By Emily Ledger
Humans’ relationship with the cannabis plant is thousands of years old. Although the earliest uses of the plant are thought to be of an industrial or medicinal nature, there is also some evidence of recreational use. New evidence, uncovered near Tel Aviv, Israel, has hinted at the use of cannabis among Jewish worshippers around 2,700 years ago.
Humans and Cannabis
Cannabis Sativa, or hemp, is a hugely versatile plant species, thought to have first appeared in Asia around 10,000 years ago. The hardy fibre of hemp was perfect for use in construction and weaponry, as well as paper and clothing.
Later, ancient societies began to recognise the plant for its medicinal potential. The earliest medicinal use of hemp is thought to have taken place in China, where the legendary Pen T’sao medical journal, said to have been written by the ‘Red Emperor, Emperor Shen-Nung, depicted the medical applications of cannabis for ailments such as blood clots, tape-worms, and constipation, as well as an anesthetic.
Cannabis Use Among Ancient Israelites
A recent archaeological study has revealed that Ancient Israelites burned the cannabis plant as part of religious rituals. The excavation of a Jewish temple dating back around 2,700 years revealed well-preserved cannabis substances – including the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC.
The temple was first discovered in the 1960s and has been a point of interest ever since. The site showcases the first evidence of cannabis use among Jewish worshippers in Israel. The substance was discovered on the top of one of two altars in the temple. Atop the other altar was traces of Frankincense – an aromatic resin associated with holy texts.
Cannabis Use in Religious Rituals
Other evidence of cannabis use in religious rituals has also been uncovered in a temple in Western China. Traces of the plant, including THC, were found in an ancient brazier, dating back to around 2,500 years. It is believed that the plant was burnt among stones to release ‘high’-inducing fumes. The plants identified in the Chinese temple contained unusually high levels of THC for the period, potentially due to a combination of climate and intentional cultivation.