Cannabis was used for its mind-altering qualities as far back as 1,000 BC

Cannabis was used for its mind-altering qualities as far back as 1,000 BC

The earliest evidence of cannabis being used to get people high has been uncovered by scientists in western China dating back 2,500 years. The first d

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The earliest evidence of cannabis being used to get people high has been uncovered by scientists in western China dating back 2,500 years.

The first drug den is a mountain tomb associated with the Zoroastrian religion.

Traces of burnt seeds found in wooden braziers at a mountain burial site have been analysed and revealed to be cannabis – with high levels of THC, the compound that produces the drug’s feelings of euphoria.

As the seeds were found in wooden braziers, scientists believe the cannabis was being used for ritual and religious activity.

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The earliest evidence of cannabis being used to get people high has been uncovered by scientists in western China dating back 2,500 years. The first drug den is a mountain tomb associated with the Zoroastrian religion

The earliest evidence of cannabis being used to get people high has been uncovered by scientists in western China dating back 2,500 years. The first drug den is a mountain tomb associated with the Zoroastrian religion

The earliest evidence of cannabis being used to get people high has been uncovered by scientists in western China dating back 2,500 years. The first drug den is a mountain tomb associated with the Zoroastrian religion

And because the cannabis was burnt in an enclosed space – inside a tomb of elite members of the community- it is thought it was ‘wicked weed’ used by mourners to get high, according to reports on the discovery in the journal Science Advances.

Cannabis plants – also known as hemp – have been used to make paper, rope, cloth and oil for around 4,000 years.

There have even been claims cannabis was burnt for drug effects 5,000 years ago. But these older traces had signs of low THC content.

So it cannot be certain that they were used by people to get high.

But the finding in China is the earliest yet-discovered sign the plant was being used as a recreational drug.

Archaeologists found ten wooden braziers containing stones with obvious traces of burning in eight tombs at the Jirzankal Cemetery in the Pamirs mountains of, western China.

The tomb site dates back to 500 BC. Written records show that around this time, civilisations were taking advantage of the mind-altering effects of cannabis – but this is the first concrete proof of its use.

In 440BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the nomadic Scythians, who controlled vast areas from Siberia to Eastern Europe, made tents and heated rocks in order to inhale hemp vapours that made them ‘shout for joy’.

The researchers, from Germany’s Max Planck Institute are engaged in a wider project to trace how the cannabis plant, which grows wild in Central Asia, spread along the Silk Road and became a common recreational drug.

The Silk Road is better known as being the route that took spices, grains, crops and food from the East to the west, not to mention silk.

Academic Robert Spengler, of the Max Planck Institute speaking of the discovery said: ‘Recent studies have shown that apples, pistachios, walnuts are among the crops that actually originated on these trade routes through Central Asia, and I think with this new study we can now actually place Cannabis in that list as well as being one of these crops that originates on these ancient trade routes.’

In an attempt to confirm that the low-THC cannabis plants that grow wild were not useful for ‘pot smoking’, indicating the high THC varieties must have been deliberately cultivated, scientists carried out further research.

Traces of burnt seeds found in wooden braziers at a mountain burial site have been analysed and revealed to be cannabis - with high levels of THC, the compound that produces the drug’s feelings of euphoria. As the seeds were found in wooden braziers (stock image)

Traces of burnt seeds found in wooden braziers at a mountain burial site have been analysed and revealed to be cannabis - with high levels of THC, the compound that produces the drug’s feelings of euphoria. As the seeds were found in wooden braziers (stock image)

Traces of burnt seeds found in wooden braziers at a mountain burial site have been analysed and revealed to be cannabis – with high levels of THC, the compound that produces the drug’s feelings of euphoria. As the seeds were found in wooden braziers (stock image)

One unnamed academic cited in Science Advances, attempted to smoke and eat varieties of cannabis growing wild in the region, which have low THC content, and he ‘got no buzz’, the journal said.

Scientists suspected the braziers had a ritual function, so extracted organic material from the wooden fragments and scorched stones.

They used a technique called mass spectrometry to analyse the traces.

To their surprise an exact match was found to the chemical signature of cannabis was found.

The researchers say ‘smoking was likely performed during burial ceremonies, perhaps as a way to communicate with the divine or the dead’.

One researcher, Megan Cifarelli, an art historian at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, who has studied ancient drug use, said the aromatic fumes might also have had another purpose: to mask the smell of a putrefying corpse, according to reports in the journal Science Advances.

This study further highlights the importance of residue analyses, which could open a unique window onto details of cultural communication in the past that other archaeological methods cannot offer.

The researchers, from Germany’s Max Planck Institute are engaged in a wider project to trace how the cannabis plant, which grows wild in Central Asia, spread along the Silk Road and became a common recreational drug.

WHAT IS CANNABIS AND WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS?

Cannabis is an illegal Class B drug in the UK, meaning possession could result in a five year prison sentence and those who supply the drug face up to 14 years in jail.

However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy. 

But smoking it can also lead to feelings of panic, anxiety or paranoia.

Scientific studies have shown the drug can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use may worsen depression in the long term by reducing the brain’s ability to let go of bad memories.

It can also contribute to mental health problems among people who already have them, or increase users’ risk of psychosis or schizophrenia, according to research.

Marijuana can be prescribed for medical uses in more than half of US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also looking into whether it could help people with autism,eczema or psoriasis.

Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is claimed to have cancer-fighting properties, and one 52 year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal bowel and stomach cancer by taking the drug.

 

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