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J Exp Bot. 2008;59(15):4171-82. doi: 10.1093/jxb/ern260.

Phytochemical and genetic analyses of ancient cannabis from Central Asia.

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  • 1Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.


The Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, China have recently been excavated to reveal the 2700-year-old grave of a Caucasoid shaman whose accoutrements included a large cache of cannabis, superbly preserved by climatic and burial conditions. A multidisciplinary international team demonstrated through botanical examination, phytochemical investigation, and genetic deoxyribonucleic acid analysis by polymerase chain reaction that this material contained tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis, its oxidative degradation product, cannabinol, other metabolites, and its synthetic enzyme, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, as well as a novel genetic variant with two single nucleotide polymorphisms. The cannabis was presumably employed by this culture as a medicinal or psychoactive agent, or an aid to divination. To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent, and contribute to the medical and archaeological record of this pre-Silk Road culture.

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