Cannabis has had a long history of usefulness; in providing healing as a medicine, for relaxation, and in the production of textiles. Across almost every continent for thousands of years it has been harnessed by people for many different purposes.
Early Origins as a Textile
Although it is impossible to be sure, it seems that Cannabis first grew in Asia. The plant was initially used as a textile in Taiwan. Archeologists found Taiwanese pottery with hemp textiles as the oldest evidence of men using cannabis plants. This dates back to around 8,000-7,000 BC and makes it one of the first cultivated crops. Around 6000 BC Chinese people began pressing the seeds to make both raw and toasted oil. That is the first evidence of eating cannabis.
The Chinese also were among the first to start using the plant for it’s medicinal properties. Records from 2737 BC describe cannabis in a tea to treat grout, rheumatism, malaria, and poor memory. Around the same time (2000 BC) in Egypt it is on a list of medicines treating sore eyes, cataracts, sorrow and bad humor.
As trade routes became increasingly common, word of the functionality of cannabis spread. It began in the middle east with Scythia and Persia, and continued to spread to Europe. The Scythians initially only used cannabis to make hemp fabrics and textiles. At some unknown point Scythians also found it’s use as a recreational drug. In 440 BC Herodotus wrote that public baths used cannabis in steam baths for relaxation. In 700 BC Persians also began using the plant recreationally and were the first to note it’s usefulness as a sleep aid. It seems to have made it’s way to Europe and most of Africa by around 500 AD.
In 1545 Spanish traders introduced it to North America. It quickly became a staple crop used for creating fabrics, paper, and rope. However, cotton became an increasingly popular preference in textiles. By 1890 cotton had almost completely monopolized the textiles market and cannabis fell out of favor as a cultivated crop. Most medicines of the time relied on opium or cocaine, not cannabis. Cannabis didn’t see a revival in popularity in the western world until 1920. The rebellions against prohibition also brought cannabis back in style for recreational use.
A Versatile Plant
As cannabis spread from one culture to another, it was continually used in new and different ways. It seems that each new culture found new ways to use it and found it helpful in curing new and different ailments. We are only just rediscovering the many uses of cannabis for improved health. With modern advances in science, we have been able to isolate beneficial compounds from psychoactive compounds. This will be an essential step in removing stigma from the plant as a “drug.” Now it is possible to enjoy the health benefits of cannabis without the concern of unwanted side effects.