Spread of Cannabis throughout the World

cannabis plant drawing from late 19th century

Hey there and welcome (back) !

Today we’re going to go over how states have treated cannabis legally over time. As you may be aware, cannabis has been used by our species since, at least, 12.000 years B.C.
During the 20th Century a shift occurred and states across the world started making it illegal to produce, distribute or consume cannabis. 
As we advance within the 21st century, states are starting to review this position across the globe.

Spread of cannabis across the world

It’s hard to know for exactly how long man kind has been growing and using hemp, but it’s safe to say that we’ve grown with it, and it has grown with us.

Before looking into why cannabis starting being illegal we should explore the time where it was legal with no questions asked (or documented at least) and why it such a historically important plant.

So… when and where did all this start?

map of the world showing the spread of marijuana from 10,000BC to the New World

First signs of Cannabis – Northern China

As we stated earlier in this piece, and covered in depth in this history article, the first signs of uses of Cannabis date back to at least 12 000 BCE. Potteries made with hemp cords were found in the archaeological digs at Yuan-Shan (modern Taiwan). 

“An abundance of evidence from burial pits and other sites through-out China demonstrates the continuous cultivation of Asian hemp from prehistoric times. A twelve thousand years old Neolithic site unearthed at Yuan-shan included remains of coarse, sandy pottery with hempen cord marks covering the surface, along with an incised rod-shaped stone beater used to pound hemp.”

source : The great book of hemp, Chapter 4 – A global history of Hemp

First signs of medical marijuana – China, India & Egypt

The Chinese Emperor Shen Nung (Chen Nung) from 2 700 BCE encouraged his people to cultivate the cannabis plant, “ma”, – for making fiber and cloth. He is also known as the Father of Chinese Medicine and is credited with discovering the healing properties of Cannabis. He documented many medical experiments, some using cannabis.

In India, texts from as early as 2 000 BCE show that cannabis was used not only as an offering for deities but also for medicinal purposes such as aches or pains, insomnia, and many gastrointestinal disorders. 

Last but not least, various Egyptian Papyri also from 2 000 BCE and onwards, refer to cannabis as a treatment for various illnesses such as glaucoma, inflammations or even hemorrhoids. 

Cannabis spread throughout the Roman Empire

Around 70 AD the Greek physician and Roman army doctor, Dioscorides, published a medical book De Materia Medica which became widely used for more then 1 500 years across the whole empire. This book clearly indicated how cannabis could be used for many different illnesses. 

cannabis drawing from 500AD

Guns, Germs and Steel – and Cannabis : the spread of cannabis with colonialism

battle ship from 18th century

European colonialism throughout the world not only introduced the crop in countries were it didn’t exist before but it also fueled the cannabis industry. The wage of European colonialism required a constant fleet of ships – which at the time were in large portion made out of hemp (sails, ropes, cordage, etc).

Uses of Cannabis throughout history

Empires continued to use cannabis until the 19th century for various needs. The hemp industry grew and became very important in some countries such as the United Kingdom. Many doctors throughout the world advocated the medical benefits of the plant for various illnesses and the recreational uses were well known notably amongst artists.

History is full of cannabis : the Mona Lisa was painted on a hemp canvas, William Shakespeare smoked cannabis and Queen Victoria supposably used the plant against period pains… So what happened ?

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