The oldest form of Marijuana is 2,700 year old resin found in China. In this article we'll take a trip through time to discover the humble beginnings of Cannabis, learn about the chemicals found in this mystical plant, how it co-evolved with people and it's current status within modern civilizaiton.
Cannabis was first discovered in ancient Central Asia. Now although the oldest form of Cannabis is 2,700 years old, the oldest reference to it was found in books by Greek historian Herodotus's history records in 440 BC. He mentioned how nomads in Eurasia would use it to take Cannabis steam baths.
On ancient Asia it has long been part of medicinal and spiritual practices in various cultures throughout history. A prominent religion that valued cannabis was Taoism in ancient China. The Chinese even had a caretaker for this herb. Her name is Magu. She was a healer that used Cannabis as medicine.
2. Middle East
This plant quickly spread over the years to the Middle East and became a popular edible intoxicant known as Hashish. This edible, consumed primarily by the Sufis for their religious devotions, produced intoxication, jocularity and a dream-like state.
Later down the line the next Cannabis stop is India, in which the consumption of this plant evolved into a holy drink called Bhang. Bhang is traditionally distributed by Hindus during the spring festival of Holi. This pot infused drink is still produced today which is also made into an edible for religious purposes. If you're interested in making Bhang at home, check out this 1 minute video recipe.
The next location we hit is Africa. Africa's approach to the use of this plant was quite different than the previous regions. This is where Cannabis began to start seeing usage as medicine. Aside from medicinal, Cannabis in Africa was also the center of a religion named The Bashilenge tribe. They called themsleves Bena Riamba which translates to "Sons of Hemp". Not only was used for medicinal reasons or religious purposes but it is known that warriors in Africa would use this before battle to calm their nerves.
5. The New World
During transatlantic slave trading, traders carried it to the Americas from Africa. In the America's, farming for Hemp became popular. Hemp is alternative form of marijuana plant used for clothes, rope, sails, paper, food and construction materials. Some towns named themselves after Hemp such as Hempstead NY, Hempfield PA, Hemphill KY, Hemp GA and Hemphill TX.
This plant evolved and split into two different kind of plants. One path selected for length and strength of fibers. The other path selected for psychoactive potency. Colder climates got Hemp. Warmer climates got psychoactive Cannabis.
In 1753 Carl Linnaeus (Swedish botanist who created the modern system of classifying organisms) dubbed the term Cannabis Sativa. Sativa is tall and has thin leaves. Later on a variety of the plant found in the cool mountain climates of India. They were darker with thicker leaves and named Cannabis Indica as well as a third type called Cannabis Ruderalis originally found in Russia.
The main psychoactive chemical is called THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). The second major active chemical is called CBD (Cannabidiol) which reduces anxiety. But Cannabis has more than 100 compounds that affect the human body called Cannabinoids. Female plants get you higher. Leaves and stems contain some psychoactive substance but not that much.
Endocannabinoid systems are present in every animal except for insects. Scientist don't completely understand why we have them but there is evidence that they play a key evolutionary role like stimulating appetite, helping us forget and reducing stress.
Cannabis isn't just composed of Cannabinoids. There are over 400 active compounds that give a plant a unique chemical profile. Some of these compounds include Terpenes (aroma molecules) and Flavonoids (flavor molecules). These different compounds are mediated to create what is called the Cannabinoid profile.
An example of a Cannabinoid profile in the strain Sour Diesel sounds something like this - Sour Diesel contains a chemical called Caryophyllene which is also found in black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. This chemical creates a peppery smell. While Super Lemon Haze contains limonene, a major component in the peels of citrus fruit.
By selecting the right combination of Cannabinoids over several plant generations, growers can create an iconic brand product like the famous strain in the movie Pineapple Express. Pineapple Express is one of hundreds and hundreds of unique marijuana strains on the market. Some with advertised THC potencies of upward of 25%.
A major evolutionary change happened because of one thing; the American War on Drugs. For the majority of the 20th century most of the Marijuana consumed in the US came from Mexico. This was absolutely horrible weed. The dealers would sell mostly seeds or stems. Very rarely would they sell the bud or the flower which is the actual good stuff. They'd also sell the entire plant which would only amount to 3% of THC content by weight.
To cut off the flow of cannabis across the border the US started paying Mexico to spray their Marijuana fields with herbicide in 1975. So Americans started making a lot more of it themselves. But Marijuana could only grow in the sunny US states like California because the only Marijuana we had was Cannabis Sativa.
That changed in the late 1970s when Americans brought back the shorter cold-resistant cannabis indica from the Hindu Kush mountains. Crossbreeding frost-resistant indica with existing Sativa plants allowed Cannabis to grow in every single state in America.
When the Reagan administration started using spy planes to search for Marijuana farms from the air, indica's smaller size allowed growers to hide their plants indoors. And remember previously when we mentioned the Cannabis Ruderalis? Crossbreeding this allowed for shorter flowering times so plants could sprout faster. This innovation led to the growing of hybrids.
All these different changing factors such as growers pushing the boundaries of Cannabis and exploring Cannabinoid profiles, the government slowly changing it's position on how it deals with Cannabis in America and entrepreneurs worldwide rushing to collect their piece of the pie in this industry have all played a huge role in the evolution of Marijuana. We are still only in the beginning of this massive shift in the Cannabis industry. There are many opportunities that need to be explored. Until the smoke clears, we can just keep on dancing with Mary Jane.