Earliest known signs of cannabis smoking unearthed in China


144 points | by jajag 388 days ago


  • benbreen 388 days ago

    I love this finding, in part because (as the article notes briefly here) it helps back up Herodotus' account of cannabis use in his Histories. Specifically this bit from Book 4, 73-75:

    "After the burial the Scythians cleanse themselves as follows: they anoint and wash their heads and, for their bodies, set up three poles leaning together to a point and cover these over with wool mats; then, in the space so enclosed to the best of their ability, they make a pit in the center beneath the poles and the mats and throw red-hot stones into it. . . . the Scythians then take the seed of this κάνναβις (kannabis) and, crawling into the tents, throw it on the red-hot stones, where it smoulders and sends forth such fumes that no Greek vapor-bath could surpass it. The Scythians howl in their joy at the vapor-bath. This serves them instead of bathing, for they never wash their bodies with water."

    What's especially fascinating to me is that Herodotus wrote that account circa 440 BCE, within a few decades of when this find has been dated, and his "Scythians" were probably part of a larger cultural group of Indo-European nomads stretching to what is now Western China.

    • jcims 388 days ago

      >take the seed of this κάνναβις

      Thought it was strange that such an ancient word would closely match what we call it today... The etymology page on wikipedia credits that term as the origin of the modern word.

      - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymology_of_cannabis

    • throwaway76524 388 days ago

      And upon leaving the wool encasement the Scythians would begin a massive feast

      • will_brown 388 days ago

        What is a “Greek vapor bath”? In this context it sounds like it would compete with cannabis.

        Maybe a reference to something like what got the Oricle of Delphi high? Is it just reference to a regular Greek hot bath?

        • benbreen 388 days ago

          I would think he's just referencing public steam baths, not unlike hammams or saunas today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Baths

          • flyGuyOnTheSly 388 days ago

            >What is a “Greek vapor bath”?

            A bath or Thermae as they are known as which are still in existence today. [0]

            [0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermae

            • leetcrew 388 days ago

              > Maybe a reference to something like what got the Oricle of Delphi high?

              probably not. contemporary writers connected the oracle's "powers" to vapors rising from the spring below the temple.

              • volcanism 388 days ago

                I'm thinking yeah, it's a nod to the hypoxia induced through immersion in volcanic fumes from thermal venting in a pagan religion oriented stone enclosure.

              • rgrieselhuber 388 days ago

                TIL that Scythia smelled like Berkeley.

                • gnulinux 388 days ago

                  For those who don't get the reference: Berkeley, CA smells like weed all the time because a lot of people smoke weed in the public. Even UC Berkeley campus (e.g. Memorial Glade) smells weed pretty often.

                • apengwin 388 days ago

                  go bears!

                • kiliantics 388 days ago

                  But the seed has no psychoactive compounds in it. Unless "seed" here is not meant literally or misinterpreted?

                  I do like the idea that the original use was in a hot box though.

                  • raducu 387 days ago

                    Or maybe not just the seeds. Maybe it was the whole buds and seeds and Herodotus or whoever told him, not knowing what the active substance was thought it was the seeds.

                    • e40 388 days ago

                      And why is no one talking about the fact they never bathed? No amount of being high would cover that up.

                      • asdff 387 days ago

                        They probably didn't get high. Wild plants have pretty low THC levels compared to a domesticated strain.

                        • moate 383 days ago

                          IDK, if you sat in a hot box constantly throwing ditch weed on to burn, you'd probably get high in <10 minutes of constantly breathing it.

                    • malvosenior 388 days ago

                      > Residues of high potency cannabis found in the burners

                      I wonder what they mean by high potency. I was under the impression that cannabis strength has increased a lot in the past 30 years. Do they mean that this ancient cannabis was of a strength similar to modern cannabis or just that it was higher in THC concentration than a natural plant would be?

                      • caymanjim 388 days ago

                        The article covers this:

                        > Researchers have found remnants of cannabis at ancient sites in Central Asia before, but the latest discovery points to the intentional use of plants with high levels of the active compound, THC, and to cannabis being inhaled rather than ingested.

                        and later:

                        > “To our excitement we identified the biomarkers of cannabis, notably chemicals related to the psychoactive properties of the plant,” said Yimin Yang at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Specifically, the scientists found cannabinol, a substance produced when THC is oxidised. Given the lack of other cannabis breakdown products, the scientists believe the plants were selected to be high in THC, but whether they were cultivated or found in the wild is unclear.

                        • codr7 388 days ago

                          The best stuff [0] is still obtained by simply rubbing flowers between the hands until enough resin accumulates, it wouldn't surprise me if they had already figured that one out.

                          [0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charas

                          • skellera 388 days ago

                            We have much better extraction methods these days using solvents.

                            • codr7 388 days ago

                              More efficient maybe, which isn't really top priority from a user perspective. Personally, I prefer my smoke without a touch of solvents.

                              Bubble Hash (mixing with ice and filtering frozen resin) is a natural alternative that comes close, but the processing still lowers the quality.

                              • asdff 387 days ago

                                The solvents are evaporated off if you process your hash correctly.

                                • therein 383 days ago

                                  And with solvents like CO2 that evict the chamber without any intervention under STP, it is actually even more certain that the solvents leave.

                              • anigbrowl 387 days ago

                                While I don't share the GP's taste for charas, 'better' is relative. Many people do not care for this industrial approach to something they regard as quasi-sacred, in the same way that many people are turned off by overly processed food.

                            • badosu 388 days ago

                              Probably residues from high potency parts like flowers.

                              • ct0 388 days ago

                                Most likely higher then a wild plant, potentially implying cultivation.

                                • wavefunction 388 days ago

                                  Or simply processing many plants into hash such has been done for millenia in various cultures around the world.

                              • velox_io 388 days ago

                                There's a fascinating documentary called: 'The Lost History of Cannabis'. It goes through how religion seems to be intertwined with cannabis. For instance the 'anointment oils'. How it probably wasn't Mer gifted by one of the Three Wise Men (I tend to agree).

                                Found it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2p6qFT_Zjg

                                • ct0 388 days ago

                                  I could imagine why religion was so much more popular in early history now.

                                  • xkcd-sucks 387 days ago

                                    I mean yeah all religions start out as nutty cults and calcify with age

                                    • otisfunkmeyer 388 days ago

                                      favorite comment here in some time.

                                  • cronix 387 days ago

                                    This article from 2008 seems to predate it. It also talked about sensimilla crops (separating males from females for cultivation).


                                    • hurrdurr2 388 days ago

                                      It's really interesting how stable CBN is after oxidizing from THC... it also apparently has a strong anti-anxiety effect similar to benzos. It is currently in a lot of cannabis sleep aids.

                                      • _emacsomancer_ 387 days ago

                                        Here is the area the article discusses, the Pamir mountains: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2a/Sa...

                                        It is in present-day far western China, an area which is historically in the Indian/Iranian sphere of influence.

                                        • SN76477 388 days ago

                                          I often thought that the parts of the bible that talk about burning incense could be speaking of intoicating effects such as cannabis.

                                          Fascinating find.

                                          • microtherion 388 days ago

                                            So do the Chinese call it "820" ?

                                            • nvr219 388 days ago

                                              Blaze it

                                            • killjoywashere 388 days ago

                                              We can look forward to a Japanese article how they did it first in the not too distant future. Then the various camps on migratory timing to the new world via the Bering Strait will discover evidence somewhere between Anchorage and Santa Cruz. And then the Red states will be screaming about how only real Americans smoke pot.