Did you know that George Washington grew hemp from the cannabis sativa plant on this land? Or that cannabis seeds have been found on Viking ships showing that they would have been taken on world tours? If you said “no,” you’re not the only one.
But it’s true, Washington grew hemp as one of his three primary crops at Mount Vermon, and the use of hemp as a fabric and for rope was common in the 18th and 19th centuries in all of America.
What’s more, is that this plant has been helping people heal across the world for ages—the history of cannabis use reaches as far as 12,000 years back, meaning that this is one of the oldest human cultivated crops in history.
According to a report by Barney Warf, professor of geography at the University of Kansas, cannabis was mostly used as a medicine and for spiritual purposes during pre-modern times. Warf says that medieval Germans and the Vikings used it in order to relieve pain during childbirth, as well as for toothaches and headaches.
Warf points out that it is only more recently that cannabis has been made illegal, and describes this as quite the “historical anomaly,” because for the remainder of the plants history, it has been legal in many regions of the world, and celebrated by most.
Although cannabis is the one of the most ancient plant cultivated by mankind, you may have trouble finding much about it in the history books. The reason behind this might be because cannabis has played an integral part in the world long before written history. Warf believes that the plants originated on the steppes of Central Asia—in the regions that we now refer to southern Siberia and Mongolia.
Kurgan burial mounds in Siberia that date back as far as 3,000 B.C. have remnants of burned cannabis seeds present, which is surely a good as sign as any that the plant was being used by humans there. There is also evidence of mummified marijuana in the tombs of nobles buried in the Xinjiang region of China around 2500 B.C., indicating that it was a most prestigious herb
Yes, this little plant has been around a long time, and what’s more, is that humans have made great use of it.
The oldest known written record of the plant being used for healing comes from 2727 B.C. by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. Four thousand years before that, another record predicts when cannabis seeds were first used as food. Also known as hemp seeds, this gluten-free grain is protein-packed and rich in amino and fatty acids, which would have made it a healthy additive for the diet of its ancient cultivators. In congruence with its colorful past, cannabis has an extensive list of usages. Everything from creating hemp, treating illnesses, to recreational use, it comes as no surprise why this plant has played such a major role in society.
According to information in the book “Cannabis,” ancient Chinese farmers are commonly recognized for their sustainable cannabis agriculture and production of hemp seeds and fiber. These farmers discovered that they could use the fiber in the stocks of the hemp plant to make paper. “Male plants were harvested for fine fiber soon after releasing pollen. Female plants were harvested in autumn for hemp seeds and rough fiber” (Duvall, 2014). This discovery launched over 10 thousand uses for hemp. The cultivation of this plant evolved as a food source, to creating paper and textiles, and then on to curing diseases.
In 1545, Spaniards are reported to have brought the plant into Chile as a form of fiber, and this is how it was introduced to the western hemisphere. By the late 19th century, cannabis had reached a peak in terms of medical use, but problems with consistency in supply quality led to a decrease in usage in the early 20th century.
And now, back to medicine
In 1965, scientists found a renewed interest in the medicinal values of the plant, and since then usage has again flourished. It was in the 1990s that researchers began to really delve into the fascinating endocannbinoid system in the human brain.