People in western China had been smoking marijuana while burying their dead more than two millennia ago, a new study suggests.
Researchers found the evidence from stone-filled incense burners, which were unearthed in eight 2,500-year-old tombs at the Jirzankal Cemetery in the Pamir Mountains, also known as the “Roof of the World.”
The earliest direct evidence of people smoking marijuana was unearthed from a 2,500-year-old graveyard in NW China’s Xinjiang pic.twitter.com/oJF2vHDmT6
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) June 13, 2019
The study, published in the journal Scientific Advances, reveals that the burners contained traces of cannabinol (CBN), the compound that forms after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the most potent psychoactive agent in marijuana — comes in contact with the air.
The presence of such residue in the tombs suggests that those responsible smoked marijuana during burial rites, researchers said.
— Vision (@TheVictorShade) June 13, 2019
Interestingly, the residue shows that the marijuana these people had smoked had higher THC levels than wild cannabis, as well the type grown in ancient Eurasia.
This gives rise to speculation that the cannabis used in these tombs were cultivated to have higher THC, or that more potent types were actually used.
Marijuana chemical residue has been found in incense burners apparently used during funerary rites at a mountainous site in western China in about 500 BC, providing what may be the oldest evidence of smoking cannabis for its mind-altering properties. https://t.co/uQOsKh8hng
— Mustapha Itani (@mustaphahitani) June 13, 2019
Regardless of the type these people had used, evidence suggests that smoking pot had its place in commemorating their dead.
“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,” the researchers wrote.
The discovery now serves as one of the earliest evidence of cannabis use for its psychoactive properties.
“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,” researcher Nicole Boivin, director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, noted in a press release.