For obvious reasons, painting a complete picture of how cannabis was used in ancient cultures is difficult to do. Fortunately, as the role of medical marijuana in modern healthcare comes to be better understood, interest in its history is leading to important new discoveries:
It must have been something in the air. During a short time window at the end of
the last ice age, Stone Age humans in Europe and Asia independently began using a new plant: cannabis.
That’s the conclusion of a review of cannabis archaeology, which also links an intensification of cannabis use in East Asia with the rise of transcontinental trade at the dawn of the Bronze Age, some 5000 years ago.
It is often assumed that cannabis was first used, and possibly domesticated, somewhere in China or Central Asia, the researchers say – but their database points to an alternative.
Some of the most recent studies included in the database suggest that the herb entered the archaeological record of Japan and Eastern Europe at almost exactly the same time, between about 11,500 and 10,200 years ago. [New Scientist]
The data illustrate a couple interesting points that expand our understanding of the plant’s history. First, the documentation of cannabis use in both Japanese and Eastern European societies more than 10,000 years ago suggests its value may have been discovered independently by different cultures in different parts of the world. While little is known about its specific uses at that time, these early agricultural records open the door to new discoveries that could further extend the historic timeline.
Additionally, the observation that increased evidence of cannabis use began about 5,000 years ago paints an interesting picture of how new societies were introduced to the plant. This timing coincided with the emergence of transcontinental trade routes and the use of horses to facilitate long-distance travel. The researchers speculate that cannabis became a valuable trading commodity at that time, resulting in more widespread archaeological evidence of its use.
In light of all that we now know about the numerous medicinal properties of the cannabis plant, it’s fascinating to consider how these early societies may have made use of it. Many questions remain to be answered, such as what medical applications were understood and how cannabis was cultivated and consumed by ancient cultures. We know that the use of cannabis as an herbal remedy was first recorded in China just a few centuries later, but the likelihood of as-yet-undiscovered medical use of the cannabis plant in ancient cultures is considerable now that we can confirm how widely distributed it truly was at that time.
Today, modern cultivators rely on advanced technology, sophisticated breeding techniques and extensive medical literature to meet the needs of medical marijuana patients treating a wide range of ailments. As we work tirelessly to advance our understanding of this important plant, considering its historic origins may provide new insight into its place in our culture and its role in promoting public health.