Although the precise origins of cannabis remain unclear, scientists have concluded that the plant originated in northwestern China. By analyzing 5,000-year-old pottery found in the Tarim Basin, in northwestern Xinjiang province, researchers determined that early Chinese farmers routinely used cannabis as a source of fiber, and that the region was the source of the earliest-known cultivated cannabis. “The results from our study demonstrate that the earliest pottery in the Tarim Basin had fibers and cannabis residues on them, which suggests that the cannabis in that area had been sufficiently domesticated for at least a millennium before it was first encountered by Westerners in the 19th century,” said study coauthor Maan Pittman, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and

A new study has revealed that cannabis is the product of a hybrid between two native wild hemp species in northwestern China. The researchers found that the two Chinese wild hemp species, “Cannabis ruderalis” and “C. indica”, are in fact two different strains of a hybrid species rather than two different species. The researchers confirmed this by growing the wild plants from seed and examining them via DNA analysis. As a result, the two species have at least three different alleles (specific combinations of DNA) and look quite different in their genetic makeup. The researchers say both of the wild plants have the same genetic makeup and are considered members of the same species.

According to a research released on Friday, cannabis’ oldest roots may have originated in northern China, rather than South Asia as previously thought.

According to a press release from the journal Science Advances, where the study was published, researchers discovered that the Cannabis sativa species — the “much adored and despised plant” commonly used as a recreational narcotic — likely originated from the area around Neolithic periods (10,000-3,000 BC).

Cannabis was one of the earliest plants cultivated by humans, according to the research, and has a long history of usage in textiles, food, and oilseed as hemp. However, owing to contemporary legal limitations on the plant’s usage and accessibility, this history has been difficult to uncover.

To trace the origins of cannabis, a team led by Swiss and Chinese researchers assembled 110 whole genomes from a variety of wild-growing feral plants, domesticated varieties, and modern hybrids of hemp, as well as psychoactive forms of the plant, commonly known as marijuana, with higher levels of the compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

A feral cannabis plant in the middle of a grassland in Qinghai province, central China.

 

In central China’s Qinghai region, a wild cannabis plant grows in the midst of a grassland.

 

The samples were divided into four categories based on their genetic analyses, including basal cannabis, which is present in China and the United States. The study found that early domesticated relatives of hemp and marijuana, two other significant groupings, split from basal cannabis about 12,000 years ago, indicating that the species was already domesticated at the time.

This is consistent with the date of ancient artifacts from the same era, such as pottery from southern China, Taiwan, and Japan, according to the research.

 

The research said, “Our genome-wide studies confirm the existing archaeobotanical, archaeological, and historical record, and offer a comprehensive picture of Cannabis domestication and its effects on the species’ genetic composition.”

Modern Chinese landraces — cultivated plants that have been altered through agriculture — and feral cannabis plants are now the closest descendents of the ancestors of hemp and marijuana, the study said. Meanwhile, the pure wild ancestors of Cannabis sativa have likely gone extinct.

 

According to archaeological evidence, the plant steadily expanded throughout Europe and the Middle East after being domesticated in the Neolithic era. According to the research, Cannabis sativa was first recorded in India about 3,000 years ago, when the plant was likely imported from China together with other crops.

 

Cannabis then made its way to Africa in the 13th century, Latin America in the 16th century, and North America in the early twentieth century.

 

The research provides some light on the long-standing enigma of when and where people first identified and utilized cannabis types with greater amounts of psychotropic chemicals.

Early cultivars and wild populations have minimal amounts of THC and other intoxicating chemicals, despite having been grown for millennia.

 

Many historians have attributed the origins of cannabis smoking to the ancient Central Asian steppes, however their claims are based entirely on a sentence from a single book published by the Greek historian Herodotus in the late first millennium BC.

In 2019, the first definite evidence of people smoking cannabis for its euphoric effects was discovered in a 2,500-year-old tomb in western China. The chemical signature of cannabis, particularly that with a high level of THC, was found in wood pieces and burned stones from pots in the tomb, indicating that the plant was utilized during burial rituals.

 

Cannabis, on the other hand, was unlikely to be smoked in the same manner it is now. It was most likely burned like incense in a confined area to release fumes.

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