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This week the folks at CHOOSELOVE give us a little history lesson on our favorite plant. While cannabis may have come to the U.S in the last century, the plant has an ancient relationship with human beings as a healing, recreational, and mind-expanding medicine.


Illustration of cannabis sativa from “Vienna Dioscurides”, circa 512 AD

Illustration of cannabis sativa from “Vienna Dioscurides”, circa 512 AD

Cannabis likely originated on the steppes of central Asia. It is among humanity’s oldest cultivated crops, and its use by humans may date back more then 12,000 years.

Cannabis was widely used in ancient China. Paintings of the plant have been found on ancient pottery, and mummified psychoactive cannabis has been discovered in tombs thousands of years old.

The Neolithic “Jomon” culture began using cannabis thousands of years ago in Japan. Later, Shinto priests, who associated cannabis with purity, would ceremonially burn its fibers.

Cannabis use was common among the Aryan nomadic herding tribes of Central Asia. They carried it with them to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, introducing it as far back as 5,000 years ago.

India developed a long and continuing tradition of psychoactive cannabis usage. The famous Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, mentions “ganja” (cannabis) and recommends it for things like sharpening the memory and alleviating fatigue.

In Egypt, cannabis pollen has been recovered from the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses II, and many other mummies have been found to contain trace cannabinoids!

Many medieval Arab doctors considered cannabis to be a sacred medicine.

Psychoactive cannabis was even used in classical Greece and Rome! The Physician Dioscorides prescribed it for toothaches and earaches, and women of the Roman elite used it to alleviate labor pains.

Queen Carlota Joaquina of Spain

Queen Carlota Joaquina of Spain

In Europe, medieval-era cannabis seeds have been found all over the place, including in Britain, France, Finland, Bulgaria, and even in the remains of Viking ships.

Known as “dagga”, cannabis has been consumed in Southern Africa for at least 500 years. Anthropologists in the 1920’s reported its use by the “Efe” and “Twa” peoples of the Ituri rainforest.

From Angola, slaves transported against their will brought psychoactive cannabis to Brazil in the 16th century. When the Portuguese Royal Court moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 to escape an invasion, cannabis use became a favorite pastime of Queen Carlota Joaquina.

Indentured laborers brought in from India carried “ganja” (cannabis) with them to Barbados and Jamaica after the abolition of slavery there in 1834. The Rastafarians later vigorously adopted it.

Cannabis was likely introduced to Mexico by a conquistador serving in Cortes’ army. The locals adopted it, and to this day, some Mexican Indian communities use the plant in religious ceremonies.

During the Mexican revolution of 1910-11, immigrants fleeing the violence arrived in the southwestern U.S., bringing “marijuana” (cannabis) with them.

Sailors, Caribbean immigrants, and Jazz musicians in particular helped spread cannabis to many U.S. cities during the 1920’s.

Today, thousands of years after some of our ancestors first used cannabis, more and more of our fellow citizens are continuing to discover the amazing benefits it can have for the body and mind!