Anthropologists Discover Weed From 500 B.C. Used In Ancient Rituals

Historians Attempt to Trace The Beginning of Cannabis Usage

For a long time, scientists have been trying to unearth the origins of marijuana. Who was the first to use it – and how did they use it? Did they even get high?

There’s a long-speculated belief suggesting that cannabis was used in 440 B.C. This theory comes from the writing of Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian often referred to as “the father of history.” Herodotus wrote about using what is believed to be cannabis during funeral-like ceremonies with his group of nomadic travellers called the Scythians:

“The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and … throw it upon the red hot stones.”

This quote, among others from Herodotus, is valued by historians as the earliest written record of cannabis use. However, historians have been searching for more proof. Thanks to a new study from anthropologists, though, their search can be called off.

Researchers from China and Germany have published a research article in Science Advances titled “The origins of cannabis smoking: Chemical residue evidence from the first millennium BCE in the Pamirs.

The article summarizes their research process, which involved extracting organic material from wooden brazier fragments and four burnt stones. Using a process called gas chromatography—mass spectrometry, researchers found a measurable indicator of cannabis.

Researchers were able to conclude that cannabis plants were burned around 500 B.C. during mortuary ceremonies at the Jirzankal Cemetery, a burial site in Eurasia (now China). This checks out with what Herodotus wrote.

In the study, the researchers write:

“We can start to piece together an image of funerary rites that included flames, rhythmic music, and hallucinogen smoke, all intended to guide people into an altered state of mind.”

Aside from the mortality aspect, this doesn’t sound too far off what weed users do today. But the motivation was certainly striking. According to Yimin Yang, senior author and researcher at the University of Chinese Academy and Sciences, the link between funerals and marijuana indicated that users were likely trying to communicate with nature, or spirits, or deceased people.”

One 2006 study came close to a breakthrough like this one.

A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed similar findings in 2,500-year old tombs in Xinjiang, China. Researchers found remains of marijuana plants, but the study did not offer evidence that the plant was smoked or burned.

With the newer study’s findings, it’s safe to say that marijuana has been around for millennia – and if time travel is ever invented, we’ll be sure to check out these rituals to see it all go down with our own eyes.