Journal Article

Phytochemical and genetic analyses of ancient cannabis from Central Asia

Ethan B. Russo, Hong-En Jiang, Xiao Li, Alan Sutton, Andrea Carboni, Francesca del Bianco, Giuseppe Mandolino, David J. Potter, You-Xing Zhao, Subir Bera, Yong-Bing Zhang, En-Guo Lü, David K. Ferguson, Francis Hueber, Liang-Cheng Zhao, Chang-Jiang Liu, Yu-Fei Wang and Cheng-Sen Li

in Journal of Experimental Botany

Published on behalf of Society for Experimental Biology

Volume 59, issue 15, pages 4171-4182
Published in print November 2008 | ISSN: 0022-0957
Published online November 2008 | e-ISSN: 1460-2431 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jxb/ern260

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The Yanghai Tombs near Turpan, Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, China have recently been excavated to reveal the 2700-year-old grave of a Caucasoid shaman whose accoutrements included a large cache of cannabis, superbly preserved by climatic and burial conditions. A multidisciplinary international team demonstrated through botanical examination, phytochemical investigation, and genetic deoxyribonucleic acid analysis by polymerase chain reaction that this material contained tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis, its oxidative degradation product, cannabinol, other metabolites, and its synthetic enzyme, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid synthase, as well as a novel genetic variant with two single nucleotide polymorphisms. The cannabis was presumably employed by this culture as a medicinal or psychoactive agent, or an aid to divination. To our knowledge, these investigations provide the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent, and contribute to the medical and archaeological record of this pre-Silk Road culture.

Keywords: Archaeology; botany; cannabis; cannabinoids; archaeobotany; ethnopharmacology; genetics; medical history; phytochemistry

Journal Article.  6376 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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