According to previous historical records, cannabis is older than the Great Pyramids. Scientists speculate that the plant was first used in China or Central Asia, as well as Japan and Eastern Europe roughly 11,500 years ago.
The herb was also linked to a bustling trans-Eurasian exchange and migration network that went through the grasslands of Mongolia. It was likely that during this time, people felt compelled to share weed, as they stumbled across new territories. “The cannabis plant seems to have been distributed widely from as early as 10,000 years ago, or even earlier,” said database compiler Tengwen Long from the Free University of Berlin, Germany.
Things get really interesting 5,000 years later during the Bronze Age. A study published in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany elaborated on how the herb was used during that period, and the impact it had on early nomadic groups. With help from the Yamnaya people, who were also prolific consumers of marijuana, the plant made its way through the Bronze Road- a Eurasian trading route that was established long before the inception of the Silk Road.
Researchers believe that cannabis was highly valued and previously viewed as a cash crop. Early traders probably used the herb as a form of currency to acquire things they may have encountered while exploring the route. The Yamnaya reached professional nomadic status (if that was a thing back then) at the start of the Bronze Age, when they started using horses to jump from one region to another. Ultimately, this discovery helped the group expand towards European civilization.
Proof of Trade
Without marijuana laws, cannabis spread like wildfire around the world during the Bronze Age. Since it was a special crop, it was probably only consumed during celebrations, such as communal feasts or local rituals. Burned weed seeds from past archaeological digs suggest that the Yamnaya crew was very keen on either sharing the herb to other tribes, or fueling their creative spirits, as they explored the borders of Eurasia. Researchers also found burned cannabis seeds in Siberian kurgan burial mounds and Chinese tombs in the Xinjiang region. Chinese royalty in the area were mummified with marijuana, which was not used a preserving agent, but instead as part of the closing ritual. Early records also showed that the plant was utilized as an anesthetic for surgery by ancient Chinese doctors.
Medicinally, weed was used by Vikings and medieval Germans to ease pain associated with childbirth, hard labor and toothaches. Like the Yamnaya people, Vikings also carried their own stash around during long journeys. Scientists were able to find marijuana seeds in remains of mid-ninth century Viking ships.
“But if it weren’t for the horse-riding, adze-wielding, herb-toking Yamnaya tribe, cannabis culture as we know it might not even exist. So go ahead, and light one up for these ancient ancestors who knew that a friend with weed is a friend indeed,” said Sarah Emerson, contributing editor for Motherboard.