Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 16, 2023

In 1837, the Austrian Botanist Stephan Endlicher placed the cannabis plant in the Cannabaceae family, together with its sister plant – Humulus. According to fossil records and a 2019 study, Cannabis and Humulus diverged around 27.8 million years ago. The study also concluded that the oldest Cannabis genus was found in China and it was about 20 million years old.

That being said, this article won’t focus only on how long the cannabis plant has thrived on Earth, but also where it started growing on its own, and how the conditions where it grew affected its appearance and cannabinoid content.

Cannabis Plant and its Subspecies

An article published in 2014 in the Geographical Review by Barney Warf informs us about the whole history of cannabis and the familiar subspecies of the cannabis plant. So, let’s go over the cannabis species and subspecies, and get into the subject of where cannabis originated from.

The first species of the cannabis plant discovered in 1753, Cannabis Sativa L, has psychoactive properties and is named in honor of the botanist Carl Linnaeus. The second psychoactive species was identified by Jean-Baptiste Lamark in 1785, and it’s called Cannabis Indica. The third species, named Cannabis Ruderalis, was discovered in 1924 by botanist D.E. Janischevisky.

As we’ve previously said, cannabis is a psychoactive plant, however, its subspecies known as hemp is a non psychoactive form of cannabis which is used to make oil, food, cloth, and fuel.

Where Can Marijuana Thrive?

The cannabis plant can thrive in various climates in the wild and adapt to different humidity levels, latitude, and altitude, but generally the cannabis plant can thrive in the following regions:

  • Tropical regions like rainforests and savannahs offer the perfect growing conditions for Jamaica and Malawi landraces.
  • Temperate regions like marine climates, mesothermal, and the subtropical regions are where cannabis landraces like the Lebanon and Swaziland thrive.
  • Dry regions consisting of deserts and steppes offer the ideal climate conditions for the Afghanistan and Egyptian landraces like Afghani and Sinai.
  • Continental regions with hot, wet summers and cold, dry winters offer the ideal conditions for Nepalese and Swiss landraces.

The History of the Cannabis Plant and Marijuana Use

The history of cannabis, according to the information in the book “Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years,” is about 12,000 years old – which makes the marijuana plant one of humanity’s oldest cultivated crops. As such, it has been used by prehistoric hunter and gatherer groups and tribes, as well as in ancient civilizations. But where did the plant originate from?

Where Is Marijuana Native To?

According to Warf, the cannabis plants have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia (the regions of Mongolia and Siberia) and from there they’ve spread all over the world. 

Cannabis Sativa is supposedly indigenous to Eastern Asia, cannabis Indica either originated on the Asian subcontinent or around Afghanistan, and cannabis Ruderalis is native to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

Why Did Marijuana Become so Widely Used?

Marijuana use became common for tribal and ancient civilizations for a number of reasons. Burned cannabis seeds were used in kurgan burials in Siberia back in 3,000 B.C, however, cannabis’ medicinal use dates even further back. Around 4000 B.C. the herb was used as an anesthetic during surgery by the Chinese, and it’s said that even the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung used it back in 2737 B.C.

According to Sanskrit Vedic poems, cannabis was celebrated as one of the ‘five kingdoms of herbs that help with anxiety,’ therefore it became widely used around the South Asian subcontinent as well.

The marijuana plant was mostly used for its psychoactive properties, but also for its medicinal properties. The cannabinoids in weed, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), when heated to appropriate temperatures have psychoactive effects on users (THC), but may also help with conditions such as insomnia, chronic pain, depression, and others (CBD). Industrial hemp and hemp seeds were also used for making clothes, food, and other necessities.

How Did the Cannabis Plant Spread Around the World?

From Central Asia, the cannabis plant started spreading around the world via the Silk Road exchange route. It first spread to India, where people started using it in religious offerings to Shiva, and the use of cannabis was also popular in ayurvedic medicine where cannabis was made into a drink called bhang. (McPartland et al, 2019; Charitos et al, 2020)

The medical use of cannabis was also common in China where it was used as an anesthetic, but also for its psychoactive effects because it was placed in incense burners along with other ingredients.

Medical marijuana was also used in ancient Egypt where people used the plant for treating conditions such as sore eyes, hemorrhoids, and as a way to relieve a fever.

The Scythians were also known for their recreational use of cannabis, and they were the ones to introduce cannabis from Europe to the Middle East around 500 B.C. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Scythians inhaled the smoke from the smoldering cannabis seeds as an intoxicant. That may be the reason why the Scythians had advantages on the battlefield, since they combined both opium and cannabis into concoctions they consumed before battle.

From the Middle East, cannabis was brought to Africa where people consumed it in its purified form – hashish. Hashish was smoked by many African tribes, similar to how it was used in the Middle East.

Finally, weed came to South America in the 19th century, and it was eventually brought to North America in the 20th century. After the Mexican revolution, a lot of Mexicans fled from their country to North America and brought their cannabis smoking culture with them. 

As weed became more and more popular in the USA, the “War on Drugs” followed which led to cannabis being classified as a Schedule I drug with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 passed by President Richard Nixon. Weed became illegal and it stayed illegal, until 20 years later when the regulations regarding the use of medical marijuana changed, and some states eventually legalized cannabis for either (or both) medical use and recreational use.

Final Thoughts – Where Is Marijuana Native To

While the cannabis plant and the hemp plant originated in Asia, they’ve spread all over the world. Different cannabis species have adapted to various climates which resulted in a huge variety of cannabis strains.

In the past, the cannabis plant has been used as a food source, to make ropes, clothes, anesthesia, medicine, in religious practices, but also recreationally. Today, the cannabis market has developed even further as the legalization laws are changing and countries are starting to legalize both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

The cannabis market is expected to exceed $20 billion in the US by 2024, so there’s no telling what new products will appear on the market, how weed will be used in the future, and where it will be grown, but we do know that cannabis use is definitely here to stay.

Additional Sources

McPartland, J.M., Hegman, W. & Long, T. Cannabis in Asia: its center of origin and early cultivation, based on a synthesis of subfossil pollen and archaeobotanical studies. Veget Hist Archaeobot 28, 691–702 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-019-00731-8

Charitos, I. A., Gagliano-Candela, R., Santacroce, L., & Bottalico, L. (2020). The Cannabis spread throughout the Continents and its therapeutic use in history. Endocrine, metabolic & immune disorders drug targets, 10.2174/1871530320666200520095900. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.2174/1871530320666200520095900

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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