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Did You Know Cannabis Grows Naturally in the Wild?
Marijuana is a hardy plant. Able to survive in a wide range of climates, cannabis could theoretically be grown almost anywhere, as long as the temperature doesn’t get too hot or too cold. With fertile soil, and above-freezing temperatures, marijuana thrives. And nowadays, cannabis can be found growing wild and free in the great outdoors in nearly every country. But the truth is, cannabis wasn’t always found here in the United States. Like many other crops, marijuana has traveled the globe, following in the footsteps of humans, and growing naturally wherever it has been planted.
The buds you may find at your local dispensary were most likely grown locally by people devoted to the cultivation of high-quality cannabis. Indeed, most marijuana strains sold commercially are grown indoors in order to optimize quality by controlling temperature and lighting conditions. Cannabis grown wild, on the other hand, is referred to within the pro-marijuana community as feral cannabis. Planted outside, with the right weather conditions and just a little bit of luck, marijuana will grow like a weed, no pun intended. With that in mind, where does cannabis actually grow naturally? The answer can be found by taking a close look at where the cannabis plant originally came from and how the notorious marijuana plant came to be found all over the world.
The history of the cannabis plant traces back tens of thousands of years to India and China. Historical records indicate that humans have long used cannabis for a variety of purposes. Some cultures have employed cannabis for its potent medicinal and psychoactive properties, while others have focused on the production of industrial hemp. Hemp can be used for making ropes, fishing nets, paper, oil, cloth, fuel, and many other items. Over time, two major strains of marijuana have emerged, indica and sativa, with the individual characteristics largely depending on climate, nutrients, and geographical location.
Most sources agree that the marijuana plant was originally from the Himalayan mountains, located in Tibet, with historical roots along the border of India and Afghanistan. Preferring a cool and dry climate, the ancestor of the modern cannabis indica strain flourished over the centuries and spread throughout Asia and the Middle East.
Sacred Hindu texts called The Vedas mention cannabis repeatedly. “The Fourth Book of the Vedas refers to it sometimes under the name of Vijahia (source of happiness) and sometimes under that of Ananda (laughter-provoker). It was not, therefore, for its textile properties that hemp was used in India to start with; at the beginning of the Christian era the use of its fiber was still unknown there…It is solely to its inebriating properties that hemp owes the signal honor of being sung in the Vedas…(Bouquet, 1950).
According to Ancient Chinese legend, the Chinese were the first to discover the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant. Emperor Fu His referenced the healing properties of cannabis (‘ma’ in Chinese) as early as 2900 BCE. Emperor Sheng Nung allegedly used cannabis to treat a range of medical issues around 2700 BCE, including absent-mindedness, gout, malaria, menstrual issues, rheumatism, and others.
An article published in Science Magazine in 2019 highlighted recent research that unearthed the oldest known evidence of cannabis use: wooden braziers used for smoking marijuana, dating back 2500 years to a cemetery in Western China. Co-author of the actual paper, Robert Spengler, told Science, “It is quite likely that people came across cannabis plants at higher elevations that were naturally producing higher THC levels.” Interestingly, based on chemical analysis of pollen samples, researchers have been able to determine that the CBD-heavy cannabis sativa strain likely originated in Europe (McPartland et al. 2018). In 2007, researchers discovered cannabis seeds in the hull of a Norwegian Viking burial ship dating back as far as 820 A.D.
Wild Cannabis in The Current Day and Age
Cannabis has been known to grow wild in parts of Central and Western Asia. Despite marijuana’s illegality in India, to this day, farmers continue to grow cannabis and make hashish, called ‘charas’ by the locals, carrying on in the tradition of their ancestors. The area was a popular traveling destination during the 1970s, in fact, so many visitors traveled there that tourists officially became known as “hippies.” One farmer who called himself Sunaj spoke to Narratively, saying, “Children up in the Himalayan villages still refer to tourists as ‘hippies.’ It is the only word they know for stranger.” Photos taken by National Geographic in 2016 show cannabis farms hidden high up in the mountains. Under the current law, farmers risk going to prison when police show up to raid the cannabis fields.
Wild marijuana can certainly be found growing in North America, however, based on what researchers have discovered about the genetic origins of cannabis, it’s likely that any roadside weed found in America or Canada was actually brought here from somewhere else. In fact, according to an article by Leaf Science, cannabis that is found growing naturally on this continent is likely “ditch weed.” A report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) found that 99% of cannabis eradicated in 2003 was feral hemp, i.e. wild marijuana. Evidently, lawmakers have had a hard time controlling the unintentional spread of wild cannabis. In 2018, a spokesman for the Indiana State Police told Leaf Science, “You can eradicate ditch weed as well as you can eradicate dandelion.”
As a plant, cannabis knows no borders, so even though THC still remains illegal in many places, marijuana is often still found growing naturally. If you get a chance to travel to Tibet and hike through the Himalayas, you might even be able to see cannabis in its natural state for yourself. For the price of $499.00 per person, the Himalayan Cannabis Tour available on the My Nepal Trek website offers tourists “a guided Himalayan cannabis tour…[that] combines the natural beauty of the Himalayan mountains, the rich cultural heritage of Nepal, and all the cannabis you set your eyes on.”
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Marijuana is a hardy plant. Able to survive in a wide range of climates, cannabis could theoretically be grown almost anywhere, as long as the temperature doesn’…
Where does cannabis grow wild?
If pot has one clear advantage over alcohol, it’s that hikers never stumble into a field of wild beer or feral wine
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Ditch weed. Feral cannabis. Wild marijuana. If pot has one clear advantage over alcohol, it’s that hikers never stumble into a field of wild beer or feral wine.
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Where does cannabis grow wild? Back to video
But around the world, tonnes of cannabis can be found growing without any human intervention.
In a viral 2016 YouTube post, travel blogger Gabriel Morris revealed a hillside covered with marijuana plants in the Nepalese Himalayas.
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The sight isn’t all that uncommon in the land of Mount Everest. Cannabis is indigenous to the Himalayas, and while the plant is illegal in both India and Nepal, it thrives in the hard-to-reach corners of the famed mountain range. Several Himalayan villages also make their living on the production of cannabis, and when busted by authorities they can plausibly claim that their cannabis fields are natural.
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Thickets of cannabis can similarly be found across Asia from Pakistan to China. Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, a 2013 scientific profile of the plant, even found examples of decorative cannabis being grown alongside a public street in Kunming, China.
“Feral Cannabis is highly adaptable and can grow and reproduce in a wide variety of temperate habitats, even under extreme conditions,” it read.
Marijuana can be found growing wild throughout northern Pakistan, where an unmolested cannabis bush can grow as high as a one-storey building. As with a lot of the world’s indigenous wild cannabis, however, these plants are generally quite low on THC and have little to no hallucinogenic effect if consumed.
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In neighbouring Afghanistan, the ease of growing weed in the local soil (as well as the country’s chaotic political situation) is partially how it became the world’s largest supplier of cannabis in 2010.
Cannabis used to grow wild across Europe, according to a recent University of Vermont study of fossil pollen. However, the plant had already begun to die out by the time Europeans started experimenting with agriculture – and there is no evidence that Neolithic humans ever discovered its psychoactive properties.
In Britain, at least, wild pot has begun to return. A group calling itself “Feed the Birds” has begun sowing cannabis seeds into English gardens and planter boxes, with the result that cannabis can now occasionally be seen growing within sight of U.K. landmarks like the The Shard skyscraper.
Feral cannabis is even rampant in North America. Although the plant is not native to the Western hemisphere, wild cannabis has either escaped from early 20th century industrial hemp farms or has been intentionally sowed by marijuana activists. Ironically, it seems to thrive best in conservative states like Iowa, Nebraska or Kansas, where marijuana prohibitions are some of the strongest in the United States.
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Glenn Panik, a California-based medical marijuana blogger, wrote in 2014 about how wild cannabis can frequently be spotted among stands of overgrown vegetation, particularly in urban places like abandoned lots or construction sites.
“I even found a beautiful little plant with purple-tinged buds growing among the yarrow and dandelions in front of a doughnut shop,” he wrote.
Wild cannabis is usually referred to in the U.S. Midwest as “ditch weed.” Much like its feral cousin in Asia, however, ditch weed usually contains too little THC to get high – although it can be crossbred with peppier domestic strains in order to yield more resilient marijuana.
In Canada, winters are a bit harder on wild cannabis, and the country doesn’t have the same history of large-scale hemp cultivation like in the U.S. Nevertheless, according to a 2002 paper by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, all of Canada’s 10 provinces can count a few patches of tough, weedy cannabis.
A 1972 map showing known locations of wild cannabis in Canada. Photo by National Research Council Press
“The ruderal plants pose a minor weed problem to agriculture but a major problem to law enforcement,” it wrote.
At the time, the re-authorization of hemp cultivation was expected to yield an explosion in Canadian feral cannabis fuelled by “escaped” seeds. With legal grow operations now opening across the country, Canada may well be entering a golden age of feral weed.
It’s hard to spot in Canada, but no less than the federal government says it grows wild in all 10 provinces