The use of marijuana recreationally and medically is a hot topic nowadays. Many states in the US have already legalized the drug in one form or another and more and more states are pushing for similar legalization as more research sheds light on the many therapeutic benefits of the plant. But marijuana is not something new to the human race. The plant has been used significantly throughout history, with many old artifacts and pieces of evidence pointing to not only its medicinal and recreational use but spiritual use as well. So, when was marijuana discovered?
In this article, we trace the long history of human use of the marijuana plant. But first, let us discuss a little bit about what marijuana is, its effects, and uses.
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a product derived from the cannabis plant, one of the oldest crops known to humankind. It evolved about 28 million years ago and is a close relative of the common hop used in beer. Nowadays, it goes with many nicknames, such as weed, pot, ganja, Mary Jane, herb, and bud, among others. The methods to consume marijuana are almost limitless – it may be smoked, eaten raw, steeped in teas, stuffed into capsules, or even baked into edibles. Marijuana is known for its active ingredient called THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol that makes people high. Effects vary greatly from person to person and these can include euphoria, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, fear, panic, and anxiety. Because of these effects, cannabis is commonly used to treat several ailments, such as chronic pain, depression, insomnia, glaucoma, and arthritis, among many others.
When Was Marijuana Discovered?
For several years, the questions of when and where this magical weed was discovered have been more a matter of speculation than science. However, recent findings report clear physical evidence that humans began to appreciate the many benefits of marijuana in Central Asia.
Early Marijuana Use – Asia
As mentioned, the origins of the cannabis plant were traced back to Central Asia where it was widely used for a variety of purposes before people introduced the plant into the rest of the world, namely Europe, Africa, and eventually, the Americas. The plant was thought to emerge at the end of the Ice Age and covered large land surfaces at the time, considering that it is a fast-growing weed.
China. The first reference to the medical use of marijuana is found in a Chinese medical manual dating back to around 2700 BC. Chinese emperor Shen Nung, also known as the Father of Chinese Medicine, documented the plant’s use in treating several ailments such as gout, rheumatism, and malaria. By 100 AD, the Chinese had identified over 100 medicinal uses for the plant. Historians, however, noted that before marijuana’s medicinal properties were discovered, the Chinese used cannabis seeds for food (around 6000 BC) and the plant’s fiber to make rope and textiles (around 4000 BC).
Later on, pieces of evidence of cannabis burned in an enclosed burial site were discovered showing that cannabis use for psychoactive purposes began around 500 BC. Since the cemetery was in an enclosed space, mourners almost certainly inhaled the aromatic THC-laced fumes, which were thought to initially have another purpose – to mask the pungent smell of any decaying corpse.
India. Just like China, India did not initially grow or use the plant to get high but as herbal medicine. They created a drink called bhang, which was a mixture of milk, other ingredients, and marijuana. The drink was used as an anesthetic and anti-phlegmatic. The Indians also found the plant to have therapeutic benefits against fever, leprosy, and dysentery. Moreover, they used marijuana to promote sleep, improve cognition, and prolong life. The marijuana’s use did not stop there in India – a collection of ancient scriptures depict that the plant had a long history of spiritual use as well. Cannabis is mentioned in The Vedas, or sacred Hindu texts, as one of the five sacred plants that can gift happiness, relieve fear, and release anxiety. The Hindu god, Shiva, is also frequently associated with the plant.
Marijuana Use in Modern Times – Europe, Africa, and the Americas
Europe. One of the oldest documented evidence of recreational cannabis was dated around 1500 BC and written by the Father of History, Herodotus. According to the ancient Greek historian, the Scythians, a nomadic society, cultivated cannabis not only to weave fine hemp cloth but also to inhale the vapors of the flowers and seeds from the plant that they heated on rocks. The Greek philosopher, Democritus, also briefly mentioned the psychoactive plant in one of his writings as part of a concoction called potamaugis. The drink is believed to be a blend of wine, myrrh, and cannabis. It was also described to bring about hallucinations.
Africa. One thing that historians are sure of is that the cannabis plant is not indigenous to Africa. The earliest evidence of marijuana use in the continent was in the 14th century where two bowls containing traces of weed were discovered. One of the earliest mentions of the plant was also from a book in the early 1600s by a Dominican priest who wrote that the plant, called bangue, was grown throughout a place called Kafaria. The natives who regularly consumed its leaves always ended up being intoxicated as though they had drunk large quantities of wine.
The Americas. Although little has been published as to the exact date when the plant arrived in the Americas, it was thought that cannabis reached the continent with several groups that had migrated from Asia. However, one of the earliest known discoveries and documentation of the plant growing wild was only made by the French explorer Jacques Cartier in the early 1500s who reported seeing cannabis growing wild during his journeys. Soon after, several other mentions of the hemp plant were made by several other explorers, including Samuel de Champlain, who described natives using hemp on their fishhooks, and Henry Spelman, who mentioned the use of hemp baskets for harvesting.
Although there are many theories regarding the exact date as to when was marijuana discovered, there is no doubt that we will continue to see a reconstruction of the plant’s history as more research and discoveries are being conducted. One thing for sure though is that the plant has played a key role in civilizations over thousands of years. It is much more than its known psychoactive properties – it is a good plant that has helped people survive and adapt.