Using cannabis to get ‘high’ is nothing new. In fact, researchers have found evidence that ancient worshipers in Israel may have used the plant to experience God over 2800 years ago.
To make the discovery, they analyzed ancient residues from two altars at a 'holy of holies' shrine in Israel, presumably built to give worshipers an experience of God. Upon testing samples from both alters, the researchers found traces of burnt cannabis.
Initially fearing that the samples had been contaminated, the researchers re-sampled the altars for testing at a second laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The results came back the same.
Their tests demonstrated that the smaller altar contained both burned cannabis and animal droppings. They say it’s likely that the excrement would have been used to fuel the cannabis, and slow down its burning. Meanwhile, the taller altar contained traces of frankincense (a spicy-smelling resin valued similarly to gold at the time) and animal fat, thought to promote evaporation of the resin.
The researchers assume that worshipers used this mix of ingredients to 'alter their state of consciousness.' They thus say that ancient Israelites may have purposefully used the plant for its 'hallucinogenic' properties, at least during 800 BC.
"We know from all around the Ancient Near East and around the world that many cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy," says Eran Arie, the study's lead author and curator of Iron Age and Persian Periods archaeology in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
"We never thought about Judah taking part in these cultic practices. The fact that we found cannabis in an official cult place of Judah says something new about the cult of Judah."
As cannabis is thought to originate from the Tibetan Plateau, the researchers say that it may have been imported, and transported as dried resin (known as 'hashish'). Although the Hebrew Bible does not mention cannabis use, people in the Kingdom of Judah were nevertheless known to use other ingredients known to alter one’s state of mind, such as alcohol from grape wine.