The increasing legalization of cannabis across the United States has launched it into popularity, spuring interest and research into learning more about the incredible plant. We’ve already discovered a growing list of remarkable health benefits cannabis provides to millions of people. However, while much of our scientific research is new, people have known its benefits and used cannabis for thousands of years. But who were these people? Where were they? And for what purposes did they consume marijuana?
We at Greeley Gallery are as curious as anyone else, seeing as we’re just as much a medicinal cannabis dispensary as a recreational one. Thankfully, modern-day scientists are curious, too, and 2019 proved to be a fruitful year of discoveries. One team of researchers figured out where cannabis originated and where and when it spread worldwide. Meanwhile, another group of researchers discovered the oldest evidence of human marijuana use, and we can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Where Marijuana Comes From
A study published in May 2019 analyzed pollen and discovered cannabis evolved around 28 million ago on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. More specifically, “in the general vicinity of Qinghai Lake,” before spreading throughout central Asia.
First, cannabis dispersed west, toward Europe, about six million years ago but didn’t spread east into eastern China until just over one million years ago. Cannabis didn’t arrive in India in the south until almost 33,000 years ago!
So, while cannabis is found worldwide, especially throughout Asia, South America, and Jamaica, it’s taken millions of years to do so. Considering how widespread the cannabis plant is, humans were bound to stumble upon it and discover its psychoactive uses. But when did our ancient ancestors find it, and who were they?
When Humans Started Using Marijuana
Experts have known for a while ancient humans used cannabis for a variety of purposes over the years – from growing the plant to use for rope, building materials, or any of its many other uses to smoking it ceremonially. They also know that elites likely partook in cannabis before anyone else and that the drug grew in popularity as it was traded across Central Asia along the Silk Road, which connected China with Iran. Still, narrowing down when humans first took notice of the plant’s psychological properties has been tricky for experts to figure out.
A team of Chinese and German researchers led by archaeologists Yang Yimin and Ren Meng of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing had the idea to try and track how cannabis spread along the Silk Road to see if they could pinpoint when it entered the scene and by who. They did it by using advanced technology to identify the plant’s chemical signature and potency to track its journey in becoming more potent over time.
Remarkably, their efforts paid off, and the team discovered cannabis which was ceremonially burned 2,500 years ago. The team published their findings in the journal Scientific Advances, and in it, they share not just how long ago the cannabis was burned but also where it happened and, likely, why ancient humans did it.
The team found the burned cannabis remnants almost 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) high in the Pamir Mountains, which stand in far western China. The team discovered a site rich in artifacts and uncovered skeletons and Chinese harps, along with wooden plates and bowls, inkling wooden braziers (containers used to burn charcoal for cooking) that still held burnt materials, including cannabis.
The analysis of the cannabis showed usually high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound, compared to typical wild cannabis. Although the levels are far less than what’s around today. After further excavations, the team concluded that the cannabis was likely burned in an enclosed space, where mourners may have inhaled the smoke. The discoveries at the site are all familiar objects used by the Sogdians, a culture in western China and Tajikistan. The Sogdians also typically followed the Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, which later sacred texts celebrated the mind-expanding benefits of cannabis.
Incredible, isn’t it? We now have convincing evidence that our species has enjoyed the benefits of cannabis for at least 2,500 years, and it’s only growing in popularity. Imagine what ancient humans, breathing in the fumes of cannabis high in the mountains of China, would think, knowing people would be doing practically the same thing thousands of years later. This is especially fun to imagine after smoking one of our GG pre-rolled joints.
Greeley Gallery is open every day of the week between 7am and 10pm for your convenience. We are a recreational and medicinal cannabis dispensary in north Portland, on the corner of Rosa Parks and Greeley Ave. Stop in any time and take your pick from any of our high-quality cannabis products.
Written By: Katrina Paulson