While there is evidence that the cannabis plant was being used for making ropes and textiles as long ago as 4,000 BC, a new find in the Jirzankal Cemetery, high up in the Pamir Mountains, is the earliest evidence of the plant’s leaves being deliberately smoked.
Interestingly, the residue – when tested – revealed that the cannabis leaves that had been smoked were unusually high in THC.
This could be a natural result of having been cultivated at high altitudes or it may be evidence of selective breeding on the part of these prehistoric Chinese stoners.
“Cannabis plants were first used for their psychoactive compounds in the mountainous regions of eastern Central Asia”
Naturally-occurring wild cannabis is lower in THC than its cultivated cousin.
Rather than rolling the leaves into cigars for smoking, the Pamir mountain people seem to have placed them onto hot stones – possibly inside a hut or tent – and inhaled the smoke.
A 2015 study from Johns Hopkins University found that ‘hotboxing’ – filling a room with marijuana smoke – is an effective way of consuming the drug as long as the is suffieicent THC in the leaves being smoked.
The research, published today in the journal Science Advances, notes that the practice of smoking or inhaling cannabis fumes in ritual and recreational activities was documented by ancient Greek writer Herodotus, often celebrated as the first historian.
Nicole Boivin, director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, said: “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.”