2016 study: A trans-Eurasian steppe exchange network promoted cannabis usage across Eurasia

A systematic review of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records of cannabis (fibres, pollen, achenes and imprints of achenes) reveals its complex history in Eurasia. A multiregional origin of human use of the plant is proposed, considering the more or less contemporaneous appearance of cannabis records in two distal parts (Europe and East Asia) of the continent. A marked increase in cannabis achene records from East Asia between ca. 5,000 and 4,000 cal bp might be associated with the establishment of a trans-Eurasian exchange/migration network through the steppe zone, influenced by the more intensive exploitation of cannabis achenes popular in Eastern Europe pastoralist communities. The role of the Hexi Corridor region as a hub for an East Asian spread of domesticated plants, animals and cultural elements originally from Southwest Asia and Europe is highlighted. More systematic, interdisciplinary and well-dated data, especially from South Russia and Central Asia, are necessary to address the unresolved issues in understanding the complex history of human cannabis utilisation.
Source: Tengwen Long, et al., Cannabis in Eurasia: origin of human use and Bronze Age trans-continental connections Vegetation History and Archaeobotany pp 1-14, First online: 27 June 2016
Further reading:
This map below shows how marijuana spread throughout the world, from its origins on the steppes of Central Asia.

Credit: Barney Warf, University of Kansas

Marijuana’s History: How One Plant Spread Through the World LIVESCIENCE BlazCzak, Agatha October 17, 2014

Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions that are now Mongolia and southern Siberia, according to Warf. The history of cannabis use goes back as far as 12,000 years, which places the plant among humanity’s oldest cultivated crops, according to information in the book “Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years” (Springer, 1980).

“It likely flourished in the nutrient-rich dump sites of prehistoric hunters and gatherers,” Warf wrote in his study.

Burned cannabis seeds have also been found in kurgan burial mounds in Siberia dating back to 3,000 B.C., and some of the tombs of noble people buried in Xinjiang region of China and Siberia around 2500 B.C. have included large quantities of mummified psychoactive marijuana.

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.)

From China, coastal farmers brought pot to Korea about 2000 B.C. or earlier, according to the book “The Archeology of Korea” (Cambridge University Press, 1993). Cannabis came to the South Asian subcontinent between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C., when the region was invaded by the Aryans — a group that spoke an archaic Indo-European language. The drug became widely used in India, where it was celebrated as one of “five kingdoms of herbs … which release us from anxiety” in one of the ancient Sanskrit Vedic poems whose name translate into “Science of Charms.”

From Asia to Europe

Cannabis came to the Middle East between 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C., and it was probably used there by the Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group. The Scythians also likely carried the drug into southeast Russia and Ukraine, as they occupied both territories for years, according to Warf’s report. Germanic tribes brought the drug into Germany, and marijuana went from there to Britain during the 5th century with the Anglo-Saxon invasions. [See map of marijuana’s spread throughout the world.]

The Secret History of Cannabis in Japan | Dec 5, 2014 Asia Pacific Journal, Vol 12, Issue 49, no 1

Christelle M. Andre Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules Front. Plant Sci., 04 February 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2016.00019 references the medicinal and textile uses of cannabis (Russo et al., 2008; Skoglund et al., 2013)

“Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years” (Springer, 1980).

Hempen culture in Japan

“…hemp was already a well-established crop in many parts of Japan by the time written language was commonly used, and the first “official” recorded history appears as the Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan), published by Crown Prince Shotoku in 710 AD (soon after the introduction of paper making, Chinese writing and Buddhism).”

Trade and communication between China, Korea and Japan faded over the next few centuries as each country led it’s own secluded path. Japan did continue for a while to send scholars and students to learn medicine, agriculture and science from the Chinese and bring the best of it back home, including the Kampo (Chinese medicine) ancient pharmacopoeia developped by Lao Tzu. This system of health and treatment utilized many forms of the hemp plant to treat a variety of illnesses.

A translated account reads “Hemp preparations are especially used as a laxative, to treat asthma & poisonous bites, worm animals, counteract skin ailments and as a general tonic to promote vigor. “(Drake)

During these centuries of feudal society, a leader emerged named Hideyoshi Toyotomi. He came from a typical village to unite Japan. An account of his growing up goes into some detail on daily life in the 1500’s.:
“The village of Nakamura lies in the rich farming country of southwestern Owari in the delta of the Kiso River. Cotton, hemp and rice were cultivated there during Hideyoshi’s day by a comparitively well-off community of peasants, many of whom owned their own land.”

During the feudal era, hemp cultivation was encouraged by the Daimyo (feudal lords) wanting hempen-ware’s high resale value from the wealthy city merchants who favored hemp for making fine clothing. This brought economic strength and power to the Daimyo of the area (who were often in debt to the merchants) (Stearns).

Clarke, Robert, Merlin, Mark, Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, p 95

10,000 year history of Marijuana use in the world

Cannabis by Chris Duvall

Sawler J, Stout JM, Gardner KM, Hudson D, Vidmar J, Butler L, et al. (2015)  The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp PLoS ONE 10(8): e0133292. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0133292

“… marijuana and hemp are significantly differentiated at a genome-wide level, demonstrating that the distinction between these populations is not limited to genes underlying THC production. We find a moderate correlation between the genetic structure of marijuana strains and their reported C. sativa and C. indica ancestry and show that marijuana strain names often do not reflect a meaningful genetic identity. We also provide evidence that hemp is genetically more similar to C. indica type marijuana than to C. sativa strains”

World Wide Weed: Global Trends in Cannabis Cultivation and its Control by Tom Decorte (origins of cultivation of the plant is attributed to either Central Asia or northern South Asia)