Cannabis has been in Europe longer than Europeans according to recent research, which has discovered that the plant grew wild in the western continent long before humans arrived.
By analyzing fossilized pollen, researchers were able to determine that the history of cannabis in Europe goes back further than initially thought. "Cannabis is indigenous to Europe," according to John McPartland - the study's author.
Human cultivation of the plant in Europe actually began somewhere around 3200 BCE, during the Copper or Bronze Ages, but "not during the Neolithic Age, when Europe’s first farmers began cultivating other plants,” McPartland said.
These findings not only expand our understanding of how cannabis came to Europe, but also why in comparison to cannabis in Asia, European cannabis tends to have higher CBD (one of the main non-psychoactive compounds found in cannabis) content than THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient, or the stuff that gets you high). This was largely thought to be a product of human cultivation practices, but now it looks like it was natural development and evolution over time.
"Small populations experience something called ‘genetic drift,’ where different genotypes appear by chance. It’s a basic mechanism of evolution, and does not depend on human selection. The differences between European and Asian cannabis likely began with a million years of genetic drift."
McPartland says his research stemmed from "a very nerdy interest in cannabis and evolution," and his next project is to find the origins of cannabis.
"We’ve expanded our fossil pollen study to Asia, and the oldest cannabis pollen we’ve found there dates back 19.7 million years ago, in the northeastern Tibetan plateau," he told Marijuana.com. "So it looks like cannabis did originate in Central Asia. That’s our next paper."