Researchers discover that humans have been smoking marijuana since the first millennium BC


If you needed another reason to call for the legalization of marijuana, you can thank archaeologists who just discovered that humans have been smoking it for at least 2,500 years.

Cannabis use among humans in East Asia is well known, but researchers have been trying to find out when humans started inhaling…like for real, man.

Humans have been utilizing cannabis since at least 4,000 BC for oils and fibers, much like we do today. But now scientists know that humans in China smoked it as part of a burial ritual.

In short, the Chinese were involved in some of the most lit funerals in human history.

How do we know? Because researchers found incense burners and analyzed the residue found on them at the Jirzankal Cemetery in Western China that date back to 500 BC.

According to the study published by Science Advances:

The archaeological evidence for ritualized consumption of cannabis is limited and contentious. Here, we present some of the earliest directly dated and scientifically verified evidence for ritual cannabis smoking. This phytochemical analysis indicates that cannabis plants were burned in wooden braziers during mortuary ceremonies at the Jirzankal Cemetery (ca. 500 BCE) in the eastern Pamirs region. This suggests cannabis was smoked as part of ritual and/or religious activities in western China by at least 2500 years ago and that the cannabis plants produced high levels of psychoactive compounds.

In fact, the research says that humans likely cultivated hybrid plants to produce stronger effects of the psychoactive compounds. You know, like humans do today, which is why we have a variety of different kinds of marijuana to choose from at a store where it’s legal.

The chemical analysis reveals ancient cannabis burning and suggests high levels of psychoactive chemicals, indicating that people may have been cultivating cannabis and possibly actively selecting for stronger specimens or choosing plant populations with naturally high terpenophenolic secondary metabolites. Alternatively, a process of domestication through hybridization between wild and cultivated subspecies may have inadvertently led to stronger chemical-producing plants through human dispersal and subsequent selection.

That definitely helps modern humans relate better to our ancient ancestors, and as we all know, marijuana is now found and used around the world, and it all started in China.

“The findings support the idea that cannabis plants were first used for their psychoactive compounds in the mountainous regions of eastern Central Asia, thereafter spreading to other regions of the world,” Nicole Boivin, director of the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, told Heritage Daily.

Indeed, and remember when your teachers taught you about the Silk Road that served as a trade route between Europe and Asia? Well, traders were not just transporting silk. They were bringing back marijuana as well.

That’s right. We could easily refer to the Silk Road as the Pot Road.

“The exchange routes of the early Silk Road functioned more like the spokes of a wagon wheel than a long-distance road, placing Central Asia at the heart of the ancient world,” lead archaeobotanist on the study Robert Spengler said. “Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high chemical-producing varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along these exchange routes.”

While this is the first evidence proving that humans smoked marijuana in ancient times, ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who lived during the same time period, wrote about people smoking it. And according to his writings, he literally describes people smoking a bowl.

In The Histories, Herodotus specifically described how people of the mid-first millennium BCE in the Caspian Steppe region smoked cannabis. He noted that people would sit in a small tent, and the plants were burned in a bowl with hot stones.

University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Professor Yang Yimin, the lead analyst for the study, observed that “this study of ancient cannabis use helps us understand early human cultural practices, and speaks to the intuitive human awareness of natural phytochemicals in plants. Biomarker analyses open a unique window onto details of ancient plant exploitation and cultural communication that other archaeological methods cannot offer.”

That’s right, because without this technology, we would only be able to take Herodotus’ word for it that ancient humans smoked marijuana. Now we have definitive proof that there was an awful lot of inhaling going on and former President Bill Clinton had nothing to be ashamed of when he tried it.

This is yet another archaeological study that connects our modern world to a distant past we have largely forgotten. Recent studies also show that ancient peoples recycled. Researchers have also found what appear to be ancient Cheerios, meaning modern humans were not the first to bake bread into tiny ring shapes. Archaeologists also recently discovered that some wines we drink today were drunk by the Roman emperors.

This new finding, combined with the others, just serves to better connect our modern world with the past and bring us to the realization that we are not so different from our ancestors. With that being said, those who do partake in cannabis can now light one up in honor of the trailblazers who came before them.


Featured Image: Wikimedia


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