Cannabis Smoking in China Dates Back to 2500 Years Ago in Recent Discovery

Excavated wooden braziers in Western Chinese tombs shed light on cannabis-smoking rituals.
Fabienne Lang
The typical brazier burnt stones in ancient PamirsXinhua Wu

2500 years ago, the people of Western China may have been enjoying the side-effects of cannabis smoking, much like today.


The main difference is that they would most likely have smoked up during ritual and religious activities. 

Ritual cannabis smoking 2500 years old

Researchers discovered the information while excavating wooden braziers, or portable heaters much like a barbecue or pan, from tombs in the western part of China. Their findings provide some of the earliest evidence for ritual cannabis smoking all the way back to 2500 years. 

The plants produced psychoactive compounds, another term for what we call the feeling of being "high."

Cannabis Smoking in China Dates Back to 2500 Years Ago in Recent Discovery
A photo of the braziers and the skeleton found in the tomb as they were exposed in the excavations. Source: Xinhua Wu/ Science Advances

Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, and today, it is widely used and smoked around the world. However, its early usage as a psychoactive plant has not been brought to light until now. 

Most of what we know about cannabis back in the day comes from written records; whereas, archeological evidence is limited. This new discovery sheds some light on past rituals and traditions. 

What did the researchers discover? 

Cannabis extracts were found in ten wooden braziers from eight tombs and the Jirzankal Cemetery, dating back to 2500 years ago. Lead researcher, Meng Ren, and colleagues, believe the braziers held a specific ritual function. 

Cannabis Smoking in China Dates Back to 2500 Years Ago in Recent Discovery
Dr Meng Ren works with GCMS in Beijing. Source: Yimin Yang/ Science Advances

The team extracted organic material from wooden pieces and stones burnt in the braziers and analyzed them. 

Much to their surprise, these extracts provided an exact match for cannabis' chemical structure. Ren and the team believe that smoking during burial ceremonies, or similar ritualistic moments, was a way of connecting with the divine, or the dead. 

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This discovery opens a door into the importance of residue analyses, and how they can help us understand cultural communication from the past. 

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