WHEN FOLKS THESE days get high they watch TV or play videogames or paint or hike. Or if you’re a New York Timescolumnist, you eat too many edibles and descend into a Hunter S. Thompson-esque fit of paranoia in a hotel room.
Alternately, if you lived 2,500 years ago in what is now western China, you smoked the good stuff at funerals while playing ritualistic music and also maybe doing some human sacrifice.
So says a fascinating new study in the journal Science Advances. Researchers analyzed ancient incense burners (known as braziers) from burial grounds at the so-called Jirzankal Cemetery, nearly 10,000 feet up in the mountains of Central Asia, and found residue that tested positive for cannabis. Not only that, it’s cannabis high in THC content—at least by ancient standards—suggesting that these peoples were seeking out the most powerful plants for funerary rituals, perhaps aided by the fact that cannabis growing at high elevations tends to express more THC. It’s a glimpse both into how cannabis use spread around the ancient world, and how we humans have long exploited the plant’s malleability for our own purposes, be they for enjoying video games or ushering compatriots into the afterlife.
The cannabis we grow today is wildly different from what our ancestors got their hands on. Just over the last few decades, growers—particularly in Northern California’s legendary weed country—have bred strains to produce ever more flower with ever higher THC content. We’re talking compositions of up to 30 percent THC, whereas in the ’60s the hippies could puff all day on 5 percent flower, which is more in line with the cannabis you’d find growing in the wild, and what these ancient peoples may have been using.