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Sci Adv. 2019 Jun 12;5(6):eaaw1391. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw1391. eCollection 2019 Jun.

The origins of cannabis smoking: Chemical residue evidence from the first millennium BCE in the Pamirs.

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Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100044, P. R. China.
Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, P. R. China.
Key Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029, P. R. China.
Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 100710, P. R. China.
Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena 07745, Germany.
School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.


Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants in East Asia, grown for grain and fiber as well as for recreational, medical, and ritual purposes. It is one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, but little is known about its early psychoactive use or when plants under cultivation evolved the phenotypical trait of increased specialized compound production. The archaeological evidence for ritualized consumption of cannabis is limited and contentious. Here, we present some of the earliest directly dated and scientifically verified evidence for ritual cannabis smoking. This phytochemical analysis indicates that cannabis plants were burned in wooden braziers during mortuary ceremonies at the Jirzankal Cemetery (ca. 500 BCE) in the eastern Pamirs region. This suggests cannabis was smoked as part of ritual and/or religious activities in western China by at least 2500 years ago and that the cannabis plants produced high levels of psychoactive compounds.

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