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From Clothes to Medicine: The History of Cannabis

Consumers across the country enjoy cannabis today for its healing and recreational benefits. But did you know cannabis has been grown, consumed, and sold for thousands of years? In fact, you may have more in common with President George Washington than you realize.

The Early Years

Based on archaeological evidence, the first uses of cannabis date back to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (8800–6500 BCE). For at least 3000 years, it has been cultivated by humans for clothes, fiber, rope, medicine, as well as its psychoactive properties. Because it is fast-growing and multifaceted, the hemp or cannabis plant was introduced across continents – moving from Asia to Africa, Europe, and later the Americas.

India: Inventors of Chess… and Craft Drinks

Rewind the clock over 500 years to 10th century India and the one of the most well-known cannabis beverages to date. Countrymen used cannabis sativa to create a popular drink called bhang. Bhang was made by grinding hemp buds and leaves into a paste, then adding milk, ghee, and spices. First We Feast shared a quote from a visiting priest, Father Montserrate, “When used as a drink the plant which is commonly called bangue produces intoxication and stupefaction of the mind and senses.” Beyond its benefits as a natural relaxer, bhang is respected in India for its connection to Holi celebrations. This Food52 blog piece explains why bhang holds deeper cultural significance, “According to legend, during the “churning of the ocean of milk” (samudra manthan), an act undertaken by Hindu gods to obtain an elixir of immortality (amrit), it is believed that cannabis grew wherever droplets of this elixir fell on earth.”

United States: Historic Mount Vernon

The United States has been using cannabis for various purposes since the British first arrived. The first US president George Washington is well known for his cultivation of hemp. Throughout his lifetime, he grew hemp at his historic home in Mount Vernon. From making rope and clothes to sailing and fishing needs, cannabis became an important industrial tool for ol’ George. As this Mount Vernon piece notes, George Washington even “considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined wheat was a better alternative.”

Curious about Mount Vernon? Take a virtual tour here:

History shows that cannabis has always been considered a resourceful tool – for farming, healing, relaxing, and manufacturing. And now, years of research and innovation later we have discovered hundreds of strains, new consuming methods, and remarkable benefits.


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