How cannabis came from HIGH origins: Marijuana evolved 10,700ft above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau 28million years ago, study of ancient pollen suggests
- It analysed pollen fossil that trace the oldest plant to the Tibetan plateau
- Evidence shows the plant moved west towards Europe and then China and India
- When the Earth’s tectonic movements brought the landmass close together
- Archaeological evidence of its use as a drug dates to 2,700 BC in Xinjiang
The origin of marijuana has finally been discovered and it dates back 28 million years to the Tibetan plateau, 10,700ft (3km) above sea level.
Researchers analysed pollen fossils of the plant and found it slowly dispersed over millennia to Europe, China and India.
It has long been known cannabis originated in Central Asia but its exact location had remained a mystery until now.
Archaeological evidence of its use as a drug dates back to to 2,700 BC in the nearby Xinjiang region north west of China.
The origins of the cannabis plant has finally been traced to an area of the Tibetan plateau (pictured) 15, 000ft (3km) above sea level
A team of researchers led by the University of Vermont in the US examined 155 existing fossil pollen studies from Asia in order to ‘to reconstruct the evolutionary and human related history of Cannabis in Asia’, wrote the authors in the report.
They mapped different samples of cannabis pollen and pinpointed the origins of its growth 28 million years ago to the area of Qinghai lake on the Tibetan plateau, which is 14,800 ft (4,500 m) above sea level at its highest point.
The area overlaps with the first hunter and gatherer community that evolved in Asia, although no link has been made between the two.
Based on their analysis, the researchers found evidence the cannabis strain of hemp first disseminated to Europe and then East to China followed by India due to tectonic movements in the Earth that caused land mass to move closer to each other.
WHERE IS THE TIBETAN PLATEAU?
Also called Tibetan Highlands or Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, it is a vast high plateau of southwestern China.
It encompasses all of the Tibet Autonomous Region and much of Qinghai province and extends into western Sichuan province and southern Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.
It has an area of about 965,000 square miles (2,500,000 square km), is a region of tangled mountains and uplands that are generally above 13,000 to 15,000 feet (4,000 to 5,000 metres) in elevation.
Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, is the plateau’s major centre of population, economic activity, culture, and air and land transportation.
The flowering tops of cannabis strains such as hemp plant produce cannabinoids, which have been used to make the cannabis drug.
One reason the origins of the plant have been so hard to trace is because the leaves of cannabis plants – such as hemp – don’t create very good print fossils, and only two collections of the plant fossil exist.
In contrast, hundreds of pollen fossils have been found and analysed, which the current study reviewed.
While widely known as a drug, the cannabis plant in fact had may functions for communities that used its plant fibres, for providing cordage and textiles, for example.
Carbonised hemp fibres, found with silk and spinning wheels, date to 5,600 BC, in Henan Province, China.
Researchers analysed studies of pollen fossils from the plant and showed that it disseminated over the millennia to Europe, China and then India.
It has long been known the plant originated in Central Asia but its exact location on the Tibetan plateau around Qinghai Lake (shown on map) had remained a mystery
Scientists also put down the appearance of cannabis elsewhere in the world down to tectonic movements of the earth, rather than humans migrating with it.
The researchers wrote: ‘Early floristic exchanges between India and Asia were shaped by plate tectonics,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.
‘As the Indian plate migrated towards the Asian plate, it made a ‘glancing contact’ with Sumatra 57 [million years ago], followed by Burma, and then a ‘hard collision’ with Tibet 35 [million years ago].
‘The glancing contact between continents resulted in floristic exchanges during the Eocene.’
‘Cannabis holds significance in human history and life today as a triple-use crop. First, its fruits (seeds) provide valuable protein and essential fatty acids’, wrote the researchers.
Archaeological evidence in a food context dates back to 10,000 BC in Japan.
WHAT IS CANNABIS AND WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS?
Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.
However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy.
But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.
Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.
It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.
Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism,eczema or psoriasis.
Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug.