Researchers find oldest-ever stash of marijuana

By Expat98 · Nov 27, 2008 · ·
  1. Expat98
    Researchers say they have located the world's oldest stash of marijuana, in a tomb in a remote part of China.

    The cache of cannabis is about 2,700 years old and was clearly "cultivated for psychoactive purposes," rather than as fibre for clothing or as food, says a research paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

    The 789 grams of dried cannabis was buried alongside a light-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian man, likely a shaman of the Gushi culture, near Turpan in northwestern China.

    The extremely dry conditions and alkaline soil acted as preservatives, allowing a team of scientists to carefully analyze the stash, which still looked green though it had lost its distinctive odour.

    "To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent," says the newly published paper, whose lead author was American neurologist Dr. Ethan B. Russo.

    Remnants of cannabis have been found in ancient Egypt and other sites, and the substance has been referred to by authors such as the Greek historian Herodotus. But the tomb stash is the oldest so far that could be thoroughly tested for its properties.

    The 18 researchers, most of them based in China, subjected the cannabis to a battery of tests, including carbon dating and genetic analysis. Scientists also tried to germinate 100 of the seeds found in the cache, without success.

    The marijuana was found to have a relatively high content of THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, but the sample was too old to determine a precise percentage.

    Researchers also could not determine whether the cannabis was smoked or ingested, as there were no pipes or other clues in the tomb of the shaman, who was about 45 years old.

    The large cache was contained in a leather basket and in a wooden bowl, and was likely meant to be used by the shaman in the afterlife.

    "This materially is unequivocally cannabis, and no material has previously had this degree of analysis possible," Russo said in an interview from Missoula, Mont.

    "It was common practice in burials to provide materials needed for the afterlife. No hemp or seeds were provided for fabric or food. Rather, cannabis as medicine or for visionary purposes was supplied."

    The tomb also contained bridles, archery equipment and a harp, confirming the man's high social standing.

    Russo is a full-time consultant with GW Pharmaceuticals, which makes Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine approved in Canada for pain linked to multiple sclerosis and cancer.

    The company operates a cannabis-testing laboratory at a secret location in southern England to monitor crop quality for producing Sativex, and allowed Russo use of the facility for tests on 11 grams of the tomb cannabis.

    Researchers needed about 10 months to cut red tape barring the transfer of the cannabis to England from China, Russo said.

    The inter-disciplinary study was published this week by the British-based botany journal, which uses independent reviewers to ensure the accuracy and objectivity of all submitted papers.

    The substance has been found in two of the 500 Gushi tombs excavated so far in northwestern China, indicating that cannabis was either restricted for use by a few individuals or was administered as a medicine to others through shamans, Russo said.

    "It certainly does indicate that cannabis has been used by man for a variety of purposes for thousands of years."

    Russo, who had a neurology practice for 20 years, has previously published studies examining the history of cannabis.

    "I hope we can avoid some of the political liabilities of the issue," he said, referring to his latest paper.

    The region of China where the tomb is located, Xinjiang, is considered an original source of many cannabis strains worldwide.


    November 27, 2008
    The Canadian Press

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  1. Expat98
    I have added the journal paper to the file archive:

  2. PsychoActivist
    Wow! That is so cool! Thanks for sharing this. Great find!
  3. FrankenChrist
    Most interesting! I'm into history, and my first thought was that they were Tocharians, the easternmost living ancient Indo-Europeans, but that was in the first to third century BC if I can trust the wiki (and if I read it right :p) . However, this find predates even the Tocharians by centuries, so it is a major find even without the cannabis.
  4. Universal Expat
    Wow, that musta been Swims great great great great great Grandfather. Swims love of Marijuana and Asians must have past on down the ages ;)
  5. Potter

    I'm rather curious how they managed to determine eye colour?
  6. helikophis
    I'm pretty sure there was DNA analysis that went on here. The article was totally useless in terms of following up the info, but I have found one related article, which was on DNA analysis of the cannabis. Still looking for actual archaeology relating to this find, but I suspect that if they did DNA analysis on the plant remains, they probably did it on the human remains as well; possibly isotope analysis as well. Eye colour is very easy to determine genetically. I will follow up if I can find any archaeology relating to this.
  7. helikophis
    Okay, I haven't been able to find primary archaeological material yet, but I did find two paleoethnobotanical papers on it, one on the cannabis and the other on capers. Both quite interesting, but they don't discuss the human remains much. The do call the stiff Caucasian, but don't mention his eye colour. I have attached them to this post as PDFs. Both worth a read; both have great bibliographies. Neither bibliography mentions a primary archaeological publication, so it could be that there isn't one yet, or that it's in Chinese.
  8. Expat98
  9. Spare Chaynge
    Worlds oldest marijuana stash totally busted.

    [h1]World's oldest marijuana stash totally busted[/h1]
    [h2]Two pounds of still-green weed found in a 2,700-year-old Gobi Desert grave [/h2]
    [​IMG]Stash for the afterlife: A photograph of a stash of cannabis found in the 2,700-year-old grave of a man in the Gobi Desert. Scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the man was buried with a lot of it.
    [​IMG] View related photos
    David Potter / Oxford University Press

    By Jennifer Viegas
    [​IMG]updated 10:19 a.m. PT, Wed., Dec. 3, 2008

    Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.
    A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects.
    They apparently were getting high too.
    Story continues below ↓advertisement | your ad here

    Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today.
    "We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant)," he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia.
    Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45.
    "This individual was buried with an unusual number of high value, rare items," Russo said, mentioning that the objects included a make-up bag, bridles, pots, archery equipment and a kongou harp. The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic.
    Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis.
    The size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown.
    What is in question, however, is how the marijuana was administered, since no pipes or other objects associated with smoking were found in the grave.
    "Perhaps it was ingested orally," Russo said. "It might also have been fumigated, as the Scythian tribes to the north did subsequently."
    Although other cultures in the area used hemp to make various goods as early as 7,000 years ago, additional tomb finds indicate the Gushi fabricated their clothing from wool and made their rope out of reed fibers. The scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the blue-eyed man was buried with a lot of it.

    "As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed," Russo said.
    The ancient marijuana stash is now housed at Turpan Museum in China. In the future, Russo hopes to conduct further research at the Yanghai site, which has 2,000 other tombs.
  10. robin_himself
    Wacky Weed in ‘The Amsterdam of China'

    Beijing, China -- Looks like very early residents of China had a penchant for smoking what we used to vernacularly call wacky tabackey. Yup, marijuana.

    Archaeologists who dug up a 2,700-year-old tomb of a shaman near Turpan out in far west Xinjiang province found a curious pouch. Inside was the wacky weed. News reports call it the oldest stash of marijuana on Earth.

    The cannabis was "superbly preserved by climatic and burial conditions," according to an article in the scientific Journal of Experimental Botany.
    "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," the abstract says.
    No pipes, bongs or rolling papers were uncovered in the tomb of this wild and crazy guy.

    The dope apparently had a very high content of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but the leaf was too old to measure precisely.

    So the question is whether the stash was just for the shaman's personal consumption. According to the journal, the shaman had 789 grams of the stuff, which by my calculation is almost two pounds. That would put him in the slammer for a long time in a lot of places these days. Then again, he might argue that it was for medicinal purposes.

    According to another news article, the Xinjiang region of China may be an original source of cannabis strains worldwide.
    A foreign reader who lives in China sent in an interesting email about marijuana, responding to news about the world's oldest stash.
    He'll remain anonymous because of the nature. He said he traveled down to Dali and Shangri-la in Yunnan Province last summer, and this is what he found: "To my great surprise, marijuana was EVERYWHERE down there. I was told by the folks in the Tibetan medicine shops that pot has been used as medicine in Tibet, Yunnan and the whole region for thousands of years. The medicine shops had it under the counter for special customers. They said it was widespread and accepted until Mao. Even today, you see folks on the streets smoking their bongs and you see pot sold in the countryside markets. They smoke it, eat it and brew a tea. It's growing everywhere in the foothills and mountains."

    In a follow-up email, the reader said: "I was told they smoke a blend of what they call angel hair tobacco from the region and marijuana. Many just smoke all pot. They also make a black paste from the pot (we'd call it hashish) and mix it with the tobacco. Those folks were the Bai minority from Dali I understand. The pot pic is from Tiger Leaping Gorge...another reason the area is so popular with Western backpackers. A friend told me Dali is known as the Amsterdam of China. I totally understand why."
    As most readers should know, penalties are harsh in China for marijuana usage, so don't take this as an endorsement to stray from the straight and narrow.

    Complete Article:
    Tim Johnson covers China and Taiwan for McClatchy Newspapers as Beijing bureau chief. Source: Centre Daily Times (PA)
    Author: Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers
    Published: December 3, 2008
    Copyright: 2008 Nittany Printing and Publishing Co., Inc.
    Contact: [email protected]
  11. ODB
    Wow, I have got to forward this to one of my old Professors that I would bong out with.
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