Where exactly is the geographical origin of the cannabis plant? Are "hemp" (i.e. industrial, commercial or fiber hemp) and "cannabis" really different plants? Since when have people been using the many properties of the plant and how did it come to spread around the world?
These questions have long preoccupied cannabis enthusiasts, whether researchers or lay:ers - and they are sometimes controversial. A recent study provides new clues and rejects old hypotheses.
WHERE DID CANNABIS ORIGINATE?
Until now, it was assumed that cannabis originated in Central Asia (more precisely: in the foothills of the Himalayas). However, the study shows that the plant is more likely to have originated in East Asia, in what is now China. This assumption fits with archaeological evidence, such as finds of so-called "cord-beating pottery", for the production of which hemp fibers were also used. Some of these finds from today's southern China and Taiwan are up to 12,000 years old and thus the oldest indications of a use of the cannabis or hemp plant by humans.
ARE HEMP AND CANNABIS THE SAME THING?
The short answer: yes. At least, that's what the new evidence described in the study suggests. According to this, all cultivars known today (often referred to as "varieties") are rooted in the same gene pool - in other words, they are descended from the same great-grandparents. Even today, close relatives of these ancestors can be found in China in the form of wild types or "landraces".
HOW DID CANNABIS SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD?
Cannabis was cultivated and used as a "multipurpose" plant until about 4,000 years ago. After that, a sort of split took place: some lines were bred exclusively for the use of fiber, while the plants of other lines were selected and bred primarily for the production of THC-containing resin (i.e., for ritual and intoxication purposes).
The exciting thing is that following this split, there has been little significant genetic exchange between these two lineages over the last 4,000 years. In other words: cannabis was either used for fiber production or for the use of the psychoactive resin. Nevertheless: the ancestors of all cannabis plants known today are, according to the authors of the study, the same.
Thus, in the following centuries, cannabis made its way to pretty much every corner of the world. About 3000 years ago, the plant reached the Indian subcontinent, where it was probably used exclusively for its intoxicating properties. Fiber hemp reached Western Europe a little later via the Middle East. From there it went on to Africa (13th century) and finally Latin America (16th century). Today, it is hard to imagine: in North America, cannabis was completely unknown until the beginning of the 20th century. Psychoactive cultivars came here first from Latin America, and later - in the wild 70s - also from the Indian subcontinent.
So, to sum up:
Cannabis does not originate from Central Asia, as previously thought, but from East Asia, today's China.
There are hundreds of different lines of hemp and cannabis - but all these plants are descendants of the same ancestors.
Cannabis has been used by humans for at least 12,000 years. Until 4,000 years ago as a "multipurpose" plant; after that, there was a splitting of lines used either for fiber or for the production of the psychoactive resin.