Cannabis Origin and Evolution

"There are no cannabis fossils on record. [24] Cannabis probably arrived on planet earth about 34 million years ago, an estimate based upon the seven shared parasites with Cannabis's "sister group" the Urticaceae (nettle) family and the lack of any shared parasites with cannabis's "cousin" the Moraceae (mulberry/fig) family. [25]
The first cannabis farmers? Nobody knows that for sure. What we do know is that there is evidence of cannabis pressed into pottery from 12,000 years ago from Taiwan – at the beginning of the Neolithic era (the age of farming). In a footnote to his 1977 book "The Dragons of Eden – Speculations on the Origin of Human Intelligence", Carl Sagan pointed out that cannabis is the only crop of the Pygmies, and posited that "It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization."
We also know that as early as 1.75 million years ago Homo erectus migrated into Asia, where cannabis is thought to originate. [26] Some time between 1.8 million and 1 million years ago early humans learned to control fire. [27] Did they sit around hemp fires and get a whiff of that cannabis smoke while they "chewed the fat" from a recent hunt? Is this how we invented language?
It's even possible that earlier primates or mammals went after the cannabis seeds and then began distributing a few of the unchewed seeds in nice neat little piles of fertilizer a day's worth of travel away. I am told that human feces makes poor fertilizer ... maybe ape droppings fertilizer is better?
In his book "Intoxication", Author Ronald K. Siegel records cannabis self-administration by different animals. Mice, rats and birds would get intoxicated in the process of obtaining hemp seeds. Monkeys have been observed snacking on the top leaves of plants in South American pot farms. [28]
Endocannabinoids, the things that your body produces to get you high, are a lot older than humans. They are found in primates, mammals birds, amphibians, fish, sea urchins, molluscs, leeches and the Hydra vulgaris – a primitive water creature that never ages. Scientists estimate the first endocannabinoids are over 600 million years old. [29]"

- excerpt from Human and Cannabis Coevolution by David Malmo-Levine (2009)

" Origin of the association

No one knows exactly where Cannabis originated. DeCandolle (1884), a past master of ethnobotany, reported 'the species has been found wild, beyond a doubt, to the south of the Caspian Sea, near the Irtysch, in the desert of Kirghiz, beyond Lake Baikal'. Vavilov (1926) , perhaps our best expert on Cannabis origins, described plants 'of a primeval character' growing in the Altai mountains and western Siberia. McPartland et al. (2000) proposed a Cannabis origin in the rich alluvial soil surrounding the southern Altai or Tien Shan mountains. Hence it was somewhere in Central Asia that Homo sapiens first encountered Cannabis. Humans migrated from Africa into Central Asia at least 1.75 million years ago. Given this time frame, it seems conservative to estimate that humans first used Cannabis 12, 000 years ago.
Who first cultivated cannabis? Most of our crops are associated with classic civilisations: the Incas and Aztecs with potatoes and maize, Egyptians with wheat, and the Chinese with rice. It has been proposed that cannabis with associated with a lost civilisations, a Shangri La or Shambala of Central Asia (McEno, 1991). Alternatively, cannabis may have been domesticated by nomads, independent or erstwhile civilisations. Nomadic cultivation is supported by the simultaneous historical appearance of cannabis in several locations (china, India, Persia, Europe). The Altai and Tien Shen mountains flank the CEntral Asian steppes, a Neolithic 'nomad belt' stretching from the Black Sea to Mongolia. The Scythians, a Neolithic tribe of migrants, emerged from this territory at the dawn of history. 'Cannabis ruderalis' seeds have been unearthed from Scythian tombs in the Altai mountains. Herodotus (1906 reprint, written ca. 450 BCE) documented the Scythians carrying hemp seeds to Europe; the Scythians also migrated to India and China, where they may have transported cannabis germ plasm. After cannabis was carried across Eurasia, geographically isolated human communities began selecting plants for diverse purposes - for food (seed and seed oil), fibre and medicaments. These isolated areas of cannabis cultivation gave rise to the fantastic variety of plants we see today.

Cannabis Taxonomy and Evolution

Within the plant order Urticales, Endlicher (1837) created a separate family, the Cannabaceae, for Cannabis and her sister genus, Hummulus (hops). Subsequently, Bentham and Hooker (1880) moved Cannabis to the Urticaceae (the nettle family) and Engler and Prantl (1889) tranferred it to the Moraceae (the fig family). Most contemporary taxonomists assign Cannabis to the Cannabaceae or the Moraceae. The Urticaceae designation has fallen out of common use, although Schultes (1970) considered Cannabis more closely allied to the Urticaceae than to the Moraceae.
Fossil records of Cannabis are lacking, so the epoch when it evolved must be inferred from fossils or related plants. Whether Cannabis is more closely allied with the Moraceae or the Urticaceae bears directly upon this question- fossils suggest that the Moraceae is a much older family than the Urticaceae. Unfortunately, this 'family feud' has not been answered satisfactorily with morphological and phytochemical analyses. Another set of data, host plant-parasite relationships, may offer clues...
McPartland and Nicholson (20003) compared a monograph of Cannabis parasites (fungi, nematodes and insects) with lists of parasites that attack other plants. Seven obligate parasites of Cannabis were shared by hosts in the Urticaceae, wheras no obligate parasites of Cannabis were shared by hosts in the Moraceae. These results suggest that Cannabis shares a sister group relationship with the Urticaceae (whose convincing fossil record begins in the Oligocene epoch, 34 million years ago), instead of the Moraceae (with a fossil record dating to the early Eocene, 56 million years ago). Thus the Cannabaceae lineage evolved no earlier than 34 million years ago."

- pp. 72- 74, The Evolution of Cannabis- A Hypothesis by John M. McPartland and Geoffrey W. Guy in The Medicinal Uses of Cannabis and Cannabinoids (2004)

Geological Timescale


I believe that human feces makes poor fertilizer only because of our poor diets. At the time we would have been much more healthy.