Did our ancient ancestors love getting stoned as much as us? Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found new evidence of ancient cannabis use. The team discovered high concentrations of THC in incense burners at Jirzankal Cemetery, a 500 BCE burial site in the Pamirs region of Central Asia. This evidence was analyzed using an advanced testing technique known as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. This revealed that humans were consuming cannabis in China over 2,000 years ago.
While the THC levels detected at the burial site couldn’t hold a candle to today’s strains, they were still higher than normal for the time. One explanation for the high THC content could be that ancient civilizations bred and cultivated cannabis specifically for the psychoactive effects.
“We’ve known that cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, primarily for making oil and hemp,” Mark Merlin, a botany professor from University of Hawaii at Manoa stated. “Now we know the ancients also valued the plant for its psychoactive properties.”
The rituals were held in an enclosed space, meaning there’s little chance the participants could avoid breathing in the smoke and experiencing psychoactive effects. Simply put, this smoke session would have definitely turned into a hot box. The study can’t confirm exactly why they might have done this, but it likely was an important part of the funeral ceremony.
Human’s history with cannabis
The marijuana plant has appealed to the human race for thousands of years. Researchers have found references to cannabis in ancient texts dating back as far as 1,000 BCE. Additionally, there has been evidence of hemp cultivation as far back as 4,000 BCE. Ancient societies cultivated and used cannabis plants for a variety of purposes. Mark Merlin asserts that these societies used cannabis for both “medicinal and spiritual reasons.”
For example, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a nomadic tribe called the Scythians who used cannabis smoke to “purify” themselves after burial rituals. “The Scythians then take the seed of this hemp and, crawling in under the mats, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smolders and sends forth such fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass it.”
Historically, cannabis use is also very important in Hinduism. Hindi holy men called Sadhus find enlightenment through yoga and cannabis consumption. In India, Lord Shiva is honored as both the deity of yoga and the Lord of Ganja.
Stoned in the Stone Age
What will researchers and archeologists uncover next? Although modern society seems much different from the ancient world, the truth is that human nature never really changes. Our ancestors undoubtedly loved smoking weed as much as us! It’s only a matter of time, and some more research, until we find even earlier evidence of cannabis use.