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Weed Has Been a Thing for 2,500 Years, Study Says

Category: Health & Fitness,Lifestyle

Another possibility, they said, is that traders may have unwittingly caused hybridization as they moved plants along the Silk Road routes through the high mountain passes of the remote Pamirs, which connected regions of what are now known as China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The tombs varied in size as well as the number of bodies, prompting researchers to wonder whether the ritualistic use of cannabis for mortuary rites had spread to common folk from being an exclusive practice for elite tribal leaders and priests.

These tombs have a distinctive appearance, the researchers noted. They are separated by rows of black and white stones, the purpose of which is unknown. Individual burials are within round mounds, additionally marked by stones.

Use of two parts of the cannabis plant — fibers for hemp rope, sail canvas (a word derived from “cannabis”) and clothing; oily seeds for food — stretches back about 4,000 years. Those plants, however, have low THC levels. According to Dr. Merlin, cannabis seeds attached to pottery shards found in Japan have been dated to roughly 10,000 years ago.

But ancient evidence of the plant’s utility for medicinal and ritual purposes is scant and more recent. (By contrast, the historical record about the use of opium poppy and peyote is relatively ample.)

Investigators have long tried to confirm or refute the ancient world’s only known recounting of funereal cannabis use. Around the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus described a Scythian mourners’ rite:

… when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.

In the mid-20th century, researchers found artifacts in a frozen burial site that seemingly comport with Herodotus’s account, in Russia’s Altay mountain region near the Siberian and Mongolian border. Close to the bodies was a fur-lined leather bag with cannabis seeds, a bronze cauldron filled with stones and the frame of what seems to be an inhalation tent.

Dr. Merlin said that the Pamir cemetery, together with other relatively contemporaneous burial sites elsewhere in Xinjiang province, strengthens a striking narrative about how cannabis was used ritually by local cultures. North of the Pamir cemetery and from roughly the same period, other researchers identified a container with about two pounds of chopped cannabis next to the head of a body believed to be a shaman, presumably to use for herbalist concoctions in the afterlife.


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