The hemp plant has been widely used throughout history and is considered to be one of the earliest plants to be cultivated. The first people to smoke weed to get high, however, is not as well recorded in the history books.
While we know civilisation has utilised the cannabis plant for a long long time, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it might have been used for consumption, either medicinal, ritualistic or recreational.
In this article we’ll go through some of the main theories about when weed was first smoked and who was the first lucky stoner.
Who Smoked Weed First?
There’s evidence to suggest that about 2,500 years ago, people in Central Asia inhaled psychoactive cannabis at ceremonies.
Archeologists have found traces of THC in primitive incense burners found in Jirzankal cemetery on the Pamir Plateau in Tajikistan, Central Asia.
While use of the cannabis plant precedes this, and was probably cultivated as far back as 4000BC, this is the first discovery of it being clearly used for its psychoactive properties.
Excavations at the site occurred in 2013, and among various other artefacts researchers found a set of 10 wooden brazier fragments which had been burnt. The archeologists took the wood for testing, certain that they had been used ceremonially. However, they were surprised to find traces of cannabis resin. And not just any cannabis, but cannabis particularly potent in THC. This suggests the Jirzankal people either sought out a stronger plant (which means they knew what they were looking for) or they intentionally cultivated weed for its psychoactive effects.
And who knows how long they’d been doing this? At the very least it’s evidence that people have been smoking weed for around 2,500 years — but potentially much longer too.
For now, official records cite the Jirzankal people as the first weed smokers, but there are a number of other theories.
There is also evidence that a nomadic group called the Scythians — who were based in modern day Iran — inhaled the smoke of cannabis seeds and flowers to obtain the psychoactive effects.
Ancient Greek historian Herodotus (480BC) is our main source of information about the Scythians. He gathered information on a trip to the Black Sea region. His source was probably the Black Sea Greeks who would have traded with the Scythians, and it’s unlikely that he would have had any direct contact with the Nomadic tribe.
However, he wrote the following:
“The Scythians put the Seeds of this HEMP under the bags, upon the burning stones; and immediately a more agreeable vapor is emitted than from the incense burnt in Greece. The Company extremely transported with the scent, howl aloud.”
Herodotus doesn’t expand much further, but this passage alone strongly suggests that the Scythians used cannabis to get high. This would make them one of the first groups of people to smoke weed.
One of the best early recorded uses of cannabis for its effect on humans also stems back to the ancient Chinese. In 100 AD, the oldest known Chinese pharmacopeia refers to cannabis and its cultivation. It even details growing and harvesting tips, recommending a seven-month growth and flowering period for the plant before harvesting the flower. This clearly indicates the plants usage in medicine at the time, showing that weed has been cultivated for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
Around the same time, an Ancient Chinese surgeon of the name Hua Tuo is the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anaesthetic. However, he did not prepare it for smoking, but ground it into a powder which he mixed with wine to create a potion to be drunk before surgery.
Shen-Nung: First Person to Smoke Weed?
Legend also suggests that emperor Shen-Nung was the first person to experiment with cannabis as a medicinal herb. He is even supposed to have written a book about it called ‘Pen T’sao’ (The Great Herbal).
~ Shen-Nung actually gets a mention in Netflix’s Narcos and is credited as being the first man to smoke weed. ~
However, most historians aren’t convinced by the myth of Shen-Nung, especially given that the earliest copy of the Pen T’sao dates back to 50 AD, nearly 3,000 years after Shen-Nung’s reign.
While there’s no real proof, it’s very possible that such an emperor did exist and knowledge about the medicinal use of cannabis passed down the generations to be recorded in writing much later.
In any case, the Pen T’sao was a comprehensive guide to using weed medicinally, detailing its use in treating menstrual pain, gout and rheumatism among others.
While Ancient Chinese culture was not the first to smoke weed, they were likely one of the first to recognise the positive mental effects of the plant.
We also know that the ancient Egyptians cultivated cannabis for medical use. The use of the plant as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including sore eyes and haemorrhoids is described on papyrus scrolls which date back to as far as 2000 BC.
European Bronze Age
There is also evidence that cannabis was used as a painkiller in 3200BC in the Netherlands.
In 2007, a grave was discovered which contained a large quantity of cannabis pollen. The plant was supposedly used as both a general pain reliever and to treat fever by a group known as the “Bell Beaker Culture” during the European Bronze Age.
Kingdom of Judah
In Tel Arad, two altars were found to possess cannabis residue. These burials date back to the Kingdom of Judah (modern day Israel) in the 8th century BC. This potentially indicates that the people of Judah used cannabis for burial and funeral rituals.
An Ancient Practice
We don’t know for sure when weed was first smoked, but we can be pretty certain that it was at least 2,500 years ago.
Plus, we have a lot of evidence that cannabis has been used medicinally throughout human history.
If you’re interested in the history of weed smoking and its early references in scripture, check out What does the Bible say about Weed?