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Drugs & Health Blog

History of Cannabis, Part 1

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

With so much hype about marijuana legalization and the “drug war,” it’s easy to think that marijuana is just a modern phenomenon (or invented by the hippies). But the cannabis (or hemp) plant has had a long—really long!—history. And while the plant, and the way it is used, has changed a lot over the centuries, it’s interesting to take the long view of marijuana and look back at its history. For this three-part series, we’ll be your tour guide of cannabis through the ages.

Starting in Asia…

The cannabis or hemp plant (which only came to be called marijuana in the 20th century) has a long history, going back several thousand years—first in Central Asia, then spreading east to China, south to India, and westward to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

In most ancient cultures, though, “getting high” was not the main use for the plant. Hemp fiber was valued for making clothes and other textiles, and its seeds were used for food and oil. The types of plant used for these purposes had very low amounts of THC, the chemical that causes intoxication.

The ancients did know, however, about the plant’s mind-altering properties and may have bred varieties for this purpose as well. The oldest evidence of this is the remains of burned cannabis seeds that have been found in graves of shamans—religious leaders and healers—in China and Siberia from around 500 BC.

Ancient “Medical Marijuana”

Shamans enlisted the aid of spirits to help their community and try to cure sickness. Sometimes this was done with the help of intoxicating substances, and it is likely that cannabis was used this way. It probably wasn’t “recreational” but was believed to be a serious religious and healing tool to be respected.

We now know that THC can be used medically to treat nausea—in fact, two FDA-approved drugs with THC are prescribed in pill form to people who feel sick or have no appetite as a result of chemotherapy or AIDS. The ancients seem to have used cannabis to treat similar ailments. It appears in ancient medical texts from ancient Egypt, and ancient Greek physicians described using it for stomach problems.

Cannabis as a Recreational Drug

The oldest evidence of marijuana being used recreationally comes from an ancient Greek historian named Herodotus (484–425 BC). He described how people of a Eurasian society called the Scythians inhaled the vapor of cannabis seeds and flowers thrown on heated rocks. It might have not sounded that appealing to his Greek readers, though, who much preferred to get “high” on wine, as did the Romans later.

The first drug to rival alcohol for popularity in Europe was tobacco, imported from America in the late 1500s. Coffee followed about a century later, imported from Africa. And although Europeans cultivated hemp and occasionally smoked cannabis, its popularity didn’t match that of alcohol, tobacco, and coffee.

Unlike in Europe, however, cannabis (in the concentrated form called hashish) did become widely used in the Middle East and South Asia after about 800 AD. The reason has to do with the spread of Islam. The Koran strictly forbade Muslims from drinking alcohol or partaking in other intoxicating substances, but it did not specifically mention cannabis. Cannabis is prohibited in most Islamic countries today, though, as it is throughout much of the world.

Part 2 of this series gives a brief history of cannabis in America and answers the question: Did the Founding Fathers really smoke it, as rumors have claimed?

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I think by adding the details and the history of cannabis, you have taken away the demon-like cloud that surrounds the drug. Many people are opposed to the drug because of the effects that it may cause. However these precautions come with things like tobacco and coffee so the mere fact that we consider this a drug makes it illegal. Great analysis of how this came to be. Lets legalize!!
A drug is a drug is a drug. (Please note that the marijuana of today is much more potent than the marijuana strains of the 1970s & 1980s,) God gave us the blessing of our brains and bodies. Our brains do everything from regulate our heat, to balance, to blinking, to regulate breathing and all our organs, to regulating our senses, to being able to see a mountain miles away. It gives us our conscious thoughts. Drugs "hijack" our brain's neurotransmitters. Marijuana changes our brain's functions. It changes the rate of our hearts, thoughts of paranoia may set in, our coordination changes (through the brain). What happens to you in an emergency situation? The only chemical that is positive in this plant is CBD. CBD does not get you high, but it helps those with seizures. (It is the chemical THC that gets you high.) Long-term, chronic users of marijuana have a lower IQ score of 8% (per NIDA). Marijuana has 4x more tar in it than tobacco. All drugs circulate in our blood stream. Besides hijacking the mid-brain (feel-good reaction part of the brain), it also damages the frontal-lobe (the reasoning/thinking things through part of the brain). Our frontal lobes are not developed until our late 20s or early 30s. Those who are young, their frontal lobes are in the process of being developed and they are at a higher risk of getting addicted. If they smoke regularly/on-going, this can affect their development of their frontal lobe. If someone has heart problems, they are at risk of a heart attack. My question to you is if you feel blessed to be alive and have the natural instruments that God has created for us? Everyday is a gift. I refuse to mess with my brain, my body. Also, what do you do if you are in an emergency? My last point is that someone is profiting off of you. They WANT you to rationalize using a drug to your body. They WANT you to minimize the harmful effect. I refuse to join in this society mass type of thinking and I will leave my belief of life being a blessing with God.
You need to get your facts straight.In 1988, a major breakthrough in our understanding of Cannabis took place when American scientist Dr. Allyn HowlettPhD., pharmacology and toxicology, at Wake Forest School of Medicine. discovered cannabinoid receptors in the human brain. Basically, these receptors are protein molecules embedded in cellular surfaces that receive chemical signals from other cells. These signals result in a range of effects from pain to nausea and euphoria to depression. They can stimulate or suppress appetite or growth, while also impacting mood and perception. Cannabinoid receptors have also been discovered in mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. There are two major types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are found in the central nervous system, on brain cells and in the peripheral nervous systemThe part of the vertebrate nervous system constituting the nerves outside the central nervous system and including the cranial nerves, spinal nerves, and sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.. The CB2 receptors are generally found on immune cellsAny of several types of blood cells that help defend the body from infection..
God has nothing to do with it...
how do you know that. God created EVERY THING for a purpose. Visible and non-visible.
because he love us
I will share with you why I do not wish for this drug to be legalized, heres a forewarning to anyone who thinks smoking weed is cool, who blindly believes rap stars and hiphoppers really smoke pot everyday, because they dont unless theyre stupid. Habitual use of cannabis has recently shown to cause schizophrenia in smokers. Now let me support this theory with the example of both my brother and my boyfriends brother. These two guys are a couple years apart, bithdays a day apart, tend to show many similarities. Some how they coincidently had a daughter with a failed relationship, they both live with their moms, and niether works anymore. They both experience violent temper episodes, my boyfriends brothers attacks either leads to police called, or children crying. Now another misleading claim is marijuana isnt addicting, it is, when niether of these guys have thry experience whats knoen as a "crash" like effect. They have been known to stay up for days, and both claim someones out to get them. My brother claims to hear them talking but cant make out what theyre saying. They feel more important in this world than they are, and refuse to work acting like a spoiled child. Now let me explain something, this is not who my brother was just a couple of years ago. It saddens me and makes me sick to think I will prolly never see my brother again. He used to have a steady job, on salary pay, his own apartment, friends, a wordrobe, and one I especially miss, he used to have a haircut. He used to talk to different girls, a few he was seeing, and another important factor he used to pay jihis child support or see his little girl. It seems that everyone around me is lost on drugs, as if they lose themselves, instead of allowing drugs just to be a part of their life, they chose to build their ewhole lives around drugs. Recently I had someone accuse me of giving her brother drugs, and hanging out with him. This accusation was following my attempt to retrieve money he'd borrowed, now these people were like family. What baffles me is, these two introduced me to the wrong crowds to begin with but I overcame the mental dependence by drugs a long time ago. Starting with weed, I dont like thinking stupid and guilt tripping thats not my idea of a good time. But the honest truth is it doesnt matter who offered her brother drugs, he is a grown man, no one forces a grown man to do drugs. People nerd to wake the eff up, Tabacco is a plant too, but we all know its not healthy to smoke. You ever consider maybe they allow cancer patients to smoke weed because doctors feel they may die anyway, might as well let them go high. Who knows but ill tell u what they know its not good for them, just like many prescription drugs, yet they legally prescribe them. Catch a clue its time to open your eyes! You want to act grown then grow up, spare your brain cells and sanity and smoke a turkey instead.
Agree! I don't know where my Good Boy went! He is only 16 and has been smoking this stinking stuff for a couple years. He has the worst anger outbursts and doesn't want to get up for school! I can't talk to him about anything, he snaps! I am so so worried about him! He said he was going to blow his brains out! I hid all his hunting rifles! This is a boy, who was always such a good boy, Everyone even says it! Please if anyone knows how I can help him, Please let me know!
well first u should just talk to him and how did he get started in the first place this is not good at all ..................................... why don't you just tell him how much u love him and tell him if u love me u will stop it plez
i live next door to a majuria smokers and i am getting sick and my nose burns what would you do
you should probably have them arrested and then make sure you have house fresher
I would by air filters and put them around the house, or you can call the police and ask them to stop.
Yall dissapoint me fam if you don't know the facts about marijuana then don't judge fam it's not your life why would you even consider wanting to interfere with their happiness some of the people in This community have medical issues and need it maybe if you smoked a little more then you might not be such judgemental chodes thank you and have a good day
Lets legalize it and make tobacco illegal.
i agree that tobacco is the real drug because tobacco is the cause of a lot of deaths and weed causes no harm its only makes someone feel a little relaxed and up in the clouds
Yeah if you walked by someone smoking a cigarette You wouldn't say " I should call the police because I have nose burns" But if you walked by someone smoking A joint you would say that people are so hypocritical about marijuana it has a lot of healing properties just go up to him and ask him to smoke indoors if the nose burns bug you so much not everyone who smokes weed a lazy hippie stoner.
AMEN. TODAY'S BIBLE S†UDY: GENESIS CHAPTER 1 : …29Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so. 31God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
well i think weed is good!
what should i do with my granddaughter smoking marihuana all day, not wanting to work, study or nothing because she says marihuana is good and in the meantime her brain is getting worse. She is 21 yrs old.
If your grand daughter is lazy she's going to be lazy regardless of the marijuana.
Ask her what inspires her and help her by asking to understand rather than anything else. She will respect you for recognizing that she is an adult, most people who are figuring things things out are NOT lazy, they are just uninspired and don't have anyone to confide in and have real conversations.
I am a sixteen year old female,I smoke weed regularly. I have Marfan syndrome which causes my entire body to ache. I also get chronic headaches. Marijuana helps bothe of those things for me. Also, I have a 4.3 gpa, I'm currently going to college and trade school for culinary arts. Tell me again how marijuana is bad.
i also suffer from chronic migraines and a bad back that was operated on and supposed to make me feel "better".well it did'nt.I have been using weed for over forty years, now i vape and my headaches and back pains go away and all is well.I don't smoke tobacco,now that is deadly but if you do its your business.I'm a grown man and i'll decide what i put in my body.Because of weed i don't need painkillers or other similiar stuff.I'am a professional and if the stuffed shirts new how many lawyers,doctors,peace officers use weed,maybe then the country would get smart make it legal,tax it and our jails would not be over crowded with non-violent people who where smoking a joint. AMERICA WAKE UP.
No one seems to think about all the lives that are destroyed by petty weed laws. Our government use pot to control us and to make money off of us. By the numbers weed is by far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco and all the other drugs that our media and our doctors push on us. Its time to wake up and step into the future. A future where science dictates our actions not our emotions.
I have been thinking these very thoughts for many many years!..... Well said. Finally had a chance to see these thoughts in word!
there's nothing wrong with smoking weed if you can hold a job and be successful the only time its a problem is if you smoke and cant contribute to society. who are we to say what someone should do on their free time some people drink and some people smoke weed and thats just how they unwind.
UP with HOPE down with DOPE
This is a government run page. If you really think the government won't lie to you, you are blind and need to see the light.
weed is weed. FACT
Wow this is interesting. I never knew any of this...
Overall, marijuana is a very bad and harmful drug to do or to consider doing.
How? marijuana has so many medical uses and is not very harmful unless laced with PCP or some other substance. But weed is not dangerous. i respect ur opinion but its just not.
Trees Good its far mediation not to abuse 2 much of everything not good overall so free will do wat u want