Cannabis: Humanity's Companion Plant

Cannabis: Humanity's Companion Plant
For many thousands of years, cannabis has been used for both healing and spiritual purposes around the world. Laws banning the growing, sale, and use of marijuana and other forms of cannabis didn't become common until the early 20th century. Washington DC first made moves to ban cannabis in 1906, and in 1913, California banned the sale of “preparations made from hemp or loco weed". By the 1930s, cannabis was essentially outlawed nationwide.

reefer madnessNext came propaganda films, such as the infamous 1936 “Reefer Madness”. After just a few puffs, pot smokers in that film turned into sexually promiscuous, murderous psychopaths. The idea that marijuana was a dangerous narcotic persisted throughout the 20th century.

Fortunately, the 21st Century has seen a reversal of these negative stereotypes. Medical science has recognized the health benefits of cannabis use. For example, cannabis use has been shown to reduce the negative side effects of cancer treatments. Furthermore, a few controversial studies indicate that cannabis also possesses anti-tumor effects.

Since the Farm Bill of 2018 legalized growing industrial hemp, a cannabis variety closely related to marijuana, the sale of cannabis extracts has exploded. This includes CBD, a non-intoxicating extract popular for pain relief. But, it also includes intoxicating extracts, such as delta-8 THC, which can be made from hemp. In hemp plants, delta-8 THC occurs in tiny amounts, which can be extracted and concentrated. In some states where recreational marijuana remains illegal, it's legal to buy products containing delta-8.

So far, well over half of the states have legalized either medical marijuana, recreational weed or both. Moreover, cannabis research is proving why throughout history, marijuana has been considered humanity's companion plant.

The Endocannabinoid System Hold the Secret

The compounds in cannabis, known as endocannabinoids, seem to be a perfect match for the human endocannabinoid system. This system consists of chemical receptors throughout the body. CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells.

When a cannabis product is smoked or consumed, the endocannabinoids bind to the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. This explains both the pain-relieving effects, as well as the high. Not only that, but it also explains recent studies indicating the antiviral properties and other healing effects of THC.

However, modern science is only now catching up to what our ancient ancestors intuitively understood. For millennia, cannabis was used by both shamans and folk healers alike.

The Prehistory of Cannabis

Archeologists have found evidence of cannabis use dating to the pre-pottery Neolithic period, going back nearly 9,000 years. However, cannabis use undoubtedly dates even further back. Our hunter-gather Ice Age ancestors used the cannabis plant not only for medicinal and spiritual purposes, but also as food, and to make twine, rope, and fabrics.

The ancient use of cannabis is well-documented in Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, and India. In 2016, archeologists made a stunning find along the ancient Chinese Silk Road. Within a 2,800-year-old grave, they found the remains of a 35-year-old Caucasian man covered with marijuana plants. The plants had ripe, potent buds, indicating that marijuana was deliberately cultivated and used in the region.

Its use in the Middle East is also well-documented. The ancient Assyrians used cannabis, as did the Egyptians, Thracians, Scythians, and Dacians. In fact, analysis of the famous Pazyryk “ice maiden”, known for her stunning tattoos, proved she used cannabis to cope with cancer. “Princess Ukok”, as she is called, was buried with containers of precious weed.

In 2020, archeologists found traces of burnt cannabis, as well as frankincense, at Tel Arad, the site of an ancient Jewish temple. Analysis of the residue found on the stone altar dates cannabis use there to around 750 BC. It's quite possible that the ancient priests believed that the intoxicating smoke allowed them to effectively perform their rituals within the “Holy of Holies”.

Worldwide Spread of Cannabis

Cannabis has its origins in Asia, but this useful plant quickly spread throughout the Old World, along with trade along the Silk Road.

Cannabis made its appearance in the New World, where Spaniards introduced the plant to Chile in 1545. Initially, it was used for its fiber. The slave trade brought the plant to Brazil, where it became known as the “opium of the poor”.

It's well-known that the Founding Fathers of the United States grew hemp; however, evidence that they used their crops to get high is scarce. Rather, colonial Americans grew hemp primarily for fiber to make rope, as well as for nutritious seeds.

“Hash parlors” were also a fashionable feature along the east coast of the United States. In the 1880s, there were 500 hashish dens in New York City alone. These places were considered high class and frequented by the upper classes.

However, marijuana extracts, along with opium, were popular ingredients in “patent medicines” throughout the 19th century. These disreputable and often dangerous “snake oils” undoubtedly led, in part, to the ban on cannabis use.

Legal Marijuana in the United States

In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing medical marijuana. Within a few years, the states of Washington, Maine, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and the District of Columbia followed suit.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational weed. Today, twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana. Typically, in order to legally buy weed, you'll need to be at least 21 years of age, and only purchase it at a licensed dispensary.

More states are coming on board, legalizing both the medical and recreational use of marijuana. However, if you live in a state where recreational weed is not legal, the 2018 Farm Bill opened the door for a few innovative options.

The 2018 Farm Bill

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, removed restrictions from the growing of hemp; hemp contains less than 3% delta-9 THC, the compound responsible for the marijuana high. Not only were American-grown hemp fabrics and fibers back on the market, but also extracts made from hemp, most notably CBD.

While the Farm Bill opened the way for hemp plants with very low levels of delta-9 THC, nothing was specifically said about delta-8 THC. Presumably, this was because the occurrence of delta-8 within hemp is so minuscule. However, chemists and entrepreneurs found ways to isolate and concentrate psychoactive delta-8 THC from industrial hemp plants. The result has been a concentrate that produces a mild, happy high comparable to recreational weed. Delta-8 concentrates are typically made into vape cartridges as well as edibles.

While the federal government does not currently recognize delta-8 THC as a controlled substance, twenty states have banned its sale and use. This appears to be due to the fact that it is considered to be a “designer drug”. Some states also differentiate between delta-8 products made from hemp and those derived from marijuana plants. However, delta-8 THC only produces a light, happy high, and is not known to be debilitating. In fact, it's probably easier to abuse legally available recreational weed.

Cannabis Comes Full Circle

For many thousands of years, cannabis was revered as a healing plant, capable of relieving pain and uplifting mood. It's only been during the last century or two that cannabis was considered dangerous.

Moving forward, science is finding that raw cannabis, as well as derivatives, such as CBD, have profound health benefits. Recreational use of cannabis, and derivatives such as delta-8 THC, can also benefit the user by relieving stress and uplifting mood. However, as with anything, moderation is key. You can have too much of a good thing. If cannabis use is interfering with your work, school, or personal life, it's time to back off.

In the 21st century, cannabis has regained its place as humanity's companion plant. Happily, this ancient, healing plant is once again giving comfort to those who need it the most.