Study Finds That Cannabis Was Consumed in Ancient Israel

Did the ancient Israelites consume cannabis as a sacred sacrament? A new study suggests that they may have.

As the War on Drugs comes to an end, cannabis use is becoming increasingly mainstream, with some calling it the next big industry, alongside Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol.

Though the recent prohibition surrounding cannabis, that is now ending throughout the world, was just a blip in the plant's broader history. Evidence of cannabis use has spanned back thousands of years, appearing in ancient China in the form of hemp-based textiles, and in ancient India as an entheogen. In fact, cannabis use was so widespread that many accounts believe that even the early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.

Now, it seems that even the ancient Israelites were partaking in the plant.

A new study from the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University has found that previously "unidentified dark materials" present on two limestone altars showed traces of THC, CBD, and CBN, suggesting that cannabis use had occurred there.

The altars, known as the 'fortress mound' of Tel Arad, were excavated between 1962−1967 and are believed to date back as far as the 9th to the early 6th centuries BCE – 2,700 years ago.

A photo of the two altars found at the entrance to a shrine at Tel Arad in southern Israel, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (Israel Museum/Laura Lachman)
(Israel Museum/Laura Lachman)

This is the first evidence of drug use being present in early Jewish worship, which was preserved thanks to the dry climate and burial of the altars, helping to avoid the degradation of the burnt cannabis remnants.

Though this new finding begs the question, precisely what role did cannabis play in worship among the Israelites?

It is clear that the cannabis remnants were burnt, not only because of the charred appearance of the remains but also because of the presence of THC; a cannabinoid that would otherwise be THCA if it had not been decarboxylated or burned.

Could the ancient Israelites have used cannabis to bring them closer to a religious experience, as the Hindu's were believed to?

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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