Cannabis has been cultivated as an oil-seed and fibre crop for millennia in East Asia. Little is known, however, about the early use and eventual cultivation of the plant for its psychoactive and medicinal properties. Despite being one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, there is little archaeological or historical evidence for the use of marijuana in the ancient world.
The current study, published in the journal Science Advances, identified psychoactive compounds preserved in 2,500-year-old funerary incense burners from the Jirzankal Cemetery in the eastern Pamirs. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have shown that people were selecting plants with higher levels of THC, and burning them as part of mortuary rituals.
This is the earliest clear evidence to date of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties. advertisementCannabis is one of the most infamous plants on the planet today, especially in light of rapidly changing legislation surrounding its legalisation in Europe and America. Despite the popularity of the plant for its psychoactive properties, very little is known about the earliest use or cultivation of cannabis for its mind-altering effects.
Cannabis plants were cultivated in East Asia for their oily seeds and fibre from at least 4000 BC. However, the early cultivated varieties of cannabis, as well as most wild populations, have low levels of THC and other cannabinoid compounds with psychoactive properties. Therefore, it has been a long-standing mystery as to when and where specific varieties of the plant with higher levels of these compounds were first recognized and used by humans.
Many historians place the origins of cannabis smoking on the ancient Central Asian steppes, but these arguments rely solely on a passage from a single ancient text from the late first millennium BC, written by the Greek historian Herodotus. Archaeologists have thus long sought to identify concrete evidence for cannabis smoking in Eurasia, but to date, there are few reliable, well-identified and properly dated examples of early cannabis use.
The researchers in the current study uncovered the early cannabis use when they sought to identify the function of ancient wooden burners discovered by archaeologists from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who were excavating in the high mountainous regions of eastern China. The burners were recovered from 2500-year-old tombs in the Pamir mountain range.
The international 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. Moreover, the signature indicated a higher level of THC than is normally found in wild cannabis plants.
.The data produced by the research effort,.....