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Cannabis and Homo sapiens share an interwoven story of co-evolution, spanning thousands of years. Cannabis first originated in northern temperate climatic zones, occurring out of Eastern Eurasia (Clarke and Merlin, 2016). Cannabis from the Cannabaceae family is presented by Clarke and Merlin (2016), Liu, Hu, Du, Deng and Yang (2017) and Andre, Hausman and Gurriero (2016) as one of earliest plants to be domesticated by post-glacial-interglacial cycle civilisations in the early Holocene era. 

Agricultural domestication was the precursor for modern day civilisation. The Neolithic age beginning 12 000 years ago was coupled with the rise of animal and plant domestication. The shift from a subsistence based, nomadic lifestyle to surplus community crop and livestock domestication brought forth a new age for Homo sapiens and plant life (Harari, 2014). Domestication practices are characterized by identifying ideal qualitative morphological traits in specific plants and amplifying the production of that particular plant characteristic through artificial human selection (Clarke and Merlin, 2016). The Cannabis plant was believed to attract the attention of early human cultivators based on the aromatic flower and multiple uses. The archaeological findings of hemp remnants in past human settlements indicates the use of hemp for applications such as rope, pottery, medicine and other materials (Liu et al. 2017).

Based on multiple sources relating to the chronology of Cannabis domestication, Central Asia, South-West Asia and South Asia are the geographic origins of Cannabis (Clarke and Merlin, 2016)(Gray et al. 2016)(Andre et al. 2016)(Liu et al. 2017).  The use of Cannabis has been dated to 10 000 Before Common Era (BCE) with hemp retting imprints on a pottery bowl in modern day Taiwan (Liu et al. 2017). Hemp, as a domesticated agricultural crop, spread 4500 years ago throughout Central Asia and Europe (Demske, Tarasov, Leipe, Kotlia, Joshi and Long, 2016) (Kuddus, Ginawi and Al-Hazimi, 2013).

In a study conducted by Demske et al. (2016), high amounts of Cannabis pollen records show evidence of hemp retting in the foothills of the Himalayas in 4600 BCE. The palynology findings revealed extensive hemp retting in Garhwal and Kumaun Himalayas, which are densely forested regions. It is believed that early trade and knowledge movement of Cannabis to India was through the Himalayan trade routes (Kuddus et al. 2013) (Gray et al. 2016). Furthermore, Murphy, Ben-Yehuda, Taylor and Southon (2011) analysed evidence of hemp remnants in rope in Israel that was used inRoman and Chalcolithic times. Analogous to this was the use of Cannabis in Ancient Egypt as a medicinal substance.

Clarke and Merlin (2013) identify three evolutionary landraces of Cannabis population types based on taxonomist studies; Cannabis which grows in a wild settings, Cannabis which is domesticated and Cannabis which escaped domestication and occurs in areas occupied or once occupied by humans practicing flora cultivation. Clarke and Merlin (2013) classify cannabis into four different physical descriptive groups; Broad leaf hemp (BLH), Narrow leaf hemp (NLH), Broad leaflet drug (BLD) and Narrow leaflet drug (NLD). These have been such classified into a 21st Century Cannabis taxonomy of five distinct gene differentials:

  1. Cannabis sativa subspecies sativa (Narrow-leaf hemp)
  2. Cannabis indica subspecies chinensis (broad-leaf hemp)
  3. Cannabis indica subspecies indica (narrow-leaf drug)
  4. Cannabis indica subspecies afghanica (broad-leaf drug)
  5. Sinsemilla cultivation groups (varied) (Clarke and Merlin, 2016)

Cannabis genotype expression manifests in its phenotypic characteristics. Specific qualitative morphological traits such as; flower size, stalk height, colour and secondary metabolites were indicators for past civilisations domestication practices. Whereas Quantitative traits such as yield size, became more present as domestication grew in its dynamism. Clarke and Merlin (2016) elaborate on the relationship of cannabis diversity with movement of agricultural communities throughout history. The relationship comes to fruition when humans settled in ‘new land’ and brought with them cannabis seeds. This bottlenecked diversity for cannabis strains within a limited genome diversity. 

Historically, Cannabis sativa was domesticated for its fibre, food and medicinal properties (Fike, 2016). Whether it was the use of the plant as an entheogen or anxiolytic which led to alternative applications, still remains unclear (Kuddus et al. 2013). It is important to mention that the adaptability of cannabis in diverse human settlements in different locations displays the environmentally resilient nature of Cannabis. Historically, the evidence of cannabis domestication throughout past human civilisations indicates a significant co-relationship of Homo sapiens and the domestication of Cannabis sativa strains (Malmo-Levine, 2009).