Although cannabis is just now starting to overcome the societal stigma that has made the plant taboo for decades, there is a rich historical relationship between our ancestors and their use of cannabis for rituals and medicine. Long before laws condemning the consumption of marijuana, the plant was highly revered in civilizations across the world. 

Historically, one of the biggest regional proponents of cannabis was China, which originally used it to treat pain, inflammation, dietary problems, and other physical ailments. Recreational use of the flower didn’t come about until around 140-208 AD, when Hua Tuo was credited as the first person in the world to use cannabis for its mind-altering properties. Now, a recent discovery in Asia has shed even more light on how cannabis was used as a ritualistic prop.   

Archaeologist Hongen Jiang and his team recently found an ancient burial ground in northwest China with an "extraordinary cache" of cannabis onsite. This is an unprecedented discovery that provides us with strong insight on how the plant was used in ancient Eurasian cultures. The archaeology team stumbled across the cannabis after unearthing a burial ground at the Jiayi cemetery in China’s Turpan Basin, where they discovered the remains of the approximately 35-year-old adult man.

Interestingly enough, Jiang and his colleagues discovered thirteen three-foot long cannabis plants placed across the man’s chest, each of which were running up from the pelvis to his chin. Radiocarbon dating of the tomb’s artifacts places the time period of this burial to about 2,400 to 2,800 years ago, and adds further proof that cannabis consumption was immensely popular in the Eurasian region thousands of years ago.    

The discovery is a rarity, but is certainly not the first or even the largest ancient cannabis finding in the general area. Around a decade ago, archaeologist found nearly two pounds of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves at a burial ground from around the same time period. However, this is the first time that a whole preserved cannabis plant was found intact, and is also the first known instance of the plant being used as a burial ‘shroud’ around the human specimen.   

The archaeology team suspects that the discovered cannabis plants, all of which were female, had been freshly harvested for the burial. The flowering heads of the plants were still covered with glandular trichomes, which has led the researchers to suspect that this marijuana was grown and harvested for its psychoactive resin, and may have been consumed in a beverage for ritual or medicinal purposes.

Jiang and his research team published their findings in the academic journal Economic Botany. Their discovery should help provide some vital answers to the ongoing question about how these ancient civilizations utilized cannabis for ritualistic and medicinal purposes.