Cannabis use exploded 5,000 years ago– in two places at once

While cavemen were always into clubbing (bad dum tss), they apparently also enjoyed a bit of cannabis from time to time—or at least according to a new study out of the Free University of Berlin.

In fact, right around the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago, two separate groups of humans in Europe and Asia began to use cannabis, and 5,000 years ago, its use spiked, according to the paper in SpringerLink.

The study– a systematic review of archaeology related to cannabis and finding trends in its use, included various forms of cannabis found in at ancient sites (that is, fibers, pollen, and fruit) as well as imprints of the fruit found in objects like storage vessels.

Cavemen Weren’t Stoners

It’s important to note that the presence of these finds do not necessarily mean that ancient people were constantly high, as many modern readers may assume; cannabis plants were also a source of food and possibly medicine, and the fiber from the leaves could create fabric and rope.

Of course, it probably was also occasionally used for a good, old-fashioned drug trip. 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, for example, wrote about how a group of humans living in the area stretching from Ukraine to Central Asia called the Scythians inhaled the smoke of cannabis plants. A collection of Chinese poems called the Shi Jing, which are of a similar age, describe growing and using the plant as well.

As to how humans came upon the plant and domesticated it, cannabis tends to grow wherever humans live, thriving off areas full of our organic wastes—so it may have just been a happy accident that led to a 10,000-year relationship.

“In general, this ruderal plant is considered as one of man’s camp followers in prehistoric time, appearing quickly along roadsides, in dump heaps, and/or on the edges of fields after establishment of settlements,” wrote the authors.

Up until now, many believed that cannabis use began in one area alone, either China or Central Asia—but this study has found that independent groups of humans took it up in both Europe and Asia at the same time, meaning the happy accident happened twice.

Then, around 5,000 years ago—as one of the great migrations of humans began into Europe—its use began to increase, with markedly more archaeological records of it appearing and spreading throughout Eurasia via the Bronze Road.


Image credit: Thinkstock