AN ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL CROP

A recent study published by the Science Advances journal now dates the first domestication of the cannabis plant as 12,000 years ago. The research analysed 110 genomes which covered wild plants, modern cultivars, historical cultivars and plants used for both hemp and marijuana. Results of the study have pin-pointed the time and origin of domestication.  

It is widely accepted that the cannabis plant was one of the first plants to be domesticated. Contributions of the plant to economic, cultural and social development of human society span millennia. However, legal restrictions have hampered studies surrounding the plant since 1970 when the US government outlawed its use for any purpose, including medical research. 

Previously accepted as originating in Central Asia, the study, along with archaeological evidence and archaeobotanical dating places the origin as China. Cannabis Sativa, the basal cannabis, was shown to have been domesticated in early Neolithic times. 

All current cannabis cultivars stemmed from one ancestral gene pool found in the feral plants and landraces in China. East Asia is a hotspot for the early domestication of widespread plants, having been highlighted as the place of origin of rice, broomcorn, peaches, apricots and soybeans among others. 

The findings also showed optimisation of the plant for medical purposes in certain cultures dating back 4000 years. It is widely documented that ancient Romans and Greeks used cannabis in their medicines as well as daily lives, as did parallel cultures, the Egyptians, Scythians and Hittites. 

The optimisation for cannabinoid production for use in medicines led to the plant growing shorter in stature but with larger yields of the cannabinoid rich flower. In hemp production, the plants were bred to be taller - allowing for more fibres which were used in the production of textiles. This clear evolution of the cannabis plant genome shows it has been cultivated for multiple purposes over several millennia. 

Used in textiles, oilseed, medicines and food, the plant has many benefits to society. In addition to its many uses, the plant offers incredible resilience, with its cultivation a simple process, making it one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly crops on the planet. 

With many countries around the globe now relaxing restrictions on use and cultivation of the plant for use in CBD oils and cannabis medicines, scientists, laboratories and researchers have an opportunity to study the history, benefits and potential of the cannabis plant in unprecedented detail.   

The researchers said "[this study] provides new insights into the domestication and global spread of a plant with divergent structural and biochemical products at a time in which there is a resurgence of interest in its use, reflecting changing social attitudes and corresponding challenges to its legal status in many countries."     

At Goodrays we aim to play our part in returning the cannabis sativa l. plant to its rightful position in the world, where it can again be respected for what it is - a powerful, super plant that has healed, clothed, sheltered, fed and fuelled our human existence.