A Walk Through Cannabis History

Cannabis has been used for millennia for its medical properties, with possible evidence of its existence dating back 12,000 years to central Asia.”Cannabis seeds have accompanied the migration of nomadic peoples” across the globe, according to the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, reportedly treating everything from arthritis to asthma. As April 20 approaches, here’s a look at the history of cannabis and a few theories about the origins of 420.


The earliest cannabis records

Believed to first be used in central Asia or Western China after appearing within EMPEROR SHEN NUNG’S pharmacopoeia, some argue that the referenced herb may not have actually been cannabis. Nung, whose writings are dated to about 2800 BC, is considered the father of Chinese medicine. In that same era, cannabis is mentioned in Hindu texts, with legend stating that SHIVA was given the title, “The Lord of Bhang,” because of the god’s appetite for the plant.

Cannabis also surfaces in early Roman, Assyrian and Greek texts. PLINY THE ELDER, A philosopher during the early Roman Empire, wrote about the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Ancient Greek philosopher GALEN reportedly used cannabis to lift his mood.


19th century

Cannabis was widely introduced to the Western world by WILLIAM BROOKE O’SHAUGHNESSY. He studied medicine in Scotland before moving to India, and in 1839, he first published his observations about the medical, and intoxicating effects, of cannabis. He also described ways cannabis was prepared in India, including a process that essentially described the creation of hash butter.

By the turn of the century, cannabis was sold in Europe and the United States to treat ailments, including stomach aches and vomiting. QUEEN VICTORIA reportedly used cannabis for painful menstrual symptoms, and EMPRESS ELISABETH of Austria may have used it to stimulate her appetite. Queen Victoria’s physician went on to publish his observations about the medical benefits of cannabis after using it to treat patients for decades.

While cannabis was being used frequently during the late 19th century and early 20th century, most benefits were somewhat anecdotal because the active chemicals had not yet been identified. It would take more than a hundred years for researchers to isolate some of the active cannabinoids.


20th century

For a brief but meaningful peroid, cannabis was used widely as medicine in the U.S., but a series of obstacles began restricting usage. The film Reefer Madness was released in 1936, depicting cannabis as an addictive drug that caused violence, isanity and more, scaring the public against recreational use. Shortly after, the U.S. passed the marijuana tax act in 1937, effectively criminalizing cannabis out of regular sale. In 1970, cannabis was declared a Scheduled 1 drug, the same class as heroin, which put a stop to research and led to the incarceration of millions.

It wasn’t until 1966 that California passed the Compassionate Use Act, which allowed for medical cannabis use for some individuals with chronic or severe disease.


1898   researchers isolate CBN

1940   researchers isolate CBD 

1964   researches identify and isolate THC


The history of 420

While the history of cannabis is well-documented, the history of cannabis’ 420 holiday is hazier. The most accepted hostry is that in 1971, group of high school students in California gathered to smoke marijuana. Some believe the holiday relates to the police code for cannabis crimes, of the nmber of active chemicals in marijuana.



Cannabis is legalized for recreational and/or medical use in 37 states, and the World Health Organization reports that almost 150 million people use the cannabis to be federally legal soon. In 2022, the House passed a bill that federally decriminalized cannabis, which removed it from the list of scheduled substances.