The Grapevine

2,500-Year-Old Tomb Suggests People Smoked Marijuana To Talk To The Dead

There has been a growing interest in cannabis across the U.S. But the scientific community is just starting to learn about its origin. 

A recent discovery in China offers new information about cannabis and when people first started smoking to get high. A 2,500-year-old tomb was recently unearthed by a team of scientists from China and Germany, and it has evidence of humans using cannabis for its psychoactive properties.

The tomb in the Pamir mountains near the Chinese border with Pakistan includes wooden fragments and burned stones from pots, which all have the chemical signature of cannabis, including a high amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CNN reported Thursday.

The report on the discovery, published in the journal Science Advances, states that earlier humans used cannabis as part of burial ceremonies to connect to the dead. The research team said cannabis was burned on hot stones inside wooden braziers.

"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, author of the report and director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a statement

Cannabis in the Past

Scientists believe marijuana was cultivated in East Asia in 4,000 B.C. Some historians also suggested cannabis smoking started on the ancient Central Asian steppes.

"Finding evidence for ancient drug use is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, because this kind of evidence is rare due to there being few opportunities for long-term preservation of the remains of activities involving drug use, which is very ephemeral, and doesn't necessarily leave a lot in the way of physical evidence," Boivun said.

The researchers of the latest discovery said the traces of cannabis found in the Pamir mountains showed greater quantities of active compounds. The plant produces such high amount at higher elevations. 

"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," Robert Spengler, lead archaeobotanist for the study from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said.

Marijuana Tomb The excavation of the tomb M12, in which the brazier was found. In the photo, the brazier can be seen at the middle bottom edge of the central circle. Xinhua Wu