High times in ancient China revealed in funerary cannabis discovery

People Smoked Pot to Get High at Least 2,500 Years Ago

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau. Credit Xinhua Wu

Researchers discovered the information while excavating wooden braziers, or portable heaters much like a barbecue or pan, from tombs in the western part of China.

Imagine a funeral ritual 2,500 years ago in Central Asia.

To make sure the finding wasn't a lab mistake or something else, they then compared that chemical signature to ancient cannabis previously found at another burial site dated around the same time period, and found a flawless match.

Cannabis, one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, was initially used in ancient East Asia as an oil seed crop and in making hemp textiles and rope.

The biomarker that the researchers are talking about here is cannabinol, a compound that's produced when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gives you a "high", is oxidized.

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Researchers are of the view that stones were first heated in a fire before being taken to the cemetery, where they were covered with high potency cannabis leaves that released psychoactive smoke during the funeral ritual. Their findings provide some of the earliest evidence for ritual cannabis smoking all the way back to 2500 years.

"The research team used a method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to isolate and identify compounds preserved in the burners". To their surprise, the chemical signature of the isolated compounds was an exact match to the chemical signature of cannabis. The findings corroborate other early evidence for cannabis from burials further north, in the Xinjiang region of China and in the Altai Mountains of Russian Federation.

"I think this is a wonderful example of how closely intertwined humans are and have been with the biotic world around them", study author Robert Spengler, laboratory director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a press conference announcing their findings this week.

The elevated THC levels develop the seek recordsdata from of whether or not the of us historical wild hashish varieties with naturally high THC levels or flowers bred to be stronger. The test revealed surprising results: a clear signature of THC.

"However, increasingly robust evidence for [cannabis] use in different parts of Central Asia by this time may well suggest the cultivation and spread of higher THC varieties", Professor Boivin said. Still, he points out that the research expands the range of sites linked with early cannabis use.

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Further work at the site has shown that some of the people buried there were not local to the area.

These data fit with the notion that the high-elevation mountain passes of Central and Eastern Asia played a key role in early trans-Eurasian exchange.

The trade routes that formed the Silk Road connections between East and West facilitated cultural as well as material exchange between ancient civilizations. The marijuana was not smoked in the same way as today - in pipes or rolled in cigarettes - but rather inhaled while burning in the braziers.

The cemetery, reaching all the plan by three terraces at a rocky and arid plight up to a pair, 080 metres above sea level, entails unlit and white stone strips created on the landscape the utilization of pebbles, marking the tomb surfaces, and round mounds with rings of stones below.

"To our excitement we identified the biomarkers of cannabis, notably chemicals related to the psychoactive properties of the plant", said Yimin Yang at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

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