Both hemp and psychoactive marijuana were used widely in ancient China, Warf wrote. The first record of the drug’s medicinal use dates to 4000 B.C. The herb was used, for instance, as an anesthetic during surgery, and stories say it was even used by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. (However, whether Shen Nung was a real or a mythical figure has been debated, as the first emperor of a unified China was born much later than the supposed Shen Nung.)
In the report, author Barney Warf describes how cannabis use originated thousands of years ago in Asia, and has since found its way to many regions of the world, eventually spreading to the Americas and the United States.
Where did pot come from?
Over the next centuries, cannabis migrated to various regions of the world, traveling through Africa, reaching South America in the 19th century and being carried north afterwards, eventually reaching North America.
From Asia to Europe
These early hemp plants had very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects.
Scientists later discovered that THC was the source of marijuana’s medicinal properties. As the psychoactive compound responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects, THC also interacts with areas of the brain that are able to lessen nausea and promote hunger.
Marijuana, also known as cannabis or pot, has a long history of human use. Most ancient cultures didn’t grow the plant to get high, but as herbal medicine, likely starting in Asia around 500 BC. The history of cannabis cultivation in America dates back to the early colonists, who grew hemp for textiles and rope. Political and racial factors in the 20th century led to the criminalization of marijuana in the United States, though its legal status is changing in many places.
By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments.
An ancient Greek historian named Herodotus described the Scythians—a large group of Iranian nomads in Central Asia—inhaling the smoke from smoldering cannabis seeds and flowers to get high.
An Egyptian papyrus from about 1500 B.C. makes mention of cannabis as a useful way to treat inflammation.
When steamships began to replace sailing ships in the late 1800s, the need for hemp began to wane.
Marijuana in America
Marijuana has been used as medicine and a way of achieving euphoria since ancient times. The first reference to its use is in a Chinese medical manual dating back to around 2700 B.C. Chinese legend states that its usefulness in treating rheumatism, gout, malaria and, oddly enough, absent-mindedness was documented by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung — known as the Father of Chinese Medicine.
Also in the mid-1500s, African slaves transported to Brazil brought cannabis with them. They worked farms in Brazil and they were allowed to grow crops of marijuana to smoke.
Cannabis appeared as an ingredient in many patent medicines of the day, but it was a small percentage compared to the number containing opium or cocaine.