The Origins of Cannabis In Europe and Throughout The World
4 min

The Origins of Cannabis In Europe and Throughout The World

4 min

Cannabis has had a long, complex and in-depth relationship with humankind. So we thought we would take a deeper look at how it has shaped civilisations as we know them.

Cannabis, marijuana, weed, herb, or whatever you want to call it, has been a staple of civilization for over 10,000 years. For a variety of reasons, political and otherwise, marijuana entered a kind of dark age where it was a thing to be feared; a gateway drug that would lead the user to worlds of danger. The more we get out of our own way and take the time to learn about cannabis, the more we see that it has been a gift from nature that we have turned a blind eye to.


When we trace the history of cannabis, we can better appreciate the role it has played in the growth of our world. Cannabis has been a key element in cultures throughout the ages. Cultures that pre-date civilization depended on cannabis for religious ceremonies, medicine, and textiles. Later cultures used cannabis for the production of hemp fiber. Hemp became a staple in manufacturing and industry. It was hemp that made the sails and ropes that great nations like Spain and Britain used to launch massive fleets of ships. The cannabis plant fueled the world for thousands of years until control of it fell into the wrong hands.

The origins of Cannabis trace back to Asia somewhere between 11,500 and 10,200 years ago. That is according to a research team at the Berlin Free University. The team conducted a study on cannabis throughout history. Their results were published in the agricultural journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany. According to the study, the plant emerged at the time of the end of the last ice age. Conditions were favorable to cannabis as a crop in both Europe and Asia. These regions are where most modern strains originated. They traced its spread across Asia to the time when trade routes by nomadic tribes were developed. Both occurred somewhere around 5,000 years ago. The implication is that the newly developed trade routes were how cannabis made its way across the European and Asian continents.


One proposed theory suggests that one of Europe's earliest tribes, the Yamnaya people, were responsible for spreading cannabis throughout western Europe. They lived in a region north of the Black Sea, what is now modern day Ukraine. Their society is believed to have stretched all the way to the Caspian Sea, to a land we now know as Kazakhstan. Scientists have known that the Yamnaya were responsible for much of Europe's genetic makeup. However, recent archaeological discoveries show that the Yamnaya made their way to Siberia and Mongolia somewhere around 5,000 years ago. Mongolia is believed to be the birthplace of cannabis in the world.

The evidence was discovered in the form of tools and other items of Yamnaya cultural significance that lined the path from the Far East to their cultural home in Eurasia. The implications are staggering when you consider that cannabis use in Europe ballooned during or after the time that one of the founding European tribes made their way to Asia, where cannabis use was already a staple of society. The connection between cannabis use in Europe and the timeline surrounding the migration of the Yamnaya people is too closely aligned to be chance. Another theory even credits the Yamnaya people with selectively breeding cannabis to increase its medicinal qualities, as samples of ancient cannabis before 5,000 years ago show significantly lower amounts of THC than modern strains.


Despite the attitudes that some have developed as a result of the cannabis dark ages we are emerging from, no one can deny the importance that it has played in our world history. Civilizations were built on the backs of cannabis plants, so here are some important dates to know in the history of marijuana.

2737 BC – The Emperor Shen Neng of China documents the first use of cannabis for its medicinal properties.

600 BC – Hemp rope is first used in the area that is now southern Russia.

500 BC – Cannabis seeds are discovered in an ancient burial tomb dating back to this year.

200 BC – Hemp as a textile is first used in Ancient Greece.

100 BC – The psychoactive properties of marijuana are documented in China.

70 BC – Marijuana appears as a medicine in a journal kept by one of Nero's army physicians.

100 AD – Hemp rope appears in England.

130-200 AD – Marijuana prescribed as medicine in Greece

500 AD – The Jewish Talmud speaks of cannabis' euphoric properties.

850 AD – Viking use of hemp rope is discovered dating to this time.

1000 AD – Hemp appears in Italy for use in rope and sails.

1100-1220 AD – Hashish is used in rituals throughout the Middle East.

1271-1295 AD – Marco Polo reports back to Europe about cannabis use.

1300 AD – Pipes discovered in Ethiopia containing cannabis show that smoking had spread to Africa by this point.

1533 AD – King Henry orders all farmers to grow hemp for industry.

1600 AD – England starts to import hemp.


After 1600, the increase in historical cannabis use becomes widespread throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. The British are responsible for spreading cannabis to their colonies in the New World as well as Australia. The British are solely responsible for Australian integration of cannabis into their economy as a cash crop. It remained one of Australia's largest production crops for over 150 years. It was commonplace in Australia to use cannabis until it was outlawed in 1928 during the time of widespread global prohibition due to the work of nefarious corporate forces.

When Britain expanded its empire to North America, cannabis hemp was a mandatory crop for farmers. Seeds were brought over, and the crop was now officially spreading through the colonies. The harvested plants were then shipped back to Britain where they were made into textiles and then again shipped to the colonies as finished products. Hemp was of such value that it at times served as a currency of its own. Hemp remained free in North America throughout the revolution and beyond. The US Constitution is one of many famous documents written on hemp paper. The dark ages of the early twentieth century brought an end to cannabis use in America as it had done to most of the world. Marijuana was then driven back underground to become a thing of scorn, ridicule, and fear.


Cannabis and its evolution over the last 10,000 years have played a much larger role in our history than most would ever think. After one hundred years of skulking in the shadows, cannabis is being seen in a new light. The old stigmas are falling away as people look back at the roots of cannabis, marijuana, and hemp and see that it has always been a staple of progression. Moving forward in a world desperate for new resources, it is only by understanding the path that cannabis has already traveled, that we will ever know where it may lead us.

Steven Voser
Steven Voser
Steven Voser is an independent cannabis journalist with over 6 years of experience writing about all things weed; how to grow it, how best to enjoy it, and the booming industry and murky legal landscape surrounding it.
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