Study: The Ancient Chinese Used Cannabis As A HIGH-Powered Dietary Supplement
A new archaeological study reported by South China Morning Post revealed people may have used potent cannabis as a dietary staple in the ancient Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907 AD).
Chinese history textbooks often refer to the mass production of ancient Chinese cannabis as an economic activity used to produce clothing textiles.
Per the SCMP article, global cultivation has shrunk more than 90% since the 1960s with the last recorded government data at the end of 2019 suggesting designated hemp fiber land in China increasing more than 30% annually by 60,300 acres with new cultivation tech increasing productivity more than three times in the same period.
But what about THC?
I was lucky enough early in the pandemic to interview the late, great hashashin, Frenchy Connoli who gave me an in-depth history lesson on the historical Chinese origins of the cannabis trade and I really dug into that shit for a while afterward!
It’s common knowledge ancient Chinese cultivated and consumed seeds in a “kind of porridge” and without much prior evidence, historical texts only vaguely suggested it was utilized as an important source of food.
Archaeologists in the 1980s found and identified remnants in Chinese tombs dating as far back as 6,600 years ago seeing the plant as a ritual item used to generate hallucinations in religious ceremonies.
But this discovery confirms during peak Chinese civilization, weed was a source for not just mental stimulation, clothing, and medicine- but also nutrition.
Details were just revealed last week, but the discovery was made in 2019 after construction workers unearthed the unusually dry tomb of calvary captain Guo Xing under a school playground in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
After going 1,320 years undisturbed, his tomb was almost perfectly preserved with wall paintings and artifacts littered throughout the chamber.
According to the article:
In one of many jars holding staple foods, researchers found remnants of cannabis, with some seeds still showing original colour. They were nearly twice as big as normal, suggesting they weren’t quite the same as a typical plant today.
The seeds found still with their husks were Cannabis sativa, a species originating in central Asia with lower concentrations of THC than the modern cultivars, which are more potent hybrids of Sativa and Indica.
“The cannabis was stored in a pot on the coffin bed amid other staple grains such as millet. Obviously, descendants buried cannabis as an important food crop,” said Jin Guiyun, a professor with the school of history and culture at Shandong University
China has banned cannabis since the 1950s and today, possession is a criminal offense with a conviction likely resulting in the death sentence.
But for many heartland-dwelling people during the Tang empire, it seems cannabis was even more important than rice.
The article states “Taiyuan was warmer and wetter in the Tang dynasty than today and rice was cultivated in the wider Yellow River region.”
There was NO rice found in the Xing’s tomb, who died 90 years young.
Jin added “The cannabis was buried as food for the tomb owner’s feast and health in the afterlife.”
Furthermore, Guo Xing’s seeds’ husks were not removed...
Per the article, the husk isn’t known for taste but has higher levels of THC.
“Ancient Chinese texts, refer to cannabis as one of the wu gu, or five staple food crops and eating too many unhusked seeds could “make a person run about like mad”, according to the Compendium of Materia Medica, a book written by herbalist Li Shizhen about 500 years ago.”
According to Jin, “Cannabis seeds with husks are not only related to the high lignin content of the husk and its hard texture, which can reduce mold and prolong storage time, it may also stimulate the nerves and cause hallucinations due to the consumption of husk for religious and medical purposes.”
This is some pretty exciting and interesting stuff for history nerds like myself- always looking for clues in the past for possible solutions to today’s problems.
Hopefully, China’s government will begin relaxing their laws around cannabis so we can find and appreciate more artifacts like these and the rest of the modern world can recognize and honor the nation as the true birthplace of the greatest plant on earth.