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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).

Kanepi ajalugu
Harvesting cannabis

 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).

In the United States of America, cannabis cultivation was banned in 1937. The first new pilot plantations were created in 1999 (Sillasoo, Kukk 2003). Until the 1960s, the government held that industrial cannabis i.e. hemp and marijuana i.e. Cannabis indica are two varieties of cannabis. Growing cannabis in USA was finally banned in 1970 with a paragraph in the Controlled Substance Act, equating hemp with Cannabis indica. Different sources have named several reasons for this – from the conspiracy of cotton and chemical industrialists to people simply not caring. The issue of legalising cannabis cultivation in USA is still ongoing. In 2006, it reached a culminating point, when a law was adopted allowing every state to decide on the legality of cannabis cultivation.
In Europe, the last country to criminalise cannabis cultivation was Germany in 1984 but after few yeras of studies, they realised they had made a "mistake" and growing cannabis was again legalised in 1995.
In Estonia, growing cannabis became possible again in 2004, largely thanks to the harmonisation of the relevant Estonian legislation with that of the EU.
Today, the cultivation of industrial hemp and using plant fibres and oil is very popular and a lot of resources are put into the development of the relevant research and industry.