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Evolution of Cannabis – Origin of the Plant

Cannabis is definitely the most controversial plant in the world. It has been a topic on a series of debates in the course of history concerning its benefits, importance, and drawbacks. Likewise, the plant has its own struggling and flourishing times. It has been one of the earliest cultivated plants by a man dating back to pre-historic times where civilizations and technology are stagnantly thriving.

Thus, there’s so much to learn with this plant. It’s a wonderful and diverse plant species that’s full of potentials for development. It has been pointed out as a herb treating multiple illnesses including glaucoma, cancer, and even AIDS. Though the herb isn’t medically mandated, there are multiple testimonies and studies supporting these facts.

Curiosity has manifested with the plant’s roots, history, and evolutionary origin as the world discovers its true identity, more than just a narcotic drug. Research has been repeated one after another to know the plant’s healing capabilities to a human being. Its slowly had come to enlighten the marvel of this plant. Despite that, there are misconceptions of the plant that an ordinary man should understand thoroughly.

In this article, we’ll look into cannabis’ history from it’s said to be conception to the present period where there is a major shift of cannabis perception towards various countries. Aside from that, we will discuss the benefits and myths concerning the plant.

The Evolutionary Biology of Cannabis

Studying the genetic origins of cannabis is vital to trace the plant’s medical DNA prints. It’s an important discovery to fill in the plant’s medical properties to develop its capacity to various fields in medicine, agriculture, biofuel, and textile industries. Aside from that, the plant will occupy a puzzle from the world’s evolutionary tree determining its genomics and relation to other species.

However, until now, there is no concrete study on the evolutionary origins of cannabis. It consequently lacks viable fossil records that could be utilized for genetic typing. Upon knowing this, an imprint of its DNA mutation will be tracked from generations to generations which will, later on, connect to different plant lineages.

However, as said, there are limited data regarding this because of legal restrictions, threats, and fears of scientists of getting imprisoned upon the development of genetics in the early 1900s.

The earliest record of cannabis seed fossil was dated from Pontian age (7.3-5.3 Million Years Ago) found by Palamarev in Bulgaria. Another seed fossil has also been discovered in Siberia dated from Miocene Epoch (23.05- 5.3 mya). Cannabis-like leaf prints which dated 34.07 mya were then found in Florissant, Colorado later on by MacGinite through Ar/Ar radiometric dating. These prints were referred to as species Vitus florissantella which was the changed as Humulusflorissantella.

Though, these records still weren’t exact and do not complete the taxonomical and phylogenetic history of the plant. All that taxonomists and evolutionary biologists do are assume and theorize regarding the plant’s genetic origins.

An attempt was done by McPartland and Guy to link out the existing fossil records using the variable rate-smoothing algorithm. The calibration data and results were not published though given as a reference to multiple books. It shows that the Humulus and Cannabis species both approximately come from an unnamed ancestor dated 28.7 million years ago. Nonetheless, the eruption of cannabis species sativa and indica had diverged 1.07 million years ago using the two originating species mentioned.

Because of the lack of information, the ‘unnamed’ ancestor was often associated either in between with the Urticaceae and Moraceae family commonly referred to as elm and mulberries.

Later on, it was found out through DNA sequencing that the two species suggests being related with the Celticidae (nettles) as well and identified it as the plant’s ancestor. However, it was then altered to Cannabeceaupon further studying its genome sequence.

The Cannabecea is a family of flowering plants comprising about 170 species of plants which are predominantly incorporated genus of Celtis(hackberries), Cannabis (hemp, marijuana), and Humulus (hops).  This family comes from a combination of tree and herb stature with five-fingered or palm-like shape leaves and symmetrical flowers bearing achene or drupe fruits.

Nevertheless, the Cannabecea family arose from the Rosales (rose) order which is denoted with their petal-less flowers and monocot fruits.

Chromosomal Identity of Cannabis

The chromosomal mapping is vital for detailed analysis of the origins of cannabis. Furthermore, it strengthens development on the plant’s medicinal and textile uses expanding to other facets of fields such as biotechnology, agriculture, and genetics. Nonetheless, mapping also helps finding answers to cannabis’ healing effects on various chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and epilepsy.

A recently published journal called ‘Genome Research’ from the Canadian Institute for Advancement Research reveals that the plant’s genome was once inhabited by a virus, published by University of Toronto. This chromosomal map indicates the evolution of the cannabinoids THC and CBD which are encoded by genes THCA and CBDA synthase genes are once swarmed by viral DNA genome million years ago. This genome was then later on repeatedly replicated, spreading across the cell’s DNA.

Thus, this study indicates how hemp (CBD rich) and marijuana (THC rich) species comes from a single originating ancestor which are later evolved through the passage of time.

Other than that, the research shows the importance of a lesser known cannabinoid called CBC or cannabichromene which are often neglected by cannabis breeders. Its genome sequence is said to play a key role in enhancing potency and medicinal benefits of few cannabis species.

Likewise, this discovery would help a lot of breeders and scientists to induce further cannabis developments that are said to empower future medicinal studies.

Location of Origin

The evolutionary print of cannabis could be staggered and not quite unknown but the plant has been historically used as part of medicinal and spiritual practices into various human civilizations.

In fact, as said, it was one of the earliest plants to be cultivated by humans and even pre-human (ape) periods taking importance to the endocannabinoid system which the human body directly possesses. Other than that, it was said to be consumed by herbivores as part of their food diet in the past years.

Historians have speculated the discovery of cannabis benefits through a nomadic tribe that had existed before in Central Asia as called as the Yamnaya tribes. Direct evidence for this information has pointed to the pile of cannabis seeds that were found in the Siberian region.

Nevertheless, these people live as merchants and traders which had allegedly been responsible for its spread towards Asia and even across Europe.

The earliest archaeological evidence of cannabis use was dated back in 2800 BCE in China through a reference material book entitled ‘Materia Medica’ which is said to be written by ShenNung, a famous emperor and once a ruler in China.

Nevertheless, he was allegedly to be the first pharmacologist In human history. On his book, he identifies cannabis as a good herb for more than a hundred diseases including gout, rheumatism, and malaria. Its also had been used as a fiber for clothes, rope, and other textile products referring to as ‘ma’ by Chinese in those particular periods.

It is also believed to be used by the Chinese in acupuncture as a substitute from mugwort which has been applying now. In addition to that, it was a primary ingredient on the early practice of surgery in China using it as anesthesia along with opium and jimson weed. The plant has been one of the most vital herbs to be used in Chinese early medicine.

In fact, it has been mentioned a lot of times in Confucius ‘Book of Odes’ which he refers to as ‘ma’ as well. Aside from that, cannabis has been used for spiritual Chinese practices used it in their incenses and piling it to burials. Nevertheless, its believed to be a way to achieve immortality and deep spirituality as well.

Other than that, the origins of cannabis were believed to come from Egypt 1500 years before then the nomadic tribes. The Eber Papyrus, Egypt’s oldest medical text referred to cannabis as Shum Shumto which are often combined with honey and wine for topical medications.

Though, this still ain’t confirmed since the identity of the plant ain’t still directly revealed. Additional proof for this fact includes the 7-pointed leaf resembling marijuana encrypted within Egypt’s hieroglyphics. Also, hemp fibers and pollen are being found in the tomb of Ramses II.

Cannabis and Religion

The Indian culture has high regards to cannabis. India’s ancient text mainly the Holy Vedas reveals the importance of cannabis on Indian medicine. Its consequently, referred to as bhang is one of five most sacred plants in both Hindu and Zoroastrian beliefs.

Shiva, a Hindu god is often called as the lord of bhangs had said to influence Hindus to the use of cannabis. A legend states that Shiva upon his journey in a mountain had smelled the fragrance of cannabis which had said inspired the god to start doing yoga. Up to this now, bhangs are being used in special celebrations in the Hindu culture to honor the god Shiva.

In fact, devotees to Shiva smokes bhang daily to feel closer to the god itself.

In the Zoroastrian faith, the use of bhang has considered being a sacred herb, a gateway to multiple realms including heaven and hell. The Buddhist religion has said to be originated from Buddha’s meditation and consumption of cannabis.

According to a legend, Buddha was believed to overcome divinity through praying while consuming bhang for six years in his life.

Meanwhile, in the Sikhism tradition, alcohol and drugs were not allowed for consumption except though for weed or marijuana. The Sikhs call it sukneedhan which means a giver of peace. It was a part of their religious culture and festivities to drink cannabis in moderation as needed.

The early Christian texts most notably the Bible mentions repeatedly the word ‘sweet calamus’ which is far as described on its realistic appearance and state. But nonetheless, historians believe that the said plant was referring to cannabis. This theory strengthens upon the discovery of old Hebrew bible texts denoting ‘kaneshbohm’ similarly to sweet calamus. They suspected that ‘kaneshbohm’ is a Scythian derived term referring to Kannabis.

On the Old Testament, Moses was believed to use cannabis as an ingredient to make an anointing oil which is offered and burn as incense in the temple. However, in the New Testament, the term was not repeated again. Though, scholars believed that Jesus Christ had known the medical benefits of cannabis and had used it as part of his ministry.

In Islam, cannabis is not evidently part of their religious practices. However, it was mentioned in Qur’an and Hadith regarding this herb’s importance through its prophet Mohammad. It’s allegedly been used by the prophet to communicate with Allah during one of his meditations. The cannabis hash which had origins in the Arabic peninsula is said to be which the prophet consumed during this transitory state.

Likewise, the Sufis, a particular Islam sect uses cannabis to create an intimate connection to Allah. They often paired hashish with hookah, a cannabis-infused drink served to coffee houses during the Medieval Period. These were the first cannabis coffee houses conceived before Amsterdam’s infamous coffee lounges.

The Spread of Cannabis in Western Culture

Because of continuous trade of Nomadic tribes with goods in Asia and Europe, cannabis had grown fondly to various parts of the world. One of the most noted archaeological proof of this widespread use of cannabis is in Greece. Being one of the centers of ancient European civilizations, the Greek culture uses cannabis to manufacture fibers and design them with various types of clothes.

Likewise, modern terms of cannabis and hemp are coined from Scythian words hanep and cannabeizen which means ‘to burn the plant’. In fact, these terms are said to originate from Greek’s burning of these herbs to incense for their religious rituals.

In the 14th century, the use of cannabis has thoroughly spread in Europe. Back before then, it was quite legal to consume cannabis and its psychoactive properties don’t really matter. As a matter of fact, cannabis had been planted for many years in different areas in Europe in particular to German regions as a primary food source. Its seed is rich in vitamins and minerals which makes it viable for eating.

Likewise, the plant has been used as fiber to make clothes as well.

In the late Renaissance, the discovery of America had resulted in a more intricate trading system between different countries. Nonetheless, the upsurge of the tobacco industry had led to smoking popularity across the world. With travels to the East, the Dutch explorer Jan Hogan Van Linschoten had noted the use of hashish on the Arab cultures as a unique and powerful plant to fill your head.

With this known, creative innovations have been devised by a lot of communities in Western Europe. Eventually, the cannabis was smoked into various European elite communities including famous people like William Shakespeare. As evidence, smoking pipes with cannabis remains were being found within the place Shakespeare had to believe to be staying.

In America, growing hemp has been part of their lives back then. The founding fathers who’d said to be wealthy farmers have grown hemp as their primary source of living. Nonetheless, hemp has been a major source of fabrics and rope during that time. As a matter of fact, hemp was featured on the back of the $10 bill on early currencies in the 1900s.

As for medicinal use, cannabis was first dated to use by George Washington to treat toothaches. James Monroe, who is a French ambassador had said to smoked cannabis till his deathbed. Later on, an Irish physicist brought back cannabis from his trip to India to study it for medicinal benefits.

At that moment, the introduction of medical cannabis has brought officially into the world.

VIDEO: Where Did Marijuana Come From, And How Did It Spread?

The Downfall of Cannabis

Cannabis becoming part of the textile industry and pharmacology has created a more intense use of the drug in Europe and the Americas. Nonetheless, there are even factories reproducing cannabis drugs to treat various diseases which are even prescribed by licensed medical professionals.

During this age, social cannabis circles had grown to multiple societies and publications with this drug had surfaced employing its benefits on health.

By the early 1900s and the introduction of the American Medical Association, licensed professionals were threatened as an increasing number of traditional medical facilities have been dominating across America.

Furthermore, the association in return banned the use of cannabis to various states in the USA including California and Massachusetts.

Soon with the development of hemp fiber decorticator, the production of fabric-based from hemp has grown abundantly across America. It was denoted even as a billion dollar industry generating money to a lot of hemp industries.

However, not all are happy with this development. William Randolph Hearst who was invested in the timber industry, owned numerous media outlets and few paper factories had begun circulating propaganda regarding cannabis through writing an article regarding the plant itself. He noted how Mexican immigrants used “marijuana” to violently raped young women. With that saying, different sectors had supported the claims and began to protest in order to fully ban the plant for use. His propaganda, to this very day, had worked to ban a harmless plant that did much good for the world.

Later on, a draft was created by the federal government to violate the use of cannabis in the country. A day after the legality, arrests were made to those who used cannabis.

This created fears upon farmers and cannabis enthusiasts to plant hemp or try marijuana. There had been serious drug mandates during that time and anypone who used cannabis was imprisoned.

In 1969, with its potential income source, the laws regarding cannabis were taken into consideration suppressing its exclusivity to the hemp industry. However, after years of fear, the industry had difficulty on reviving its former glory. Though, there are still continual arrests for cannabis use despite this suppression.

Not just America, countries all over the world had seconded the banning of cannabis. The increase of cannabis use on the youth and students had prompted these countries to prohibit the drug permanently. Among the countries who began this trend include the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

To further empower this war on drugs, the United Nations had supported the USA and various countries actions toward the destabilization of cannabis. During the 1970s to 1980s policies were strengthened against cannabis use with total eradication of this drug even as far as countries in the Middle East and Asia as well.

The Liberation of Cannabis

Unlike in the Americas and various places in the world, there are few countries in the world who have been friendly to cannabis for over the past years. Ever since 1972, the Dutch government had allowed its people to use cannabis 30 grams per use. It was even sold to multiple dispensaries and coffee shops. Which is how we get the present day culture in Amsterdam that embraced the use of cannabis.

While the mid-19th century was a dark era to the cannabis market, a new beginning has hope for the 20th century where intense research for new potential drugs has flourish in the medical industry. Cannabis has taken a lot of interest by multiple people with its profound benefits on pain management during chemotherapy and even epilepsy. Thus, states in the USA such as California have legalized medical cannabis use (with restrictions). This trend has been followed by countries such as Portugal (2001), Belgium (2003), China(2005), and the Czech Republic (2010).

In 2013, Uruguay was the first country to fully legalize recreational cannabis. Though, at this period there are various states in the USA who had allowed using and even planting recreational cannabis. By July 1, 2018, the Canadian federal government had legalized recreational cannabis use though still not fully implemented to different states in Canada as there are things have to process and look into it.

Trivia on Cannabis

Before we end this article, let’s take on a few myths and unknown facts in relation to cannabis. This includes the following;

The molecular composition of cannabis contains an excellent phenotype diversity

With its amazing therapeutic benefits, its no wonder that the drug has a complicated genetic layout as compared to other plants. Nevertheless, studies show that cannabis contains at LEAST 85 cannabinoids including the famous THC and CBD. Not just that, terpenes, a particular component that creates its smell and aroma varies from strain to strain.

Marijuana is NOT a gateway drug

It doesn’t crave you to give a more intense high after a couple of uses. To backup this myth, a study was conducted in 2013 satisfying that majority of the people who used marijuana don’t want the stronger stuff.

Cannabis will lead me to die early

Well, believe it or not, it isn’t. The herb has shown various therapeutic benefits with including enhancing brain function which leads to productivity and creativity. In fact, a lot of artists today uses cannabis to improve their focus and concentration.

Smoking cannabis can cause lung cancer

The smoke could but the weed itself can’t cause it. In fact, research was conducted to aid this support. It has found that instead of damaging the lung, cannabis helps improve lung function upon proper consumption and smoking methods. It’s most efficient of use as compared to cigarettes and even tobacco.

There is ‘unlimited’ number of strains of cannabis!

With the complexity of cannabis variety, the number of occurring species is not readily identified. With the introduction of multiple breeds per year, the cannabis species could range to more than thousands of it throughout the world. Nonetheless, each of these strainhas a different aroma, composition, and even function as for medicinal or recreational purposes.

VIDEO: 10 LIES You Were Told About Marijuana

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