Holy Smoke

This Week In Cannabis Science, Episode 2

Episode Transcript:

Welcome to This Week in Cannabis Science, every week I will bring you quick reviews about some of the most interesting and exciting peer-reviewed studies in open access journals from around the world.

I usually do not advocate smoking cannabis under any circumstances.

I believe there are safer ways to consume cannabis, but this week’s paper is about the practice of smoking cannabis back 2500 years ago. The paper entitled The Origins of Cannabis Smoking chemical residue evidence in the first millennia BCE in the Pamirs and it  was published in the journal Science Advances in June 2019.

We know that cannabis was commonly used for ritualistic purposes in the past.

For example, the famous cannabis researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo has written about the discovery of wooden ball artifacts within tombs in China, dating back from 500 years before common era or BCE and those artifacts contained cannabis, seeds leaves and buds.

There are quite a lot of findings like that, which indicate that cannabis was used, as offerings to the dead but more like herbal offerings.

Evidence for smoking cannabis has been presented before by the authors claim that the data is catchy, and not reliable, so far, nothing new.

However, the authors linked their research to a historic character, that is considered the father of history, Herodotus. It’s because of Herodotus that we know about the bravery of a few hundred Spartan soldiers who held up the entire Persian army for three days in the Battle of Thermopylae. The practice of smoking or inhaling cannabis fumes in ritual and recreation activities was indeed documented in Herodotus 5th century BCE “The Histories”. In his books, Herodotus describes how people from the Caspian steppe back 2500 years ago, used to sit around the small tent and burn plants. Cannabis seed, coriander, and yellow sweet clover, in a ball with hot stones. This was documented but never scientifically verified until now. This study conducted by Chinese and German researchers investigating residues from archeological artifacts recovered from the “Pamir mountains, a region that served as an important communication, hub between Europe and Asia.

They found wooden vessels for burning incenses, containing stones with burning traces. Using state of the art analytical equipment the authors described at the burnt cannabis had a high THC to CBD ratio which indicated that people may have been cultivating and perhaps trading cannabis with high THC content.

The authors claim that this study is the earliest dated and scientifically verified evidence for ritual cannabis smoking. This spiritual link involving cannabis and people from the past does not surprise me at all.

I still remember my first time, it felt strange…almost divine. Which is a pretty weird thing for a staunch atheist like me to say.  Thanks to Aldous Huxley and neuroscience, I am now able to understand the divine experience. But these guys back 2500 years ago wouldn’t have a clue. Through archeological analysis, the researchers were able to paint a picture of a place where the dead were celebrated, perhaps sent off with lots of flames, rhythmic music, and halucinogenic smoke. Think of a small Burning Man kind of gathering perhaps without the orgy dame of course. All intended to guide people into an altered state of mind perhaps, to give them the ability to speak with the dead or the gods. What I like about this study is it’s cross disciplinary nature, something that involves science and history, I don’t see that every day.

It was pretty interesting, and I hope you find it too.

Ren M. et al. The origins of cannabis smoking: chemical residue evidence from the first millennium BCE in the Pamirs. SCIENCE ADVANCES. 2019.

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