Science 3 min read

Earliest Evidence of Weed Smoking Found in China's Ancient Graves

Circular burial mounds with stone rings | Image courtesy of X. Wu (Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Circular burial mounds with stone rings | Image courtesy of X. Wu (Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Weed smoking, which may be associated more with recreational use, is becoming more and more common and accepted as countries began legalizing recreational cannabis.

In the U.S., ten states plus Washington D.C have passed laws legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Now, a total of 33 states has already approved its medical use.

However, the propelling demand sometimes overwhelms licensed suppliers like in Illinois.

To meet the growing demand for both medical and recreational marijuana, like those who swear by 4:20 and fans of weedcations, some are thinking out of the box, like bringing in robots to take over human weed growers.

The Israeli startup Seedo has revealed its indoor automated weed farm, with AI-controlled environment and all.

While scientists today continue to explore the benefits of cannabis and make weed smoking more socially-enjoyable,  it’s been known that humans throughout civilizations and history have used this plant for various purposes.

Only, there was little scientific evidence to help track the history of cannabis as a psychoactive drug.

High Times in Ancient China: Oldest Evidence of Ritual Weed Smoking

In the Pamir Mountains in Xinjiang region in China, there’s an ancient cemetery containing more than 40 tombs dispersed over the plateau. Picture a funeral scene from over two millennia ago. People putting their loved ones to rest while carrying incense burners, and maybe there was music playing.

Only, the smoke coming out of the burners wasn’t really incense but the hallucinogenic fumes of cannabis.

According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, an international team of archeologists has found evidence mortuary rituals in this burial locale involved weed smoking.

In eight tombs at the site, the team found ten wooden braziers, dating back to 500 B.C., containing residue of marijuana and burnt stones.

Phytochemical analysis revealed the existence of chemical signatures suggesting high levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Research leader Robert Spengler, a paleoethnobotanist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, said:

“This study actually shows first of all that they are burning this material in these actual wooden burners, and that is part of a funeral ceremony, but also that there are elevated THC levels, so humans are potentially targeting specific plants with great chemical productions. These are all fairly new revelations, but also they give a really solid rather unequivocal data point for the actual use of this plant as a drug.”

This is the earliest such archaeological evidence ever for smoking pot. Historically, people would burn dried cannabis plants and inhale the fumes as cigarettes, smoking pipes, and weed vaporizers had yet to appear.

Evidence for the cultivation of the plant itself goes back even earlier, to at least 4000 BCE, but in these cases, the plants had very low levels of THC suggesting their primary use would have been for other purposes than for mind-altering.

The research team, which included archaeologists and chemists, also found in the Pamir burial site human skeletal remains and dozens of other artifacts, like glass beads, wooden bowls and plates, and harps.

Read More: Researchers Discover Ancient Species Of Human In The Philippines

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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