As far as it’s evolution as a species, cannabis has been very successful. It has spread over the whole planet and has bloomed since the earliest of times. Cannabis is a plant with great adaptability to diverse surroundings and for that reason, along with the intervention of humans, has brought it to nearly every corner of the world.
The multiple uses of cannabis and its derivatives did not go unnoticed by the first humans. Industrial hemp seeds traveled through the warm regions of northern Eurasia, and later the Americas. Easy to cultivate, industrial hemp produced a strong and lasting fiber. Cannabis, its derivatives, and its seeds then extended to annexed territories in the same way.
On the other hand, narcotic cannabis seeds appear in the central and southern Eurasia in semi-tropical latitudes and are valued for their high psychoactive effect as well as their high resin yield.
If we talk about the evolution of the species, without a doubt, humans play the largest role. The dispersion of seeds to other environments and human selection have changed the evolution of cannabis throughout the years. Humans have advanced the selection of distinctive varieties according to textile, nutritional and medical needs.
Theories about the geographic origin of the cannabis species
There are three different possible hypothesis depending on the place of origin, formulated by three researchers who tried to explain the origin of the species. The three proposals are:
- China (Yangtze and Yellow rivers) from the researcher Li (1974b).
- Central Asia (from the Caucasus up to the Altai Mountains) from Candolle (1882).
- South Asia (Himalayan mountains and Hindu Kush) by Sharma (1979).
It should be kept in mind that central Asia and South Asia are large producers of hash, securing the establishment of these varieties in the zone.
The first archaeological evidence of the use of cannabis fiber comes from China, dating from 4200 to 1150 BC. The researchers found images of hemp on ceramic pieces. The oldest found piece of hemp is a hemp article of clothing dated between year 300 and 250 BC (Li 1974b), discovered in an antique tomb from the Z’ou Dynasty, opened in 1957 AD.
Hemp fibers also appear in an ancient piece of paper found in another Chinese tomb dated between the year 140 and 87 BC which includes various articles, including hemp seeds. It is known that in many cultures, the dead were buried with their most prized possessions or those things which they may need in the next life.
From Candolle, supported by the work of other researchers, the theory is that the geographical origin of cannabis is found in central Asia. The desert region of Takla Makan in central Asia provided the ideal climate for the rapid evolution of plants like cannabis, with annual flowering and separation of sexes in two individuals.
The high winds of the zone aided in the dissemination of pollen. If cannabis did originate in central Asia it would be in an ideal situation for its proliferation and dispersion in three directions: towards China to the east, southward towards India and the west towards Europe.
The famous naturalist Nicolai Vavilov studied the diversity of cannabis in central Asia firsthand and made interesting discoveries. In 1931 he formed the hypothesis that cannabis has its origin close to Samarkan, in the north of Afghanistan and Hindu Kush mountains. Nicolai left notes behind in his first texts about the short size of the Afghani plants and the short distance between their nodes, as well as a much darker seed color with a more pronounced stripes. Doing so, he described what we know today as the Afghani variety of Indica Cannabis. He also described a second very similar variety but with a much longer, paler marijuana seeds, which he called Kafiristan variety of Indica Cannabis. In doing this, Nicolai confirmed that the varieties of Afghanistan are totally different from the European and Asian varieties and should be considered so.
In 1929 he visited the Chinese Turkestan zone looking for evidence that supported his hypothesis. This zone, currently the Xinjiang providence of China, borders the north and northeast between the Himalayas and Tibet, with the Tien Shan Mountains to the southeast and the Hindu Kush mountains to the northeast. Additionally, it is separated from Europe by mountains that the rest of China by the Takla Makan desert. Nicolai left in his manifesto that in this zone there were a number of cannabis sativa vallies. In conclusion, Nicolai Vavilov considered all of the rest of cannabis to have been exported from this zone towards China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The great diversity of cannabis varieties and uses in the northern part of India and Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayan mountains, implied that this region wasn’t only one of the first to widely use cannabis, but that the location was where it first grew. Linneaus, who originally named cannabis sativa, when the scientific nomenclature system was established, believed that cannabis sativa was native to India. However, he never collected specimens from the area and his journal notes are ambiguous. (Shultes 1974)
Sharma argued that Cannabis orginated in the vallies along the southern Himalaya, from Kashmir to Nepal, and from Bhutan to Burma. The notable variety of phenotypes in this same genetic lineage was one of his principal conclusions.
According to Sharma, it is very probable that the Muslim traders transported cannabis towards the west through the Persian Elburz mountains, towards the middle east. Later, it came with the merchants across the ocean towards Africa and towards the west and southeast of Asia. Sharma also affirmed that the varieties that come from higher altitude are of better quality in terms of fiber, and that those which grow at lower altitude have greater narcotic potential.
The high Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountains create a barrier to the spread of plants and animals and are found between the two different origins of cannabis, according to Candolle (1931) and Sharma (1979). It is clear that the origin of Cannabis is situated in central Asia or in India, but China and India were the first to domesticate it. Perhaps central Asia isn’t the origin of the species, but it is certainly the place where the most ancient information about it was written.
HASHISH by Robert Connel Clarke