Cannabis Question Extra: Where Did the Cannabis Plant Come From?


Though cannabis’s wild beginnings remain unknown, by looking at the plant’s genes, scientists can identify its closest living relative.

“Hops, which we use for beer, is the closest existing species to cannabis,” says Cornell University Emerging Crops Specialist Daniela Vergara. Plant geneticists estimate that some 28 million years ago, cannabis and hops plants diverged. Today, cannabis contains special compounds called cannabinoids that its relatives lack. Two of these compounds are THC, which results in a high, and CBD. The development of cannabinoids may have helped protect cannabis from UV light or from being eaten, though researchers aren’t yet sure.

Some ancient communities, including the Chinese, Romans, Greeks, and Indians, utilized cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.

Watch “The Cannabis Question” on YouTube to learn more:


Digital Producer: Shyla Duff
Production Assistance: Ari Daniel, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez Esquivel, and Emily Zendt


Kurt Stüber / BioLib
NETA, Shutterstock, Storyblocks
Travis Isaacs / Wikimedia / CC BY 2.0
William Warby / flickr / CC BY 2.0
Graphics from the Noun Project:
Brain by The Icon Z
cannabis leaf by Alice Noir
cannabis sativa by Margaux Bonnet
Fiber by Y
Food by ibrandify
Hemp Leaf by ME
Hops by Laymik
textile by Stepan Voevodin
weed by ProSymbols

Music: APM

© WGBH Educational Foundation 2021

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