Marijuana 101: A Brief History of Cannabis Geography

“From prehistoric Xinjiang to the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, from Hashish smokers in medieval Cairo to casual pot users on American university campuses, psychoactive cannabis has a long and fascinating historical geography.”

–Barney Warf, “High Points: An Historical Geography in Cannabis”


Cannabis was around long before anyone decided to profit from it. It has a rich history of geography that informs its position in agriculture, the economy, politics and medicine.

Even though cannabis has been evolving for millennia, many theorists believe that it originated in Central Asia during the Stone Age. According to Professor Ernest Abel at Wayne State University, “The earliest record of man’s use of cannabis comes from the island of Taiwan located off the coast of mainland China. In this densely populated part of the world, archaeologists have unearthed an ancient village site dating back over 10,000 years to the Stone Age.”

With roots planted in prehistoric China and seeds unknowingly sewn along the Silk Road, evolutionary and environmental circumstances carried cannabis across the Middle East, Africa, and ultimately, North and South America.

While undergoing this global migration, as explained by Professor Barney Warf of the University of Kansas, cannabis gained several cultural applications along the way.

In the Bronze Age, the Scythians, a group of Indo-European nomads, smoked cannabis as a ritual practice. Cannabis demonstrated medicinal value as an anesthetic in 2nd century China. In the 7th century, cannabis was incorporated into the Tantric traditions of Tibet and Nepal. From the 7th to 13th centuries, the recreational use of hashish, purified cannabis resin, was popular in the Arab Empire.

The 16th to mid-20th centuries saw European colonizers promoting the use of cannabis to indigenous laborers in an attempt to pacify them. However, the Caribbean people would ultimately bring cannabis back to Britain. Cannabis eventually made it to the United States via Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911.

By the time it was introduced to America, cannabis had already traversed the globe.

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