Some of the latest research being done into the origins of cannabis suggests that it may have evolved at 3000 metres above sea level high on the Tibetan Plateau in Asia.
Scientists from the University of Vermont have been examining previous studies where cannabis pollen has been found at various archaeological sites throughout Asia.
One of the most important sites is a cave in Tibet called the Baishiya Karst Cave, where bone samples of a now extinct species of human were recently found.
It is postulated that this early humanoid species, known as the Denisovans, may have been responsible for transporting cannabis seeds out of the Tibetan Plateau and giving the plant the chance to spread to Europe and eastern China.
Thank you Denisovans!
155 pollen samples
Cannabis pollen can be problematic to identify as it has a very similar appearance to hops pollen. However, the researchers believe pollen samples in the cave to be cannabis as it is of similar appearance to other cannabis pollen samples identified at other archaeological sites associated with the Denisovans.
Overall, 155 pollen studies were analysed in the research. The earliest records of cannabis pollen in geological records were from southern Russia and northern China.
Given these locations, it was deduced that cannabis almost certainly came from the Tibetan Plateau in the approximate area of Qinghai Lake, 3200 metres above sea level.
28 million years old
It is possible that cannabis evolved there 28 million years ago, and its evolution may have been driven by the formation of the Tibetan Plateau through the collision of the Indian and Asian landmasses, creating ideal growing conditions for the plant throughout Asia.
“Most people agree that cannabis came from somewhere in central Asia,”
says Robert Clarke, of BioAgronomics Group Consultants in Los Angeles.
If the study is correct, after populating the Tibetan Plateau, cannabis made its way to Europe around 6 million years ago and then managed to spread as far as eastern China just 1.2 million years ago.
Over the millennia cannabis migrated all over the world, and through Africa it reached South America in the 19th century penetrating the United States at the beginning of the 20th century with Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911.
Photo by Shane Rounce