Cannabis Usage in Ancient Times

It’s fair to say that marijuana is having a moment right now. With the rapid spread of legalization, the stigma of pot-use reserved for hippies and wayward teenagers is long gone. It seems that everyone from your accountant-next-door-neighbor to your great aunt Hilda is getting in on the action. Depending on where you live, you likely won’t have to go far to find a dazzling array of cannabis strains, gummies, cookies, oils, and creams.

Not to mention all the accessories to go along with them to make cannabis-use a bona fide full-blown hobby. As weed becomes ubiquitous in our culture, it can feel like we’re discovering something new and exciting. But it’s funny how history has a way of repeating itself. Not only is the cultural acceptance of marijuana not new, but it’s ancient history.

Literally, it turns out that our early ancestors also knew a great thing when they saw it and figured out how to use it for much of the same reasons that we use it for today. Let’s take a brief trek through time to see how the OGs of the marijuana game got down with the notorious green leaf.

A closeup shot of a green cannabis plants

Where did marijuana originate?

Depending on your source, the answer to this question can vary. But one thing is for certain; people have been using marijuana to ward off the cannabis edibles in Canada, for quite some time. From easing the pain of a toothache or childbirth to used by Vikings in battle, cannabis use is steeped in history. 

Most historians agree that the first evidence of marijuana traces back to Central Asia, where modern-day Mongolia and Siberia lay. A recent report written by Barney Warf details how psychoactive-marijuana-seeds were found in ancient burial mounds in Siberia and China as far back as 3000 B.C. 

“The idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction, and the fact that it is illegal is a” historical anomaly. Marijuana has been legal in many regions of the world for most of its history.” – Warf.

Closeup shot of a green cannabis plants

Earliest known uses of cannabis

The plant’s first usage is said to go back almost 12,000 years in the cradle of civilization, making it one of the earliest known cultivated crops. Marijuana was primarily used in ancient times for medicinal and spiritual purposes.

Early evidence of the drug’s medical use is said to go back to 4000 B.C., where it acted as an anesthetic during surgeries and was even said to be used by Chinese emperors. Chinese farmers later introduced cannabis to Korea around 2,000 B.C. and likely made its way to Europe a few thousand years later. Astoundingly, marijuana isn’t believed to have reached the United States, via Mexico, until the early 20th century.

A man's hands rolling marijuana joint near the cannabis plant

Using weed to get high

Archaeologists say they have sound proof that people were smoking marijuana to get high at least 2,500 years ago. They found evidence of burned weed with high levels of THC (the property that gets you high) on multiple wooden incense burners at ancient human burial sites in the Quman cemetery in Western China at an area called the Pamir Plateau.

The hemp plant was already used widely for medicinal and textile purposes, but it is believed that ancient China’s people sought after plants with higher levels of what we now know as THC and then cultivated them. It’s thought that the plant was then distributed to other parts of the world via the Silk Road, so it wouldn’t take long for other cultures to begin using the plant for its psychoactive properties.

“The exchange routes of the early Silk Road functioned more like the spokes of a wagon wheel than a long-distance road, placing Central Asia at the heart of the ancient world. Our study implies that knowledge of cannabis smoking and specific high-chemical-producing varieties of the cannabis plant was among the cultural traditions that spread along these exchange routes.” – Robert Spengler, Archaeobotanist.


For those who have been singing the praises of the weed leaf long before it was legalized, it should be comforting to know that the stance has been legitimized by the prevalence of pot thousands of years ago by our innovative ancestors. 

The versatile plant provided clothing, medicine, cultural rituals, and psychoactive euphoria long before it was demonized in modern times. The recent acceptance of the humble plant is no doubt a great step forward. 

As it continues its meteoric rise to the mainstream, we are certain to find even more benefits that cannabis will bestow upon us. Marijuana for medicinal purposes has barely scratched the surface. 

Studies are new and limited, as scientists and doctors are just now being able to put the proper time and resources into the research. All signs are suggesting that weed is here to stay, and its much-maligned recent history is a thing of the past. For now, we can enjoy the fine herb in peace and only look forward to its worldwide acceptance. Here’s to another 2500 years of humans celebrating the gifts of our beloved bud.