The Genesis of Cannabis

By David Jenison

Humans first domesticated cannabis, one of the oldest cultivated crops, more than 10,000 years ago shortly after the Ice Age ended. The exact location is not exactly clear, and various researchers have suggested places like the Hindu Kush mountains, Afghanistan and the Huang He River valley, among others. Religious texts even suggest the Hindu god Shiva brought the plant down from the Himalayas. Nevertheless, solid evidence puts early cannabis evolution in a particular sweet spot in the Central Asian (or Eurasian) Steppe in and around present-day countries like Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Western China.

According to the study “High Points: An Historical Geography of Cannabis” published in 2014, “[Cannabis’] biogeography fluctuated over time, largely in response to the waxing and waning of Pleistocene glaciers from which it took refuge. In the upper-Paleolithic period, its spatial distribution was markedly reshaped by human beings, who domesticated it.” It seems that cannabis developed in the Steppe, and early hunter-gatherers spread it pretty much wherever humans went. In the many centuries that followed, the plant went from the Middle East into Africa, across to South America and eventually into the United States and Canada.

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