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Cannabis (Cannabis sativa) is one of the most ancient cultivated plants that has been grown for centuries for its durable fibre and seeds that are rich in oil. It probably originates in Asia. In China, it has been the only native fibrous plant since the Stone Age. Ornaments on temple walls show that the Egyptians knew of cannabis as far back as 1500 BCE. In Russia, cannabis dates back to the 6th century CE (Kask, M. 1971). According to European archaeological findings, cannabis has been used in mainly two ways: the fibre is used to make rope and garments, the seeds are used as food. The oldest found industrial cannabis or hemp fibres in the world date back to the Pre-Roman Iron Age (800 to 400 BCE) (Sillasoo, Kukk 2003). In Estonia, traces of cannabis seeds have been found in different towns from the medieval deposits.
Cannabis seeds, leaves and the tips of the shoots have also been widely used in medicine and the ritual acts of different nations. The ancient Greek writer Herodotos (around 484 to 425 BCE) described the traditions of the Scythians, who occupied the territory north of the Black Sea and who threw cannabis seeds on hot stones in a tent made of woollen felt blankets and wooden poles. This made the people inside the tent especially joyful (Sillasoo, Kukk 2003). European historical sources do not say anything about smoking cannabis until the 18th century. In the 19th century, it was mentioned that the juice of cannabis leaves is intoxicating and causes insanity, but the seeds are rich in oil and have a calming effect (Sillasoo, Kukk 2003).
In the 20th century, the largest cannabis grower in Europe was the Soviet Union, followed by Italy and France (Kask, M. 1971). Before 1940, its official cultivation area in the Soviet Union was over 600 000 ha. From 1870 to 1970, the growing area of cannabis in Italy was reduced from approximately 140 000 ha to 0 ha (Desanlis, F., 2005). The main reasons for the fall in usage are the legal restrictions due to the narcotic substance THC content in the plant, growth in popularity of textiles made from softer fibres, especially cotton, and the discovery of synthetic fibres (nylon) (Barron, A., et al. 2003).