Cannabis may have been born in the Himalayan plateau, study finds

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At first glance, the recent developments regarding cannabis legalization, market, and medical studies may lead us to believe that cannabis use is a relatively new concept in our history and medicine. However, that is far from being true: cannabis has a prehistoric origin.

Some historical records indicate that cannabis most likely began being cultivated and used sometime around the last Ice Age, both in Europe and Asia. In fact, researchers believe that the Yamnaya people, one of the predecessor tribes of the European civilization, were responsible for spreading the cannabis use throughout Eurasia (the landmass that includes both Europe and Asia).

It is believed that, at the time, the pre-historic tribes used the cannabis plant for a wide variety of purposes, such as food, medicine, to make textiles, and possibly even for its psychoactive properties in ritualistic ceremonies.

But where did it come from?

This question has haunted scientists for quite some time, but they may have finally found an answer.

A recent study published in the scientific journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany reports that the central origin of the cannabis plant is most likely the northeastern region of the Tibetan Plateau (also known as Himalayan Plateau), a very wide highland region that crosses Central and East Asia.

Located at approximately 3.200 meters above the sea level, the plant is thought to have developed about 28 million years ago, slowly evolving to become as it is today. From there, the scientists believe cannabis dispersed first towards West around 6 million years ago, and later towards East (more specifically to Eastern China, around 1.2 million years ago).

Records indicate that it was very likely that cannabis was known and used by our pre-historic ancestors, although we still don’t know exactly where or when. Evidence points to cannabis use by the now extinct Homo sapiens Denisova, who lived a few kilometers away from the Tibetan Plateau and also as far as Siberia. Moreover, there are reports of ancient Greeks and post-Bronze Age nomads regularly using cannabis.

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