Pioneers of Cannabis Cultivation: Volume 1

Written by Lance Griffin

Green thumbs fall head over heels for Cannabis sativa L. There are now a wealth of books and websites on the proper cultivation of cannabis. But it didn’t happen over night. And in the last hundred or so years, it happened in the shadows of night. The most passionate cultivators changed the game. Who are these oft-unsung heroes of cannabis cultivation?

The discussion begins a long time ago in a land far, far away… ancient China.

The Pen Ts’ao Ching, or “Classic of Materia/Herbal Medicine,” is the world’s first pharmacopeia to include cannabis. The tome was composed around the 1st century CE, but authorship was far older. The knowledge traced to the oral teaching of an emperor from roughly 2,800 BCE: Shen Nung. [1]

Shen Nung may have been the world’s first (known) medicinal cannabis cultivator. Such was his wisdom that the Chinese converted him from mere Emperor to deity of the harvest and divine farmer. [1]

[Graphic 2| Shen Nung: the world’s first cannabis cultivation pioneer?]

Today, we take for granted that the resinous female plant explodes with medicinal qualities. But when did this start? Look no further than this excerpt on the “fruits of hemp” [1] from the aforementioned pharmacopeia: “Governs the five taxations and seven damages, benefits the five viscera, and descends blood and cold qi; excessive consumption causes one to see ghosts and run about frenetically. Prolonged consumption frees the spirit light and lightens the body.” [2]

It’s no coincidence that the ancient Chinese were familiar with the effects of male plants on seed production. [3] Sinsemilla, anyone? No, sinsemilla did not originate in California: it arrived there in the 1970s. [4]

By this time, a strange new frenzy had swept most of the globe: prohibit and heavily criminalize cannabis. These dark ages spawned a new breed of cultivator. They were the underground warriors who risked everything for passion of the plant.

One of the foremost horticulturalists of the modern era is Ed Rosenthal. A co-founder of High Times Magazine, his cultivation column, “Ask Ed,” appeared in the very first 1974 edition and continues to guide growers. His many books on cannabis have sold over two million copies and include “Ed Rosenthal’s Marijuana Grower’s Handbook.”

[Graphic 3| Ed Rosenthal. Credit: Cannaman201, CC BY-SA 4.0]

In Oakland, California, Rosenthal directed the medical cannabis program until he was arrested in 2003 by federal agents. The trial helped shine an early spotlight on the discrepancy between state and federal legalization. Fortunately, he narrowly escaped a life prison sentence. That’s right — growing cannabis in a legalized state nearly cost him his life.

Rosenthal is one of several underground warriors to bring cannabis cultivation to the masses. Tune in for more pioneers in the next volume as the saga continues.


  1. Aldrich M. “The History of Therapeutic Cannabis.” Cannabis in Medical Practice: A Legal, Historical, and Pharmacological Overview of the Therapeutic Use of Marijuana, Jefferson, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997, pp. 35-36.
  2. Brand, EJ, and Z. Zhao. “Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids?” Front Pharmacol, vol.8, 2017, doi:10.3389/fphar.2017.00108. Journal Impact Factor = 4.400, Times Cited = 12
  3. Liu, Fei-Hu, et al. “Ethnobotanical Research on Origin, Cultivation, Distribution, and Utilization of Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) in China.” Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge, vol.16, no.2, 2017, pp.235-242. Journal Impact Factor= 0.920, Times Cited = 2 (ResearchGate)
  4. Brady, E. “Chapter 5: Mare.” Humboldt: Life on America’s Marijuana Frontier, Grand Central Publishing,

About the author

Lance Griffin


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