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Where Was Cannabis First Cultivated?

Many enthusiasts often wonder where cannabis is actually from. Where was cannabis first cultivated? Well, one theory is cannabis was first cultivated about 12,000 years ago. At least that’s the current view of a school of scientists, including eminent biologists. The proponents of this line of thought further hold that cannabis was cultivated not only for consumption as food but also as hemp, most probably for recreation.

Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation
Photo by Matteo Paganelli, courtesy of Unsplash

Conflicting Origins

However, the origins of weed is still something that has stumped many botanists. Many of them hold that Central Asia is where the first domestic use of weed or Cannabis Sativa (the scientific name) started. However, a recent Science Advances journal study suggests the place was actually East Asia. They point out that all the cannabis strains found today have an ancestral gene pool originating in present-day China. This pool can still be located in the place both in the wild and in its cultivated front.

The scientists conducting the study traced back the herb’s cultivation as a crop used for various purposes during the early part of the Neolithic period —12,000 years ago. The researchers further contended that the most probable use of the plant was for fibre and medicine. However, the cultivation of the crop, particularly for its psychoactive properties, dates back to 4000 years. According to the researchers involved in the study, it took place along with the spread of its cultivation in the Middle East and Europe.

So Where is Cannabis Actually From?

Other scientists who were not part of the study found the findings to be very interesting. The common perception is that Neolithic societies were primarily concerned with food. But the suggestion that fibres and recreation were important too is something new revealed by the study.

The findings from a 2016 study also put
China and Japan as the earliest location for intentional cultivation of the
crop. However, many botanists believed Eastern Central Asia was in all
probability the origin of the plant as one can still find the plant growing in
the wild across the region.

The latest study used genetic sequencing
and identified what the researchers call “single domestication origin.”
As they put it:

“By sequencing genetic samples of the
plant, they found that the species had most likely been domesticated by the
early Neolithic period. They said their conclusion was supported by pottery and
other archaeological evidence from the same period that was discovered in
present-day China, Japan and Taiwan.”

But mainstream scientists were skeptical of the study’s suggestions. As per archeological evidence, it was not till about 7500 years ago that people began to use cannabis as a fibre or medical and recreational substance. Therefore, they advise caution before jumping to conclusions and suggest conducting a more comprehensive study with more extensive sampling.

New Theories

One of the researchers specializing in conservation genetics revealed the new origin location theory is based on observational data that wild cannabis plants of the region provided. The biologist further explained that the plants considered in the study were not totally wild. But, instead, they were plants that had escaped past captivity. As a result, they had adapted themselves to the wild environment once again. Another point made by the researcher is that cannabis earned the epithet weed because it can grow almost anywhere.

Cannabis Cultivation
Photo by CV12 courtesy of Pexels

The study’s lead researcher said the
findings could provide some impetus to the renewed interest in hemp and China’s
efforts to breed new crop’s fibre varieties. The study considered 82 samples,
either as leaves or seeds from all over the world. Thus, it included cannabis
strains known for their fibre and North American and European breeds. The
latter had a significant amount of the mind-reactive cannabis component THC.

The study first extracted cannabis DNA in
the plant’s genes as derived from the samples before sequencing them in a Swiss
lab. Additionally, they reanalyzed downloaded sequence data from another 28 samples.
Such an analysis revealed that the wild strains were, in fact, once
domesticated cannabis plants. Upon further examination, they found that they
were closest to both cultivated and wild present Chinese strains in terms of
the ancestral gene pool. Another vital suggestion to emerge from the broad study
is that purely wild precursors to Cannabis sativa have become extinct.

It is a fact that there is no legal
sanction on the plant and its use in large parts of the world. It has also
resulted in significant gaps in our knowledge about how they were domesticated.
Much of the difficulty also lies in the lack of precise understanding of the domestication
of plants. Basic predictions that scientists can indeed give about the natural divergent
holds little ground in the face of preferential selection by human beings. Such
divergence might result due to both pollinators and habitats. But human beings
often ARE that habitat creator and the pollinator.

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