History of Cannabis: How Well Do You Know Your Favorite Plant?

Marijuana in a grow room under lights

It’s estimated that almost 183 million people around the world use marijuana.

That makes it the most widely used drug in the world. And the abundance of cannabis is nothing new – the history dates back 1000s of years.

To say you know everything about cannabis, you have to know more than the different strains. A true connoisseur knows the full marijuana background story.

If you think you know everything there is to know, check your knowledge with this guide to everything about cannabis and its history.

Ancient History

Evidence of industrial and medicinal use of cannabis dates back to ancient civilizations.

Pottery fragments found in Taiwan dating back 10,000 years contain hemp fabrics. In ancient China, the plant made clothing, sails, rope. The seeds were a form of food.

Medical textbooks dating to 2800 BC talk about the powerful medicinal properties of cannabis. And in Siberia, burnt cannabis has been found near burial mounds that date to 3000 BC.

This evidence had led researchers to believe that the plant was originally cultivated in Central Asia. From there, it spread to Africa, Europe, and the Americas. But the modern history of marijuana in the Western world didn’t begin until the late 1700s.

Marijuana in the Western World

Carl Linnaeus was the first person to give cannabis a taxonomic identification. In 1753, he identified the cannabis sativa plant. 32 years later, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck classified cannabis indica.

The third species, ruderalis, wasn’t classified until 1924. But before then, the first clinical trials of cannabis had already taken place.

William O’Shaughnessy is credited with bringing cannabis into the minds of the Western world in the first half of the 19th century. In his case reports on the plant known as “gunjah” in India, he described in detail the effects of the drug to the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta. He was also the first person to conduct trials of cannabis tinctures on mice, rabbits, cats, and dogs.

In Europe, use of the drug became popular as Napolean’s troops left Egypt and returned to Europe. And in the Americas, the use of cannabis extract as a medicine saw its height in the 1800s.

The Legal Marijuana Background

The US had very little regulation over cannabis before the 1930s. Over the course of that decade, 24 states passed laws banning marijuana. During the 30s, cannabis also became illegal at the federal level.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was launched and began a strong campaign against marijuana. By 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act decreed the illegality of cannabis with the exception of medicinal use.  And by the 1950s, a first-time offense for possession of marijuana carried 2-10 years imprisonment and a fine of $20,000.

Marijuana, Hemp and Cannabis

Marijuana is often used as a catch-all term for cannabis. In reality, it’s a slang term that describes only some parts and varieties of the Cannabis plant. The differences between the two are important in relation to the legality of cannabis in the US today.

The cannabis plant itself has three main species. These are the cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis plants. While the former two species are typically used recreationally, the latter refers to hemp.

The confusion between hemp and marijuana stems from the fact that they’re both derived from cannabis, but they have different uses and properties.

The cannabis plant contains over 100 different cannabinoids. Of the most well-known and studied are THC and CBD. THC has psychoactive properties that are associated with the “high” of marijuana, whereas CBD is a nonpsychoactive cannabinoid with its own host of benefits.

Marijuana typically refers to the psychoactive derivatives of cannabis that contain high amounts of THC. Hemp, on the other hand, is cannabis that’s grown for industry and contains low amounts of THC and high amounts of CBD.

While the leaves, flowers, buds, and stems of cannabis indica and sativa are used for smoking, eating, and brewing, hemp has historically been used for oils, food, and even beauty products.

Although both have been grown for millennia, they’ve been harvested for different purposes. This differentiation affects how the federal government regulates them today.

Marijuana Today

In 2014, the Agricultural Act made it legal for state departments and institutions of higher education to do research with hemp. Then, in 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act gave states the authority to regulate hemp research and production. The federal laws governing regular cannabis use, however, are quite different.

Cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. As such, the federal government considers amongst other dangerous illicit drugs with no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse, such as cocaine and heroin. Its possession, consumption, and sale carry heavy penalties.

But at the state level, 29 states have legalized medicinal cannabis and others have legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. The federal government continues to enforce laws within its jurisdiction while allowing states to have authority over these initiatives.

The Future of Marijuana

As public attitudes and laws regarding cannabis have evolved, cannabis has grown immensely. In fact, the cannabis industry is projected to be over $24 billion US by 2025.

At the same time, the research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis is promising. Research into cannabinoids such as CBD has shown positive, medicinal effects such as pain, stress, and anxiety relief as well as anti-inflammation.

The way we look at cannabis has changed over the last 100 years. Today, the industry is supported by important health organizations like The American Public Health Association and The American Cancer Society. And with just over 60% of the public in favor of legalization, the marijuana industry is thriving.

Everything About Cannabis and More

The marijuana background story began in ancient civilizations, where it was used for industrial and medicinal purposes. Having made its way to the Americas in the late 19th century, penalties for its use, sale, and production were passed at the state and federal level throughout the 1930s.

But most recently, the health and wellbeing benefits of cannabis have become more widely accepted. And as the industry grows, so does support for its use.

In need of some cannabis yourself? Make sure to stop by our dispensary.