”’…the momentum behind cannabis now is rooted in normality. Despite the stigma attached to it for three generations, it’s been around forever.”
Photograph by Esteban Lopez
When scientists reported their discovery of 2,500-year old marijuana accessories in a Chinese burial ground, it got me thinking about pot stocks as long-term bets. People have smoked this stuff for far longer than the decades that governments have banned it. The ancient residues found in China’s East Pamir mountains made me more sure that legalization will spread.
The study published Thursday in the journal Science Advances described wooden braziers—ancient heating pots—found in tombs at the Jirzankal Cemetary in the Pamirs, along the Eurasian trading route known as the Silk Road. Archaeologist Yimin Yang, with his co-authors from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other institutions, tested the braziers and found chemical evidence of tetrahydrocannabinol—better known as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
The scientists believe that cannabis plants were burned in funeral ceremonies at the cemetery around 500 B.C. The levels of THC in the plants appear to have been pretty high.
Today, the New World is marijuana’s biggest market, legal and illegal, with U.S. spending on the drug estimated at $30 to $50 billion. Fast-growing companies in Canada and the U.S. are racing to become the world’s weed suppliers, and persuade investors that the industry should be a long term holding. But like opium poppies, cannabis cultivation seems to have started in Asia, where hemp was used to make rope and canvas (that’s why the word sounds like cannabis).
“The ancient Chinese may have been at this longer than us,” said Alex Howe, a spokesman at Harvest Health & Recreation (HRVSF). Harvest CEO Steve White noted that he co-founded the Arizona-based multi-state operation less than a decade ago.
In the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned the inhaling of hemp smoke by the Scythians of central Asia. But physical evidence of ancient cannabis smoking has been hard for archaeologists to find. Cannabis grows in the wild from Eastern Europe to western China. But before this week’s report, scientists had found buried samples of hemp plants or seeds, not chemical proof that the stuff was burned or smoked. The Science Advances authors connect their findings, and those of other archaeologists, to ancient writings like Herodotus’s The Histories and Zoroaster’s Bhang, as well as to Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies.
Charlie Bachtell, the chief executive of Cresco Labs (CRLBF), said he’s been sent more links to the new science report than any other cannabis story of late. “It’s a nice reminder that the momentum behind cannabis now is rooted in normality,” Bachtell said. “Despite the stigma attached to it for three generations, it’s been around forever.”
The graves described in the new report appeared to belong to commoners, as well as elites. That suggests to the authors that pot was becoming popular as long as 2,500 years ago, with ritualistic smoking of cannabis having spread from elite shamans to the common people.
Chemical residues found in the buried braziers indicate that the cannabis was pretty potent. “[P]eople may have been cultivating cannabis and possibly actively selecting for stronger specimens or choosing plant populations with naturally high terpenophenolic secondary metabolites,” the scientists said.
It does make you wonder what the cannabis norm really is. Eleven states have now chosen to legalize recreational sales to adults, but marijuana remains federally illegal.
Ben Kovler, chief of the Chicago-based multi-state company Green Thumb Industries (GTBIF), said the discovery validated the ancient wisdom that marijuana’s uses outweigh the concerns that prompted its prohibition in the U.S., less than a century ago.
“This finding is further evidence that humans have understood the benefits of the cannabis plant for a much longer time than it has been subject to the current period of prohibition,” Kovler said. “We believe that prohibition will be eradicated and are confident of the long-term viability of cannabis as an investment, but more important from a human wellness standpoint.”
By Bill Alpert at firstname.lastname@example.org