Have you ever wondered where your cannabis comes from? Not where it was bought, or even where it was grown, but where and when the plant was initially domesticated and its properties recognized. The origin of the cannabis plant has been discussed by scientists for years. Until recently, most botanists believed that the cannabis Sativa plant was first domesticated in Central Asia, but a recent study published by the Science Advances journal suggests a more likely source in East Asia.
The Origin of Cannabis
The study revealed that it is likely that all currently existing strains and varieties of the plant originate from an “ancestral gene pool” represented by wild and cultivated varieties growing in China today. Data from the study indicates that the plant was primarily grown as a “multipurpose crop” approximately 12,000 years ago in the early Neolithic period. The plant was likely valued for its use as fiber and its medicinal benefits. This seems to contradict the widely held assumption that early humans were only interested in cultivating plants as a food resource and calls into question what societies of the time prioritized.
Farmers began cultivating and breeding the plant for its mind-altering properties around 4,000 years ago. According to the study, this was around the time that cannabis began to spread into the Middle East and Europe.
A separate study conducted in 2016 holds that the earliest records of cannabis were primarily from Japan and China. Despite this study, most botanists believed it was likely first domesticated in eastern Central Asia, where wild plant species are prevalent. Information gathered by the more recent study seems to support the original study, with genetic sequencing suggesting that the species originates from a single domestic plant grown in East Asia. In addition, archeological evidence such as pottery lends further evidence to this claim, with artifacts from around this period referencing cannabis found in present-day Japan, China, and Taiwan.
What The Experts Say
Academics have expressed their skepticism around the conclusions drawn by the study, particularly those that claim the plant was domesticated for use as a drug or fiber during the Neolithic period 12,000 years ago. However, archeological evidence only indicates the consistent presence of cannabis for those purposes from around 7,500 years ago.
While not dismissing the study’s findings outright, academics have expressed their desire for a more extensive study to be conducted with a larger sampling.
How the Study Took Place
The study was primarily based on extracting and sequencing genomic DNA from 82 samples of either seeds or leaves gathered from around the world. The samples were made up of various strains, including those grown for fiber production and those bred in Europe and North America to produce high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most potent mood-altering compound in the plant.
The results from the sequenced data were downloaded and analyzed, in addition to sequencing data from 28 other samples. The results from the wild varieties analyzed revealed that these varieties were “historical escapes from domesticated forms” and that both cultivated and wild existing strains in China were their closest descendants of the ancestral gene pool.
Although we may never conclude the search for the origin of the modern cannabis plant, each study raises new and fascinating questions and allows us to understand its origin and evolution better. Cultivators can use the information gathered from studies to continue developing the cannabis plant to meet modern requirements and standards to better cater to the growing cannabis market.