An ancient Chinese tomb. Image Credit: Xinhua.

More Than 2,500 Years Ago, Ancient Cultures Smoked Cannabis During Rituals

Around 2,500 years ago, ancient cultures smoked Cannabis to 'get high' during ritual ceremonies, new research reveals.


According to a recent report, Cannabis was smoked during rituals in western China some 2,500 years ago. Experts have revealed that during funeral rites, people would smoke Cannabis as a normal practice.

The report comes after experts analyzed the remains inside several ancient tombs, some of which were found to contain ‘high amounts of burned cannabis.


This indicates that the psychoactive agent was used by ancient cultures thousands of years ago, and was of normal use during various ceremonies.

Not a surprise

A study by scientists from the Max Planck Institute (Germany) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, collected “the first clear evidence” to date of the use of marijuana for its psychoactive properties.

And while this may sound surprising to some, the truth is that evidence of similar use of cannabis has been found in previous studies, all around the world.

A brazier with burnt stones and traces of cannabis found inside the ancient Chinese tombs. Image Credit: Xinhua.

The discovery

The details in the study are the result of the analysis of the remains of wooden fragments as well as burnt stones from pots found inside the tombs.

“Finding evidence for ancient drug use is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, because this kind of evidence is rare due to there being few opportunities for long-term preservation of the remains of activities involving drug use, which is very ephemeral, and doesn’t necessarily leave a lot in the way of physical evidence,” explained one of the authors of the study, Nicole Boivin.


The analysis showed that the remains are an exact match to the chemical signature of cannabis,

The discovery was made during excavations of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in the Jirzankal cemetery (western China) which was dated to approximately  2,500 years ago.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances argues that ancient people used cannabis during burial ceremonies in order to communicate with the divine.

The researchers wrote:

“…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.”

And although cannabis was burned, it was probably not used as it is today.

The ancients most likely burnt cannabis like incense, placing it in an enclosed space, letting it release vapors.


“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.”

Scientists discovered as many as ten braziers in tombs at the Jirzankal cemetery, located close to the border between China and Pakistan.

“Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-chemical-producing varieties of the cannabis plant were among the cultural traditions that spread along these exchange routes,” revealed in a statement Robert Spengler, the lead archaeobotanist.

Written by Justin Gurkinic

Hey, my name is Justin, and my friends call me Gurk. Why? Becuase of my last name. It sounds like a vegetable. Kind of. I love sleeping and writing. History is my thing.

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