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
Cannabis growing wild in Islamabad, Pakistan. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
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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