1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: A stash of cannabis found in the 2,700-year-old grave.
David Potter  /  Oxford University Press
Stash for the afterlife: A photograph of a stash of cannabis found in the 2,700-year-old grave of a man in the Gobi Desert. Scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the man was buried with a lot of it.
By
updated 12/3/2008 1:19:15 PM ET 2008-12-03T18:19:15

Nearly two pounds of still-green plant material found in a 2,700-year-old grave in the Gobi Desert has just been identified as the world's oldest marijuana stash, according to a paper in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Botany.

A barrage of tests proves the marijuana possessed potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing, rope and other objects.

They apparently were getting high too.

Lead author Ethan Russo told Discovery News that the marijuana "is quite similar" to what's grown today.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Hockey player's daughter asks team to trade for dad — and gets wish!

      When one of Jordan Leopold's daughters wrote an adorable letter in hopes the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild would...

    2. Hillary Clinton used personal email at State Dept.
    3. Robert Gibbs: Hillary using personal email ‘unusual’
    4. Sara Gilbert and Linda Perry welcome their baby! And it's a ...
    5. Here’s another - yes - 'coffee is good for you' study

"We know from both the chemical analysis and genetics that it could produce THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, the main psychoactive chemical in the plant)," he explained, adding that no one could feel its effects today, due to decomposition over the millennia.

Russo served as a visiting professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany while conducting the study. He and his international team analyzed the cannabis, which was excavated at the Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, China. It was found lightly pounded in a wooden bowl in a leather basket near the head of a blue-eyed Caucasian man who died when he was about 45.

"This individual was buried with an unusual number of high value, rare items," Russo said, mentioning that the objects included a make-up bag, bridles, pots, archery equipment and a kongou harp. The researchers believe the individual was a shaman from the Gushi people, who spoke a now-extinct language called Tocharian that was similar to Celtic.

Scientists originally thought the plant material in the grave was coriander, but microscopic botanical analysis of the bowl contents, along with genetic testing, revealed that it was cannabis.

Weird science award winnersThe size of seeds mixed in with the leaves, along with their color and other characteristics, indicate the marijuana came from a cultivated strain. Before the burial, someone had carefully picked out all of the male plant parts, which are less psychoactive, so Russo and his team believe there is little doubt as to why the cannabis was grown.

What is in question, however, is how the marijuana was administered, since no pipes or other objects associated with smoking were found in the grave.

"Perhaps it was ingested orally," Russo said. "It might also have been fumigated, as the Scythian tribes to the north did subsequently."

Although other cultures in the area used hemp to make various goods as early as 7,000 years ago, additional tomb finds indicate the Gushi fabricated their clothing from wool and made their rope out of reed fibers. The scientists are unsure if the marijuana was grown for more spiritual or medical purposes, but it's evident that the blue-eyed man was buried with a lot of it.

"As with other grave goods, it was traditional to place items needed for the afterlife in the tomb with the departed," Russo said.

The ancient marijuana stash is now housed at Turpan Museum in China. In the future, Russo hopes to conduct further research at the Yanghai site, which has 2,000 other tombs.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. TODAY

    video Robert Gibbs: Hillary using personal email ‘unusual’

    3/3/2015 12:22:32 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T12:22:32
  1. Twitter/KFAN

    Hockey player's daughter asks team to trade for dad — and gets wish!

    3/2/2015 11:34:21 PM +00:00 2015-03-02T23:34:21
  1. Rich Polk / Getty Images file

    Sara Gilbert and Linda Perry welcome their baby! And it's a ...

    3/3/2015 12:34:46 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T12:34:46
  1. FeaturPics stock

    Here’s another — yes — ‘coffee is good for you’ study

    3/3/2015 12:05:21 AM +00:00 2015-03-03T00:05:21
  1. TODAY

    video Watch 16-year-old Molly Ringwald talk ‘Breakfast Club’

    3/3/2015 12:20:20 PM +00:00 2015-03-03T12:20:20