Human beings have used cannabis and hemp for thousands of years. The plant helped facilitate early forms of writing and exploration with its fibrous stalks, perfect for making paper and textiles. It’s been a staple in early human diets and ancient folk medicine. Even today, the plant still has a ton of practical uses that range all the way from environmentally friendly building material to active ingredients in beauty products.
The continent of Asia has one of the oldest relationships with the cannabis plant anywhere in the world. It’s the region first responsible for first cultivating the plant and introducing the rest of the globe to its many practical uses. Keep reading to explore the fascinating cannabis history in Asia and learn more about how the modern continent of Asia continues to use cannabis today.
Ancient Use Of Cannabis In South East Asia
Agricultural historians and botanists speculate that the cannabis plant originated in central Asia, in the area we now call Mongolia and Central China. In fact, to this day, residents of the southern Chinese province, Yunnan, still encounter indigenous cannabis plants growing in the wild today.
The ancient cultures who inhabited this region quickly came to rely on these native cannabis plants. According to archeologists, they began intentionally cultivating them as early as the pre-neolithic period. One dig site on the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan revealed a collection of cannabis seeds dating back to 8,000 BCE, which indicates that the early stone age people inhabiting the region were already cultivating cannabis plants.
Hemp seeds are known as “superfoods” for their high nutritional content and abundance of amino acids, and they were also a dietary staple for some of our ancient ancestors. The Book of Rites, a core Confucian text, lists hemp seeds as part of the five sacred grains on which civilization was built.
As ancient technology progressed, so did cannabis cultivation in the region, resulting in some genuinely innovative uses of the plant. The stringy bast fibers of the hemp plant are excellent for textile production. Most of the earliest clothing worn by humans was made from these hemp bast fibers, and hemp clothing remained popular all the way into the 19th century. These same fibrous stalks were also used to make sails, ropes, and even paper.
Today, many people smoke cannabis for its psychotropic properties, but this isn’t a new phenomenon. The people inhabiting the Indian subcontinent have incorporated cannabis into their spiritual and medicinal practices for thousands of years. Ancient techniques used to consume cannabinoids, such as smoking charas or drinking bhang, are still used today in parts of India.
Which Countries In Asia Allow Cannabis?
Since the 19th century, cannabis prohibition laws have prevented people from all over the world from utilizing the cannabis plant. While western countries like Canada and the United States have started walking back anti-cannabis legislation, most of Asia remains pretty far away from marijuana legalization.
The People’s Republic of China has a robust hemp cultivation program. However, cannabis and cannabinoid-based products remain illegal in the country.
In India, cannabis remains illegal despite the subcontinent’s spiritual history with the plant. The government does make allowances for the sale of charas and bhang for religious purposes.
The nation of Isreal has perhaps the most lenient marijuana laws on the continent. Cannabis is decriminalized, the country allows for medical marijuana, and last year the government unveiled plans to formally legalize recreational cannabis. Much of what we know about the science behind cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system comes from Isreal since the country has allowed scientists much more leeway in researching the plant.
Asian Cannabis Strains
Much of the cannabis in the United States has been cross-bred from dozens of different strains. Cultivators use cross-breeding to try and Frankenstein the best genes from each strain into a new and improved plant.
However, many people still enjoy imbibing in the original unadulterated landrace strains. Since cannabis originated in Asia, most of the landrace strains come from the continent. Here are a few of our favorite:
Hindu Kush: Named for the mountain range that stretches from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Hindu Kush is a pure indica that tends to produce a heavily sedating feeling. It can be identified by its pinecone-shaped buds and bright orange pistil hairs.
Thai: Native to Thailand, the Thai strain is known as an energetic pure sativa that’s perfect for daytime use. There are significantly less pistil hairs than Hindu Kush, but the abundance of trichomes gives these buds an almost snowy-looking appearance. Some may refer to this strain as Thai Sticks in reference to the bamboo rods that were traditionally used to dry and cure the flowers.
Luang Prabang: Also known as Lao Sativa, this landrace strain comes from the country of Laos. Like Thai, Luang Prabang is a pure sativa with uplifting cerebral qualities. These buds often have a tall and skinny appearance and have a spicy, earthy flavor profile.