The journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany recently published an interesting study tracing the cannabis plant all the way back to a specific area of the Tibetan Plateau.
The fascinating research paper, entitled, “Cannabis in Asia: Its center of origin and early cultivation, based on a synthesis of subfossil pollen and archaeobotanical studies,” tried to find the most ancient descendant of the cannabis plant. The study, headed up by John McPartland from the University of Vermont, came back with some interesting findings.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the origins of the cannabis plant. Many people across many nations have tried to figure out where cannabis comes from, but this study seems to have some legitimate answers finally. The researchers found that cannabis thrived around 28 million years ago, specifically in the northeastern Tibetan Plateau in the Qinghai Lake area. The team found that cannabis and hops have a shared ancestor which hails from this region. They also discovered that cannabis and hops pollen is similar in many ways, and looks almost identical.
The study also noted that “Cannabis dispersed from the Tibetan Plateau, first to the west (Russia and Europe) and then to the east (China). By the end of the Pleistocene, Cannabis spread throughout Asia, except for Southeast Asia. Thus, wild-type Cannabis was available for people across Eurasia to bring into cultivation and domesticate.” So human beings have been using cannabis for many thousands of years.
According to educated estimates, humankind has used cannabis for the best part of 27,000 years at least. As a Live Science article on this subject noted, “While this medicinal and psychotropic plant was long thought to have first evolved in central Asia, scientists were hazy on the precise location.” Interestingly, the place where cannabis is thought to have first grown is close to the Baishiya Karst Cave. This cave was once lived in by Denisovans, a close relative of Homo Sapiens. But does that mean that Denisovans or early man used Cannabis?
According to the Live Science report, “the earth was in the midst of an ice age, they may have transported cannabis seeds from another place.” The study also found that cannabis only reached Europe around 6 million years ago. Cannabis made its way to China around a million years ago, and then to South America via Africa.
Cannabis grew wild for an estimated 28 million years and has been used by humans in one way or another for around 30 thousand years. By 1931, cannabis was outlawed and made illegal in 29 states. By 1937, the Drug Enforcement Agency was putting people in jail for possessing or growing cannabis.
While the new research study isn’t conclusive, it does present some interesting, valid information about the origins of cannabis. It also shows that the cannabis plant has been used for medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes for millennia, and that includes across at least five different continents.
With the end of prohibition upon us, as countries around the world move to legalize cannabis, new avenues of research potential will open up. Due to being prohibited for so long, it wasn’t only illegal for decades to grow or use cannabis; it was also unlawful to even study it.
That means that we know relatively little about this remarkable plant, but that it will only be a matter of time before more information is revealed. For example, since cannabis legalization in Canada in 2018, numerous research projects have been initiated, to the tune of tens of million dollars. And that’s just within the first year since it became legal.
It’ll be interesting to see what the near future will bring when it comes to cannabis research. There’s no doubt that, before long, clinical studies will be carried out extensively on humans, as it is now permitted in some states of America, Canada, and Uruguay.