Deep in the Pamir Mountains in western China, it appears that ancient communities, dating back as far as 500 B.C., may have used cannabis in mortuary rituals. Researchers have recently identified high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on residue left behind from these ancient burials. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the plant's most psychoactive compound.
Mark Merlin, a professor of botany at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a cannabis historian, believes that the documentation of this type of residue in laboratory testing is a crucial finding, stating that cannabis, with its psychoactive properties, was most likely used as a connector between the human body form and the afterlife, or the spirit world.
Beijing archeologists and chemists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences have uncovered roughly 70 artifacts from the burial site to date. Artifacts include beads, pieces of silk, wooden bowls, even bones with perforations that may suggest human sacrifice.
The study, published in Science Advances, begins to paint the picture of these ancient rituals with rhythmic music, smoke, chanting, and hallucinogenic smoke used to guide people into an altered state of mind intentionally.
Researchers wrote that the people taking part in these rituals placed hot stones in wooden braziers, then laid the cannabis on the hot stones. The residue has been found on ten braziers as well as stones taken from eight tombs in the Jirzankal Cemetery.
Wild cannabis, typically with low levels of cannabinol, grows in the mountain foothills of Central Asia. With this in mind, one of the more perplexing questions researchers currently have is, both how and why did mourners in these ancient rituals seek out the most potent strains of cannabis. Researchers believe that it is possible that "people may have been cultivating cannabis" to have stronger strains to utilize in rituals, medicinally and in daily life even in 500 B.C.