around 10,000 BC. At that time, the Japanese used cannabis for multiple purposes. One of them was found out to be for nutritional reasons while some experts believed that they also used it as a psychoactive material. Archaeologists discovered cannabis achenes in Oki Islands, Japan that date back to the 8,000 BC.

In China, archaeologists found pottery of Yangshao culture that had signs and shapes representing the hemp plant. The estimated time of the pottery goes back between the 5,000-4,000 BC time period. Afterwards, Chinese utilized the hemp plant for the manufacturing of clothing materials, footwear, and even in the paper production.

In Korea, fabrics with hemp were found in some areas that date back to 3,000 BC. The oldest written evidence related to the cannabis presence in Korea was located through text evidence from Shennong, a Chinese emperor.

Aryan Influence

The term ‘ganja’ was used in Indo-Aryan languages like Sanskrit for the hemp plant. The historical Indian drug of “soma” is also considered by some to be an Indian variant of cannabis. There also have been debates about the local Bhanga drug and its association with cannabis. The Aryans spread cannabis use to other parts of Asia including to the Persians, Turks, Arabs, and Armenians etc who recognized its usage as a psychedelic. Interestingly, the plant was then used as a part of the local rituals and traditions, particularly the religious one where it was referred to as “qunubu”. Some experts believe that the modern-day word of “cannabis” may have been evolved from “qunubu”.

Further Distribution

Cannabis in South America
Cannabis use in Central and South America. Image:

Slowly and gradually, cannabis resin was transported in the Arab world from the Persian empires. Records suggest that a Bahraini ruler provided the first cannabis in the Iraqi peninsula in a time between 1200 to 1300 AD. Likewise, Syrian tourists pioneered cannabis in the Egyptian region during 1100-1200 AD.

Texts show the sub-continental people to introduce cannabis in the African region. Some of these tribes settled in Africa and carried on with their cannabis usage. As a result, cannabis was adopted by African populace too. However, in some African areas like South Africa, cannabis already existed.

In South America, the Spanish brought cannabis to countries like Chile during the 16th century. Hemp crops were actively cultivated in North America by the Spanish colonialists for the production of hemp rope, canvas for sails, and other commodities.

More Recent History

William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. Image: Wikimedia

When one of the greatest military commanders, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt, the French army was unable to consume alcohol due to the local ban. As a result, a form of the local cannabis (hashish) was tried which received notable praise. The popular French physician, Jacques-Joseph Moreau visited the Asian and African continent and researched on the cannabis’ impact on the human mind. Dr. Moreau’s finding marketed the cannabis further in the French circles.

Similarly, in the 19th century, a European physician William O’Shaughnessy visited the subcontinent and studied it extensively. Subsequently, he went back to Europe with cannabis stock and introduced in Britain. As a consequence, cannabis kept spreading in the Western hemisphere.

Since then, cannabis use has been adapted from Asia to the entire world.

Final Thoughts

A few parochial minds view cannabis as a negative influence. However, through the above-mentioned brief history of cannabis, it can be concluded that all the major cultures in the world accepted and integrated cannabis for a wide variety of purposes, and have even created bongs and smoking accessories. Some were using it to power their industrial manufacturing. Some found it to be valuable to conduct their rituals. Some used it for medicinal purposes while some benefited from its recreational use. Hence, it is important to learn from our ancestors and dismantle any negative myths regarding cannabis.

© 2018 Oregon Cannabis Connection. All rights reserved.

Keith Mansur

Keith Mansur is the founder, publisher, and editor of Oregon Cannabis Connection newspaper. The print publication has been serving Oregon since 2010. He has been a Oregon medical marijuana patient, grower, and caregiver since 2006. Find him on Facebook or email him at

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