The Coevolution of Humans and Cannabis

By Ocean Malandra | June 14, 2017

Cannabis Human CoEvolution: From a Prodigal Past to a Fantastic Future

We now know that the reason that cannabis is so miraculously able to address so many different human ailments and provide so many useful applications as hemp is because it actually evolved with us over time in a process called co-evolution. In fact, according to Michael Pollan, the NYT bestselling author of The Botany of Desire, cannabis has been so changed by its 15,000 years of coevolution with us that a wild version of the plant simply does not exist anymore.

According to Pollan, cannabis found a way to produce chemicals that give us pleasure, like THC, thereby seducing us into cultivating it and spreading it– a strategy that allowed cannabis to borrow our legs and piggy back on humans as we colonized the globe. Similar to cultivated fruits like the apple or even domesticated animals like the housecat, marijuana is part of the human shaping of the earth. But that shaping is a two way street – which is why it’s called a “co”evolution folks – and cannabis has been and continues to influence our destiny as well.

In fact, cannabis might just be in the driver’s seat.

Cannabis and the Advent of Human Civilization

coevolution-of-cannabis-and-humansIllustration of a cannabis plant from the Vienna Dioscurides, circa 512 AD


Cannabis has no fossil record, so nobody really knows how long it has been around on the planet but the first human use it appears about the same time agriculture was invented, making cannabis one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth. In fact, cannabis may even be the catalyst for the discovery of farming and the basis for many old world civilizations, as Astrophysicist Carl Sagan mused back in 1977 in his book The Dragons of Eden:

“It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture and thereby society.”

With the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the 1990s, which shows that humans have receptors not just in in the brain but throughout the body and even in the immune system that bind to the cannabinoids produced by marijuana, Sagan’s conjecture is even more plausible. Cutting edge recent studies show not only that cannabinoids have profound neurological effects like boosting cognitive performance and fostering the growth of new brain cells but can actually influence gene expression and thereby influence evolution through epigenetics.

Getting high on cannabis may have been what actually taught humans how to farm and could have encouraged the behavioral and intellectual changes necessary for advanced social organization. In fact, Sagan, a known pot aficionado who credited the herb with giving him profound scientific insights, probably even came up with this theory while under the influence, meaning that his words are really her words explaining to us what really happened. Imagine that.

As Sagan also pointed out, among the Pygmies of Africa, which are the closest living example of our stone-age ancestors, cannabis remains the only cultivated crop while the rest of the diet and resources that society needs are still foraged. Since agriculture leads directly to city building and advanced civilizations, this is strong evidence that cannabis is an emissary from the plant world that purposely created a mutually beneficial relationship with us in order to increase its own success, and has drastically changed, or even launched, human society in order to do so.

Cannabis and the Evolution of Modern Human Culture

coevolution-of-cannabis-and-humansWilliam Shakespeare


From the brothels of New Orleans where jazz was born- which lead to the creation of rock and even hip hop by the way- to the pipe of William Shakespeare, the Western world’s most iconic literary genius, cannabis turns up in some surprisingly key places in human cultural history. By infiltrating the human mind and influencing our creative process it makes one wonder who is really in charge and to what extent what we consider human culture was actually inspired by the intoxication of this powerful plant.

Then there is also hemp, that super durable fiber producing variety of cannabis that is responsible for much of the technology that humans have relied upon to reach our current state as the dominant species of the world. Sails from the time of the Phoenicians to those that Christopher Columbus used to cross the Atlantic were made of hemp and the first Bible printed on the Gutenberg press as well as the Declaration of Independence of the United States were made of hemp paper as well. Hemp has been the primary raw material in the creation of the technological culture that now defines us as species – until it was illegalized in 1937 so that the unsustainable fossil fuel industry could take over.

Most importantly however, cannabis has been a super medicine for humanity as we bumble and bump are way along the path to advanced civilization. Records on everything from ancient Chinese health texts to Egyptian medical papyrus show the extensive therapeutic use of the herb across cultures and timelines. As an all purpose painkiller as well as a powerful antibiotic and all around cure all, marijuana is one of the main reasons that humans have survived the various epidemics and medical emergencies that plague us.

In other words, while cannabis is dependent on us to spread it, it has also provided us with so many benefits that we are fully dependent on it as well. And as the Dalai Lama once said: “Interdependence is a Fundamental Law of Nature.”

Cannabis-Human Coevolution

coevolution-of-cannabis-and-humansModern technology is revolutionizing cannabis cultivation


The human species now is reaching another evolutionary landmark as an interconnected global society and cannabis is ready to help us solve many of the most critical crises that we now face. In fact, this mighty coevolutionary partner of ours is uniquely poised to open the door to a happy, healthy and sustainable future for human life on earth.

Medical marijuana is currently the fastest growing industry in the United States as more and more people are discovering that this plant is able to deal illnesses that modern pharmaceuticals simply could not treat. From powerful pain relief to stopping epileptic seizures instantaneously, cannabis is proving to be a natural life saver for countless people around the globe. Modern day plagues like cancer and diabetes are also squarely in the crosshairs of our green ally, as the cannabinoids it contains cause aggressive tumors to shrink and can also stabilize our blood sugar, reversing the bad effects of both the modern diet and environmental pollution.

When it comes to the mental health epidemic that is paralyzing the globe, cannabis also shines like a superstar. Marijuana has recently been found to be an excellent treatment for depression, which is the number one cause of disability around the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even addiction to opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers can be turned around with the proper use of cannabis, just more proof that this miracle plant has evolved specifically to deal with our worst problems.

Cannabis even holds the most promising solution to our current environmental quandaries, as by going back to hemp based products and advanced techniques like hemp masonry we can completely end everything from deforestation to oil drilling and create a new society based on a real green technology that has specifically evolved to do just that. Through hemp based bioremediation, we can even remove the toxic metals, oil spills and nuclear contamination in our soil so that we renew the earth for ourselves and future generations.

And how about war, the doomsday specter that looms over the future of human life on earth? Well, get all the world leaders together in a room and pass the joint around and I’m betting cannabis can solve that one too. After all, peace on earth is in the plant’s best interest and I think we all know by now who the boss mama really is here.

Ocean Malandra

Ocean Malandra is a widely published writer whose coverage of cannabis and other plant medicines has appeared in High Times,, Vice and Leafly. He also writes the EarthRx environmental column for Paste Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @OceanMalandra.

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