Smoking Marijuana Is An OLD Habit

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Cannabis History is older than you think.

By Jahan Marcu

here is strong evidence that the plant was extensively cultivated about 6,000 years ago in North Eastern Asia, primarily used for its fiber. Records of medicinal use and physiological effects are found in the earliest pharmacopoeia in existence, attributed to Emperor Shen Nung (2,000 BC). Cannabis most likely diffused from Asia to Persia, India, and other parts of the Middle East before entering Africa and Western Europe. Muslim and Persian trade routes probably introduced cannabis or dagga to Africa during the first few centuries AD. Interestingly, cannabis smoking wasn’t documented in Jamaica until about 1807, after the British empire brought in slaves from India and Africa.

Cannabis history researchers recently found the 2,700 year-old grave of a shaman that contained about 789 grams of cannabis flower tops. They speculate that the cannabis was used for ritual or medicinal properties. This was a rare find, but archaeologists also have found other evidence of ancient cannabis smoking. Ornate “smoking bowls” have been found at other sites. These vary greatly in design, intricacy, and often contain ancient cannabis resin. Such bowls have been found throughout Africa. It is also thought that tobacco smoking spread quickly in Europe because humans were already familiar with smoking cannabis.

Methods for smoking cannabis have been developed over thousands of years. Early implements worked similarly to the so called Persian “hubble bubble” or hookah. Ancient societies made water-pipes from gourds, animal horns, earthenware, and even straight out of the ground using a “smoking bowl” and a tube or reed. The modern age offers something new: vaporizer technology. Vaporizers are the result of thousands of years of humans exploring new and better methods for the use of cannabis.

Since the advent of vaporizers the inadequacies of smoking have become more apparent. Vaporizers basically pass ‘hot air’ over the plant material to make a mist or steam. In addition to reducing the exposure to smoke, vaporizers are a more efficient delivery system for cannabinoids.

Take the example of a cannabis cigarette or joint which contains 1 gram (1,000-mg) of cannabis with 5 percent CBD (cannabidiol) by weight, or about 50-mg of CBD. Upon lighting the cigarette, cannabinoids begin to be destroyed by burning and lost through side stream smoke. Vaporizers can reduce much of this flame-related cannabinoid loss. From that 50-mg, some 11.5-mg will be delivered to the body through smoking. Research has shown that vaporizers can recover up to 99.5 percent of cannabinoids. However, some loss cannot be prevented, as only some of the CBD is absorbed by the lungs and the rest is exhaled. It is unlikely that cigarettes, vaporizers, or hookahs can change the amount absorbed through the lungs. Scientists aren’t sure how much is exhaled but some estimate it at 30 to 80 percent.

As cannabis history re-enters mainstream medicine, vaporizers are beginning to be accepted in hospitals and have been used in recent clinical trials exploring the medical benefits of cannabis. Finding efficient non-smoking alternatives to deliver cannabinoids may be key to gaining widespread acceptance in modern medicine.

Sources: Li, Hui-Lin. The Origin and use of cannabis in Eastern Asia: Their linguistic-cultural implications. Cannabis and Culture, 1975, pgs 51-62.

Jones, Lovinger. The Marijuana Question. 1985, Supplement A pg 463.

Pomahacova et al. Cannabis Smoke Condensate III: The cannabinoid content of vaporised Cannabis Sativa. Inhalation Toxicology 2009, 1-5, iFirst.

Russo et al. Phytochemical and genetic analysis of ancient cannabis from central Asia. Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 59, No. 15, pp. 4171–4182, 2008