How Asian Americans for Cannabis Education is Changing the Narrative

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; an opportunity to reflect on the connection between cannabis and Asian culture that spans thousands of years and different continents, from ancient times up to the present day. Asian Americans for Cannabis Education intends to remind you of this fact early and often.

Known as “ma” in Chinese, cannabis has been cultivated on the continent for centuries. Fossil records and genetic studies indicate that the cannabis plant has a long history on the continent. Ancient Chinese texts, such as the Pen Ts’ao Ching (Classic of Herbal Medicine), dating back over two thousand years, mention cannabis as a plant with various applications, including medicinal uses and textile production.

Ancient archaeological sites in Central Asia have revealed cannabis residues and artifacts, evidence of cannabis’ presence on the continent thousands of years ago. One notable archaeological site is the Yanghai Tombs, situated in the Tarim Basin of present-day Xinjiang, China. Excavations at the site revealed well-preserved burial remains dating back some 2,500 years. Among the findings were cannabis plants and seeds, suggesting their cultivation and use during that time.

Another significant discovery occurred in the Jirzankal Cemetery in western China’s Pamir Mountains. Researchers excavating the tombs discovered braziers containing cannabis residue with exceptionally high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This finding suggests the intentional use of cannabis for its mind-altering properties, making it some of the earliest concrete evidence of cannabis as a drug in human history.

PHOTO Josh Fogels

Ophelia Chong, Making Moves

The Asian American cannabis community has played a key part in moving the sector forward with their contributions to tech, design, development and social equality. And there’s no one more respected, revered and unrivalled than Ophelia Chong. The award-winning creative dynamo has helped shape the industry’s visual identity, changing misconceptions and stereotypes associated with cannabis and its users along the way. Chong is a US Cannabis Council (USCC) board member, Cannabis Media Council advisor, Emerald Cup judge, founder of StockPot images and the person to ask if you need an expert’s insight.

Chong’s passion for cannabis extends far beyond business and deep into the fabric of culture and social equity. She has consistently advocated for growing cannabis at home and her website is a hub for those seeking information on navigating “through the fields of cannabis and the forests of mushrooms.”

In 2015, Chong co-founded Asian American Cannabis Education (AACE), a non-profit organization that connects and empowers Asian communities by providing educational support and resources on various cannabis-related matters, including issues, news and policies. Through their initiatives and events, AACE actively promotes awareness and understanding to help break lingering stigmas surrounding cannabis, as well as highlighting the achievements of those within the Asian American cannabis community. AACE holds regular events for its members that, according to Chong, Angela Pih, Head of Marketing at StakeHouse Holdings, named ‘Pot Luck.’ “We had the first one in August 2021, two more in 2022 and one this past February for Chinese New Year’s that Ispire sponsored.”

The Goddess Magu
Hemp held great significance in ancient East Asia and was often referred to as an “elixir of life.” The goddess Magu is often associated with cannabis due to its historical usage as a healing plant. Image courtesy of Asian American Cannabis Education

The Problem With Prohibition

Chong says her reason for co-creating Asian American Cannabis Education stemmed from her entry into cannabis back in 2015. “I found that when I entered the cannabis industry, there was no space for me, so I needed to create space for me and people who are like me,” she says. One of Chong’s first surprises with AACE was the discovery that she wasn’t alone. “I didn’t realize there were so many of us,” she says [laughs]. However, she says, it was also hard to find people who were open to freely talking about cannabis and their involvement with it. The stigma associated with cannabis nearly a decade ago was strong—even in Los Angeles—and Chong faced an uphill battle. This was pre-Prop 16, meaning only medical marijuana was legal in California.

“At first, it was very muffled, Chong says. “A lot of people were very cautious about going in. Minorities that were extremely cautious to begin with were now super cautious. And if they were in cannabis, they weren’t talking about it, which is why I created this club to get the ones who were willing to talk about it.”

Throughout Chinese history, cannabis has unsurprisingly held both positive and negative associations. While valued for its practical applications and medicinal properties, cannabis also faced periods of regulation and prohibition. Chong says that part of the challenge with AACE was trying to undo the damage caused by prohibition to a generation of people that began with indoctrination of anti-cannabis propaganda when, in 1985, the People’s Republic of China became a member of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The United Nations had previously taken a stance on regulating psychoactive drugs in 1971, classifying cannabis as a narcotic drug and prohibiting its possession or use in traditional Chinese medicine.

“On that list were psilocybin and cannabis—two of the very top plants in our medicine cabinet that traditional Chinese medicine could suddenly never touch again. For some 5000 years, we were using hemp and all this stuff. Well, no more; it’s now illegal. Overnight, a vital part of their culture was stripped away. They—the children of the 1960s—were indoctrinated into the irrational and unfounded fear of cannabis and they, in turn, passed the fear on to their children. When they immigrated to the US, the anti-cannabis messaging and D.A.R.E. all that stuff became part of ‘stay within your own guardrails, don’t go outside the lines’. This all built up the hesitancy of people wanting to be on AACE because of their parents. ‘How can I tell my parents?’ Now, I get people saying, ‘I want to be on AACE’.” Chong puts it down to Confucius’s philosophy of “education, respect for elders, and following the rule of law. It’s ingrained in our DNA,” she says.

Ophelia Chong at the Ispire sponsored Potluck event in Los Angeles
The recent Potluck event in Los Angeles celebrated Chinese New Year. Photos courtesy of Asian American Cannabis Education

The Cast of Friends

Chong says that the greatest thing she’s gained from Asian American Cannabis Education is realizing the lifelong friendships she’s made with people within the cannabis industry. “I’ve been in many industries from film, photography, music and publishing,” she says. “What surprised me is the depth of my friendships in cannabis—not just through AACE, but just how many people I’ve met, that I’ve probably bonded tighter with than we would have in other industries.”

Another thing she’s learned from AACE is a better understanding of what drives people’s passions and how they find these passions. “Yes, the main subject is cannabis, but it’s also taking that risk to be that passionate, and also taking the financial risk of going into cannabis with all the restrictions on it,” Chong says. “You basically can’t make money right now; you just have to be in it for the long run and lose a lot of money to stay in it. Which is very hard if you’re a small brand.”

Chong says that she sees her role in the Asian American cannabis community as a mentor, a mother, a grandmother figure. “I keep checking in on people to make sure they’re OK,” she says. “Right now, we need to do that because everyone is so tenuous; everyone’s job is on a thread. Everyone’s brand is hanging by a thread. And what you need to do is check-in and make sure everyone’s OK.”

While the current play of California’s cannabis industry remains challenging, to say the least, Chong does see some. “What I see in the future for Asians and cannabis is to just keep working relentlessly and continue to innovate and think out of the proverbial box.”

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DEA Uses Apple AirTag as a Surveillance Device

The use of Apple’s location-tracking device appears to be the first time a federal law enforcement agency has used an AirTag as a surveillance tool, according to technology industry insiders familiar with the case.

The investigation began in May 2022 when U.S. border security agents intercepted a package from Shanghai, China that they deemed suspicious. One package contained a pill press—a tool for compacting powders into oral tablets—while the other was a shipment of pill dyes. Believing that the package might have been sent to illegal drug manufacturers, the border agents notified the DEA of their discovery, according to a search warrant obtained by Forbes.

After DEA investigators inspected the flagged shipments, they hid an Apple AirTag inside the pill press and then allowed the packages to continue to their intended destination. DEA agents then used location data sent by the Bluetooth-enabled device to track the movements of the pill press to its intended address and after it was delivered.

The DEA did not reveal why it chose to use an Apple AirTag instead of other surveillance technology available to the agency, which has vast federal resources at its disposal to conduct domestic and international illegal narcotics investigations. But in court documents, a federal agent noted that the “precise location information for the [pill press] will allow investigators to obtain evidence about where such individuals store drugs and/or drug proceeds, where they obtain controlled substances, and where else they distribute them,” according to the search warrant obtained by Forbes.

Brady Wilkins, a recently retired detective with the attorney general’s office in Arizona, told Forbes that the DEA may have been testing the AirTag due to previous failures in other types of tracking technology currently available to law enforcement agencies, including GPS devices, which “sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t.”

An AirTag “can be hidden easier and is less likely to be found by suspects,” Wilkins told Forbes. “Suspects are getting better at countersurveillance techniques,” he added, noting that subjects have discovered GPS trackers larger than Apple AirTags used in previous investigations. AirTags also appear to have more reliable connectivity than other tracking devices.

Apple debuted the AirTag in April 2021, marketing the quarter-sized location tracker as a way for consumers to find lost bags, devices or other personal property. The affordable technology, which can be purchased online for less than $30, has resulted in many consumers sharing success stories of found items or the ability to track property including luggage as they travel to their destinations. But the devices have also been used for other, sometimes criminal purposes, including by stalkers who have surreptitiously placed an AirTag with their victim’s personal belongings, enabling the target’s movements to be tracked from afar.

After news of unintended uses of AirTags made news, Apple added measures to help prevent their clandestine use. The tech giant released an update for iPhones that allow them to notify the user if an unknown AirTag is detected on their person. AirTags also sound an alert when they are not in the proximity of their owner for an extended period of time.

The measures taken by Apple to make AirTags difficult to use secretly make them an unlikely surveillance tool for law enforcement agencies eager to remain undetected while conducting investigations. But Jerome Greco, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said that if a surveillance or investigative tactic is technologically feasible, “we should always assume that the police are going to take advantage of it.”

“AirTags and competing products continue to raise concern because of the ease of their ability to be abused and the potential significant consequences of those abuses,” Greco told Forbes. “The DEA investigation is another extension of AirTags being used for purposes that were presumably unintended by Apple.”

It is not clear how valuable the AirTag was to the DEA’s investigation. The search warrant allowed the agency to track the package containing the pill press for 45 days throughout the District of Massachusetts, the intended destination of the package, and through any other state in the U.S. Court records show that the recipient of the package was not charged with any crime in federal court. The Department of Justice confirmed to Forbes that the suspect has been charged in state court.

The DEA and Apple did not respond to requests for more information about the investigation.

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Chinese Police Enlist Drug-Sniffing Squirrels

Forget the hounds. Police in China are releasing the squirrels. 

Law enforcement in the city of Chongqing reportedly announced that it is training a team of drug-sniffing squirrels to help locate illicit substances and contraband. 

Insider reports that the police dog brigade in the city, located in southwestern China, “now has a team of six red squirrels to help them sniff out drugs in the nooks and crannies of warehouses and storage units.”

According to Insider, “Chongqing police told the state-linked media outlet The Paper that these squirrels are small and agile, and able to search through tiny spaces in warehouses and storage units that dogs cannot reach,” and that the “squirrels have been trained to use their claws to scratch boxes in order to alert their handlers if they detect drugs, the police said.”

“Squirrels have a very good sense of smell. However, it’s less mature for us to train rodents for drug search in the past in terms of the technology,” said Yin Jin, a handler with the police dog brigade of the Hechuan Public Security Bureau in Chongqing, as quoted by the Chinese state-affiliated English newspaper Global Times.

“Our self-developed training system can be applied to the training of various animals,” Yin added.

The newspaper noted that in contrast to drug dogs, “squirrels are small and agile, which makes them good at searching high places for drugs.”

According to Insider, “China’s drug-sniffing squirrels may well be the first of their kind,” although “animals and insects other than dogs have also been used to detect dangerous substances like explosives.”

“In 2002, the Pentagon backed a project to use bees to detect bombs. Meanwhile, Cambodia has deployed trained rats to help bomb-disposal squads trawl minefields for buried explosives,” Insider reported. “It is unclear if the Chongqing police intends to expand its force of drug-sniffing squirrels. It is also unclear how often the squirrel squad will be deployed.”

China is known for its strict and punitive anti-drug laws. 

According to the publication Health and Human Rights Journal, “drug use [in China] is an administrative and not criminal offense; however, individuals detained by public security authorities are subject to coercive or compulsory ‘treatment.’”

The journal explains: “This approach has been subject to widespread condemnation, including repeated calls over the past decade by United Nations (UN) agencies, UN human rights experts, and human rights organizations for the country to close compulsory drug detention centers and increase voluntary, community-based alternatives. Nonetheless, between 2012 and 2018, the number of people in compulsory drug detention centers in China remained virtually unchanged, and the number enrolled in compulsory community-based treatment rose sharply.”

“In addition to these approaches, the government enters all people detained by public security authorities for drug use in China into a system called the Drug User Internet Dynamic Control and Early Warning System, or Dynamic Control System (DCS),” the journal continues. “This is a reporting and monitoring system launched by the Ministry of Public Security in 2006. Individuals are entered into the system regardless of whether they are dependent on drugs or subject to criminal or administrative detention; some individuals who may be stopped by public security but not formally detained may also be enrolled in the DCS”

The Dynamic Control System “acts as an extension of China’s drug control efforts by monitoring the movement of people in the system and alerting police when individuals, for example, use their identity documents when registering at a hotel, conducting business at a government office or bank, registering a mobile phone, applying for tertiary education, or traveling,” according to the journal.

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Hong Kong’s ‘Dangerous Drug’ CBD Ban to Begin

In a starkly different approach from the U.S. and many other places around the world, Hong Kong moved to ban CBD and categorize it as a dangerous drug last October, and the ban begins on Wednesday.

Time reports that beginning on Wednesday, harsh penalties and huge fines—typically associated with hard narcotics—will be applied to people in Hong Kong caught in the possession, production, or smuggling of CBD.

Following in the footsteps of measures laid out in mainland China, Hong Kong’s CBD ban was announced last year, when government officials cited the difficulty of distinguishing pure CBD from THC, and the possibility of contamination during the production process. They also cited the way CBD can be converted to THC—typically in the production of delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, a Hong Kong Legislative Council Panel on Security announced in June that it would pursue a ban on CBD. Then in August, Hong Kong officials began cracking down on CBD businesses. Residents were given three months from Oct. 27 to dispose of their CBD products in special boxes set up around the city.

The full ban on CBD in the semi-autonomous administrative region begins within days.

“Starting from February 1, cannabidiol, aka CBD, will be regarded as a dangerous drug and will be supervised and managed by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,” customs intelligence officer Au-Yeung Ka-lun said at a press briefing.

“As of then, transporting CBD for sale, including import and export, as well as producing, possessing and consuming CBD, will be illegal,” Au-Yeung said.

People caught importing, exporting, or producing CBD can face up to life in prison and Hong Kong $5 million ($638,000) in fines. People caught in possession of CBD can face a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and Hong Kong $1 million ($128,000) in fines.

“We will tackle all kinds of dangerous drugs from all angles and all ends, and the intelligence-led enforcement action is our major goal,” Chan Kai-ho, a divisional commander with the department’s Airport Command, told reporters Friday.

Chan said authorities would enforce the law on a case-by-case basis and “seek legal advice from our Department of Justice to determine what the further actions will be.”

South China Morning Post reports that since 2019, the department said it has seized over 4,100 CBD items that were found to contain traces of THC. Between January 2018 and December 2022, authorities arrested 38 people for their suspected connections to 68 cases where CBD products were believed to contain THC.

Hong Kong customs officials arrested nine people, seizing 25,000 CBD items worth  $14.6 million Hong Kong dollars after the products were found to contain traces of an illegal cannabinoid in January 2022.

It’s quite a change from 2020, when Hong Kong’s first CBD cafe opened, selling a full range of CBD-based cannabis products including vials of CBD oil for personal use, powders to be added to foods such as oil and butters, and other products, including products for pets who need pain relief. They also sold CBD-infused beer and coffee for those who wanted to stay awhile in the cafe. 

Nearby in Mainland China, CBD is banned in cosmetics, as well as all synthetic cannabinoids, which are typically made from CBD. But keep in mind that China is blamed as one of the world’s major sources of fentanyl precursors. Moreso in China than in other parts of the world, synthetic cannabinoids are mixed with other drugs more frequently.

Jaycee Chan, son of Hong Kong native Jackie Chan, served a six month sentence in 2014-2015 for hosting a get-together with weed in his Beijing apartment. That was during a crackdown on illegal drugs in the city.

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China Is Sending Monkeys Into Space To Have Sex For Science

A bunch of highly trained scientists in China are, right hand to God, sending macaque monkeys and mice into space so they can study how they reproduce in space-like conditions.

“Some studies involving mice and macaques will be carried out to see how they grow or even reproduce in space,” a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhang Lu, said in a speech Monday. “These experiments will help improve our understanding of an organism’s adaptation to microgravity and other space environments.”

According to an article by the South China Morning Post, the study will take place aboard the Wentian Lab Module on the Chinese Space Station Tiangong. The space station is currently outfitted with small test cabinets intended for fish or snails but they will be reconfigured to house the monkeys, who were presumably still on Earth as of the publication of this article.

Anyone with a pulse is currently wondering the following: is it even possible to make monkeys have sex in space? Have humans had sex in space? If you have sex in space but give birth to the baby on Earth is the baby an earthling or an alien? Would that very same baby be barred from entering the United States under Trump’s immigration laws?

The history here is interesting, actually. Fruit flies were the first living creatures officially sent into space in 1947. Then the Soviets and the U.S. sent a bunch of animals including monkeys, mice, and dogs into orbit in the late 40s and 50s. I’ve seen some reports that mating may have occurred but the Soviets weren’t big on sharing notes so it’s hard to say.

In terms of the present day space monkeys, a Beijing college professor told the SCMP that their large size presents more issues, but studying larger animals is crucial for understanding if humans can create colonies on other planets.

“The astronauts will need to feed them and deal with the waste,” Professor Kehkooi Kee of Tsinghua University told the SCMP. “These experiments will be necessary.”

As far as humans go, NASA has clearly stated that as far as they know, no humans have ever had sex in space. No reports of space sex have ever been confirmed, though it is a surprisingly hotly-debated issue. An American astronaut couple married in secret before joining each other on a mission to the International Space Station in the 90s but the official story is basically that everyone is always too busy doing astronaut shit to think about screwing. I call shenanigans on that but I’ve also never been to space. 

Our nation’s top scientists say the physics of space sex would be quite difficult as you’d need a third person, or a lot of velcro, to properly hold you in place. Not only that, the increased radiation levels in space and the effects of zero gravity on blood circulation present equally challenging issues for sexual and reproductive success. 

According to a 2014 study: “Relative to other organ systems, the gonads are highly sensitive to radiation exposure. In men and women, temporary infertility is associated with high-dose, acute radiation exposure.”

Many scientists have also proposed that the way low gravity affects blood circulation might make it difficult for men to produce or maintain an erection. All this, coupled with the lack of privacy on a spacecraft has thus far made it very difficult for astronauts to, dare I say, experiment in this department. 

Which brings us back to the Chinese launching monkeys into space. If the monkeys can successfully reproduce without any issues, or if we can at least develop an understanding of any issues that do occur, it may be key to understanding if humans can maintain future colonies in space or on other planets.

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Drug-Related Social Media Posts in Hong Kong Increase Threefold Since 2016

Research by Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups found that social media content in the city featuring drugs saw over a threefold increase, from 927 in 2016 to 3,114 by the end of last year, first reported by RTHK News. The survey also takes aim at cannabidiol (CBD), as authorities consider a ban on the up-and-coming cannabinoid.

The study, released last week, also found an increase in video views in the same period for drug-related content, from about 3.4 million to 7.6 million.

Additionally, researchers noted that social media users posted a variety of content over the period, including popular memes, hashtags and non-fungible-tokens (NFTs) to promote drug use. NFTs have grown in popularity over the years as a unique digital asset, often taking the form of art, that can’t be copied.

“We found some NFT in the high-risk websites,” said Michael Leung, who works for the group’s youth crime prevention center. Leung added that high-risk users utilizing memes, hashtags, cartoon characters and NFTs to promote drugs “causes some users to underestimate the risks and severity of drug abuse problem.”

The group also polled around 1,300 younger adults, from November 2021 to July 2022, and found that 20% “underestimated the harm of drugs.” Specifically, more than one-fifth of respondents believed they were able to control “any cravings” for drugs. About 18% of interviewees also said they felt taking drugs could relieve anxiety.

The study also found that more than half of all drug-related posts originated on a platform, similar to Reddit, called LIHKG, followed by Instagram and HKGolden online forum. Half of all content logged by the study reference cannabis, while cocaine and methamphetamine were featured in 11.6% and 8.4% of posts, respectively.

Leung attributed some of the more recent interest around drugs to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many residents were confined to their homes and used social media more often since 2020.

CBD is among the specific drugs seeing an increase in traffic over this time period, too, with the number of related views increasing from 5,707 in 2019 to 11,840 in 2020 and 43,980 in 2021. Bob Lee Siu-chui, a supervisor of the federation’s youth crime prevention center, said that CBD in particular has been advertised as a stress-relief and healthcare product “for enticement, lowering the wariness among young people,” South China Morning Post reports.

CBD is legal in Hong Kong, so long as it doesn’t contain THC.

“Some products may contain THC, an easily addictive substance that is regulated by the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance,” Lee said. Lee also expressed concern that CBD could become a gateway for young people to start using and selling other drugs.

In turn, the city’s law enforcement agencies are currently pushing to outlaw CBD within the year, stressing the illegal status of cannabis in an attempt to dissuade residents from trying out the non-psychoactive cannabinoid.

“There is a trend in Hong Kong that some online users discuss CBD,” Leung said, adding that “many people” have underestimated the risks of CBD and the severity of damages cannabis can cause.

A spokesperson told South China Morning Post that the government would seek to ban CBD products in early 2023.

“The government has taken a firm stance against cannabis and repeatedly stated that the use, cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking…of cannabis and controlled cannabis products are illegal and will remain so,” he said. “We will continue to educate the public, especially young people, to correctly understand that cannabis is a drug and it is harmful to health.”

The 2016 Brookings Institution report, “A People’s War: China’s Struggle to Contain its Illicit Drug Problem,” notes that China has faced a growing problem of illicit drug use. The amount of registered drug addicts increased every year until publication since the government’s first annual drug enforcement report in 1998. This problem is arguably compounded by the fact that drug addiction is considered a personal failure and is highly stigmatized, with drug addiction not receiving much public sympathy or government funding in the country.

“There are two main strategies for treating addiction in China: (1) enrollment in compulsory detoxification centers, and (2) sentencing to ‘education through labor’ camps,” the report reads.

The authors, San Diego State University sociology professor Sheldon X. Zhang and Rutgers University criminal justice professor Ko-lin Chin, instead recommended that China apply a public health approach to the treatment of addicts. Additionally, they recommend China promote evidence-based treatment programs, based on scientific research; establish a reliable drug market forecast system, combining chemical composition analysis, reports and urine tests of arrested drug offenders and community informants on illicit drug use trends; and increase the efficiency of its international collaboration.

“While not a silver bullet, perhaps China … should also consider experimenting with a more compassionate approach oriented toward harm reduction,” the authors concluded.

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A Brief Interview With Prof. Yimin Yang, Discoverer of Ancient Chinese Cannabis

Circa-Millions of Years Ago

Talk about a long growing season, Cannabis has been growing wild on our planet provenly, for millions of years and cultivated for perhaps many thousands. Cannabis sativa belongs to a narrow group of flowering plants (cannabaceae) to include Hops and a handful of others. Originating in Central Asia, cannabis became embedded in early Asian culture as the people derived such necessary staples as cordage for tying, fiber for clothing, and much more from this verdant little plant with a caravan of utility.

It isn’t hard to imagine that somewhere along the Silk Road some lonely night traveler may have wondered what other secrets this little plant might possess and decided to put fire to it. A possibility no doubt, but strong evidence that marijuana was consumed for its psychotropic effects in ancient times just isn’t there. Or is it? 

First Reference

The Greek Historian Herodotus wrote that as far back as 440 B.C. the nomadic Scythians, as part of their post-burial ritual for the dearly demised, consumed cannabis smoke to purify themselves. Paraphrasing his account, they would dig a pit then fill it with red-hot stones and form a small 3-pole tent around it. The next step was the throwing of Kavvabic (kannabis) seeds onto the hot stones, apparently sending up such clouds as to rival a fine Greek bath house. 

When the tent filled with the aromatic intoxicant the mourning Scythians would crawl in, breathe the smoke and according to Herodotus, “howl in their joy at the vapor-bath.” One could reasonably assume other parts of the cannabis plant hit those hot rocks. (I wonder if that’s where the term getting stoned originated?)

Herodotus or not, present day scholars require facts and historically there has been no substantive proof cannabis was burned and smoked to potentiate its psychoactive properties. Until now.

High in the Mountains?

In 2013, an international research team led by Yimin Yang, Prof., Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, began excavation of the Jirzankal Cemetery in the Pamir Mountain range of Central China. A region known also as the Pamir Plateau.

At an altitude of 10,000 feet, the team was there to excavate the site and study the ancient tombs of the indigenous peoples of the region. Included in this diverse group of researchers was coauthor of the study, Doctor Robert Spengler, Director of Paleoethnobotany Laboratories for the Max Planc Institute for the Science of Human History.

The details of their discovery were finally published in the prestigious Science Advances in June of 2019. The article chronicled the unearthing of ten wooden braziers at the Pamir burial site, the contents of which held a yet to be realized, remarkable discovery. Within those braziers a collection of burnt residue and ash still remained, and it was within those small piles of ash an ancient secret slept.

Courtesy of Yimin Yang

Note: A brazier can be any type holder, pan or box and even a hollowed-out piece of wood for holding hot coals or stones. They were often used for cooking or in cultural rituals. In this instance, these braziers were thought to be typical funerary incense burners. However, through high-tech analyzation processes they would discover their contents were anything but typical.

Testing 1-2-3

Marshaling the latest scientific methods of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS), professor Yang and his colleagues conducted several tests. First analyzing the chemical signature in the ash, which, to their excitement, revealed the presence of tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Further testing disclosed not only was it marijuana, but a strain more potent than any previously found growing wild in the region, hinting at cultivation or perhaps, even trade; another milestone. Moreover, the high quality of the cannabis lends more credence to the viewpoint marijuana was smoked deliberately for its mind-modifying properties. This was a signal discovery and historic first.

Adding to the team’s success, further testing determined the ancient herb to be at least 2,500 years old, making it the oldest pot ever discovered directly linked to consumption for the purpose of reshaping consciousness. In one interview, Professor Yang speculated that during the funeral rites mourners likely smoked the cannabis to communicate with the spirit world or the spirit of the recently departed. 

Mountain Man

This was an historic discovery an worthy of pursuit. I reached out to Professor Yang, the Pamir Expedition leader, and found him in Beijing. I explained I write for a cannabis-friendly magazine and would like to interview him about his team’s findings. He was gracious enough to grant me a brief Q&A even though he was in a hotel room and on vacation at the time.

For the record, Professor Yang holds a PhD in Archaeometry and is a world renowned authority on ancient organic residue analysis.

High Times: Thank you so much for taking time for this interview, Professor.

Professor Yang: You are most welcome.

About the marijuana discovered in the tombs, were you able to discern its type? Whether a Sativa or Indica strain?

No. There is a long debate on the taxonomy (classification) of cannabis. We just deduced the ancient, burned cannabis to have a high THC content.

I’m curious. How, after 2,500 years could you tell the cannabis you discovered was potent?

Cannabis with a high THC level often contains a low level of CBD. The cannabinoids detected on the wooden braziers are mainly CBN, indicating that the burned cannabis plants expressed higher THC levels than typically found in wild plants.

A pattern of relatively equivalent amounts of THC and CBD would be expected for wild cannabis plants, but evident peaks corresponding to cannabinoids of CBD and its degradation products (such as cannabielsoin) were not detected in the burning residues.

So the GC/MS test results told you the cannabis in the braziers was a more powerful strain than any yet discovered?


That must have been a very exciting moment. What are the dimensions of the braziers you discovered containing the cannabis residue?

The diameter of the braziers is about 10-20 cm.

Did you find any signs of cultivation?

There is no strong evidence for cultivation. Archaeologists found some bad-burned braziers in the tomb, so we believe these braziers, stones, and cannabis burning, happened in the funeral ritual.

Have you written other papers on this subject one may be able to read?

It is the first time cannabis residue was chemically analyzed so I don’t have other papers to provide.

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Hong Kong Expected To Ban CBD

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, a Hong Kong Legislative Council Panel on Security announced in June that it would pursue a ban on CBD. In a written paper, the council claimed that the reason for this is because CBD always has the potential to contain trace amounts of THC. “It is nearly inevitable that CBD products manufactured from CBD isolates contain certain levels of THC, even though at trace levels or levels below the detection limits of various analytical methods,” the council wrote.

This enforcement is leading to the raid of many CBD businesses. In one example, the story of Daniel (a fake name to protect the individual’s identity) explained the situation. He had operated his business for three years before the raid occurred. “My mind was blank as I watched the officers taking all my products off the shelves one by one,” said Daniel. “Everything I did went to waste.” Daniel noted that no officers told him that his products contained THC. Prior to the raid, he personally sent products in for testing that reported that no THC was present.

Hong Kong law enforcement has been targeting CBD business owners since November 2021, having seized more than 30,000 CBD products. An unknown number of these products were tested, and allegedly one third contained THC.

The Hong Kong Free Press also noted that 34 people have been arrested for “trafficking dangerous drugs and possession of dangerous drugs.” No charges have been made yet, and all of them were released on bail, although they are currently still under investigation. According to the Narcotics Division, “any quantity of a dangerous drug shall be a dangerous drug.”

The Legislative Council’s paper claimed that CBD will decompose into THC. Hong Kong Free Press reached out to University of California, Davis Professor Donald Land, who confirmed that this is true, but any THC created would produce “an extremely small effect.” “The government position clearly points at the mere presence of any amount of dangerous drug, and not on the effects, or lack thereof,” Land said.

Denise Tam, owner of the online CBD store Heavens Please, also spoke about the government’s reasoning. “As we know, there is no absolute zero in science,” Tam said. “The government probably found 0.00001 per cent of THC. What’s the impact of that?”

Clinical Assistant Professor Dr. Albert Chung, from the University of Hong Long’s psychiatry department, told Hong Kong Free Press that research on THC is more limited than those analyzing CBD. To law enforcement though, cannabis is defined as a “dangerous drug.” “In Hong Kong, all psychoactive drugs including cannabis, ketamine, opioids, are categorised [by authorities] into one group—dangerous drugs,” Chung said.

Chung recently published a study called “Attitudes and beliefs of medical students on cannabis in Hong Kong.” Although his students were supportive of “training and research” on cannabis, Chung believes it could take years for Hong Kong to recognize the effectiveness of CBD as a medicine instead of a dangerous drug. “It would be quite difficult for Hong Kong to have medical cannabis in the next 10 years,” Chung said.

In the meantime, it appears that some patients who have found relief with CBD are stocking up, and are expecting CBD to quickly disappear from store shelves for the time being. “That CBD could even be sold in Hong Kong was a big step. Now, we’re moving backwards,” said one consumer.

Back in September 2020, Hong Kong’s first CBD cafe, called Found, opened in the Sheung Wan district. However, the cafe announced on August 19 that it would be closing in anticipation of the looming CBD ban. “Sadly, in spite of the demonstrable positive impact, it has now become apparent that the Hong Kong government intends to adopt new legislation to prohibit the sale and possession of CBD,” Found wrote on its Instagram page. “While we do not know exactly when it will take effect, it is expected to happen sometime around the end of 2022 or early 2023. With this, we have had to make the difficult decision to close the Found café at the end of September.”

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Trump Urges ‘Very Quick Trial’ and Death Penalty for Drug Dealers

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday gave a clue to his vision for a potential return to the Oval Office, saying in a Washington, D.C. speech that the nation needs to get tough on crime and sentence drug dealers to the death penalty. Speaking before the conservative nonprofit the America First Policy Institute, Trump said that drug traffickers should face execution after a “very quick trial.”

“The penalties should be very, very severe,” Trump said during his speech on Tuesday, as quoted by The Hill. “If you look at countries throughout the world, the ones that don’t have a drug problem are ones that institute a very quick trial death penalty sentence for drug dealers.”

Trump added that the United States would not face the problems associated with illicit drugs if authorities were tougher on crime. He praised other countries that have quick trials for suspected drug dealers.

“It’s terrible to say, but you take a look at every country in this world that doesn’t have a problem with drugs, they have a very strong death penalty for people that sell drugs,” he said.

“It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But you know what? That’s the ones that don’t have any problem. It doesn’t take 15 years in court. It goes quickly, and you absolutely — you execute a drug dealer, and you’ll save 500 lives,” the former president continued.

At one point in his address, Trump applauded the way Chinese President Xi Jinping handled drug traffickers, recalling a time when Xi told him about “quick trials” for drug criminals in China that he estimated sentenced people in “two hours.”

Trump’s appearance at the America First Policy Institute’s two-day summit marked the first time the former president has spoken publicly in Washington, D.C. since he left office in January 2021. His remarks on harsh punishment for drug dealers came in a speech calling for the nation to get tough on crime and support law enforcement agencies and their officers.

Former President Calls for American Police State

Trump said that the country is becoming unsafe for its citizens, highlighting instances of attacks on everyday Americans in cities including Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia that have been extensively reported by conservative media.

“The dangerously deranged roam our streets with impunity. We are living in such a different country for one primary reason: There is no longer respect for the law and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime,” said Trump, only 18 months after leaving office at the end of his first term.

Trump advocated for what would be a huge increase in police officers across the country, saying that there should be a police car on every corner. He called for a “no-holds-barred national campaign to dismantle gangs and organized street crime in America.” The former president also called for efforts to defeat violence “and be tough and be nasty and be mean if we have to.”

“We’re living in such a different country for one primary reason: There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime,” Trump said.

“We are a failing nation,” he added, only 18 months after leaving office.

Trump also said that encampments of unsheltered people in cities should be relocated to “large parcels of inexpensive land at the outer reaches of the city.” The former president added that such camps should also have tents staffed with healthcare professionals including medical doctors and psychologists.

To fight back against crime, Trump argued that the president should ignore state authority by deploying the National Guard and “go beyond the governor,” completely ignoring the Republican Party’s often repeated support for states’ rights.

“When governors refuse to protect their people, we need to bring in what is necessary anyway,” Trump said, adding that “the next president needs to send the National Guard to the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago until safety can be restored.”

Trump has a history of supporting draconian tactics to deal with drug traffickers and other criminals. In 2017, he called then-President Rodrigo Duterte of the Phillipines to praise him for his crackdown on drug dealers that led to the killing of an estimated 12,000 people at the hands of police and vigilantes.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump reportedly said, referring to the country’s rash of extrajudicial deaths. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

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A Brief History of Getting High

Nowadays people tend to associate the cannabis plant with Mexico, and for good reason. For decades, narcos smuggled their harvests into the United States and Europe. Along with California, Mexico is known to produce some of the finest cannabis in the world. The states of Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Durango—where the largest farms are located—all have climates that are perfect for cultivating cannabis: year-round temperature ranging between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, with cool, long nights and low humidity.

But long before cannabis was introduced to—and became synonymous with—the New World, it was being cultivated in the lands of Central Asia. Initially, though, the cannabis or hemp plant was grown not for its leaves but for its stems, which could be processed into a strong and durable rope.

Excavations reveal that humans have been using hemp rope since the Neolithic age. The earliest evidence for burning cannabis, meanwhile, dates back to 3,500 BC, and is attributed to the Kurgans of modern-day Romania. This Proto-Indo-European tribe probably burned the plant as part of their rituals and ceremonies, a practice that spread eastward as its practitioners migrated. Why the Kurgans burned cannabis is difficult to say. They may well have discovered the plant’s psychoactive properties by accident, only to find that the smoke heightened their connection with all things spiritual.

The earliest evidence for smoking cannabis comes from the Pamir Mountains in western China. There, in 2500-year-old tombs, researchers discovered THC residue inside the burners of charred pipes that were probably used for funerary rites. (Similar pipes, dated to the 12th century BC, were later found in Ethiopia, left there by a separate culture). These devices, compared to pyres, would have yielded a much stronger high. Given their placement inside a crypt, however, it’s safe to say they were used only ceremonially, not recreationally. 

Some scholars have argued that cannabis was an important ingredient of soma, a ritual drink concocted by the Vedic Indo-Aryans of northern India. Described in the Rigveda, a collection of ancient Sanskrit hymns, soma was made by extracting juice from an unknown plant. When taken in small doses, soma was reported to induce a feeling of euphoria. In higher doses, it caused people to see hallucinations and lose their sense of time. All three of these effects have been ascribed to cannabis, but even if cannabis was not the main ingredient of soma, it may have been combined with psychedelics such as psilocybin, a.k.a. magic mushrooms.

Aside from rope, cannabis was most often processed into medicine. When the Hindus of India came down with a case of “hot breath of the gods,” healers treated the illness with cannabis smoke. The logic behind this treatment was not exactly scientific; cannabis was thought to possess healing powers because it was the favorite food of the supreme godhead Shiva, also called “Lord of Bhang.” In reality, cannabis would have been able to reduce fevers because its active ingredient, THC, works on the hypothalamus to lower body temperature.

The Assyrians used cannabis not in a medical but religious context, burning it in their temples to release an aroma that supposedly appeased their gods. Sources from the region refer to cannabis as qunubu, providing a possible origin for the word we use today. The Assyrian Empire was conceived in the 21st century BC and lasted until the 7th. During this time it engulfed much of modern-day Iraq as well as parts of Iran, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey. Through trade and conquest, Assyrian traditions spread to neighboring societies, including the Dacians, Thracians and Scythians, the latter of which were among the first to consume cannabis in a distinctly recreational manner.

The Scythians were part of a Central Asian nomadic culture that flourished from 900 to around 200 BC. Originating in northern Siberia, Scythian tribes settled as far as the shores of the Black Sea, where they came into contact with the ancient Greeks. When Scythians died, their friends and family burned hemp inside tents to commemorate their passing. While the Kurgans and Assyrians burned their cannabis out in the open or in large indoor spaces, the Scythians were essentially hotboxing themselves at every funeral. At least, that’s the image we receive from the historian Herodotus, who wrote that “the Scythians enjoy [the hemp smoke] so much that they would howl with pleasure.” And so, the primary purpose of this ritual was to send off the dead, it clearly also served to entertain the living.

Herodotus did not live among the Scythians, but his observations seem to have been confirmed by excavations. Archeologists discovered fossilized hemp seeds at a Scythian camp in western Mongolia that were left there between the 5th and 2nd century BC.

Romans, too, consumed cannabis for their own pleasure, but not in the way you might expect. Like many societies of classical antiquity, they harvested the plant for its seeds rather than its leaves, which were discarded as a waste product. When grounded, the seeds were used in medicine. When fried, they were served up as delicacies during lavish dinner parties. Roman chefs mentioned cannabis seeds in the same breath as caviar and cakes. Galen, the famous Roman physician, wrote that they were consumed “to stimulate an appetite for drinking.” Nowadays, it’s the seeds—not the leaves—that are considered useless. However, the Romans believed they, too, had some intoxicating properties; Galen adds that, when consumed in large amounts, the seeds would send people into a “warm and toxic vapor.”

Cannabis was so widely consumed in classical antiquity that people raised the same questions and concerns we are debating today. The Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides, for instance, wrote that the plant’s spherical seeds, “when eaten in excess, diminish sexual potency.” Modern-day cannabis users are all too aware of the connection, even if they don’t eat seeds. As stated by Healthline, cannabis is “often associated with side effects that may affect sexual health, including erectile dysfunction.” Similar to some psychedelics, the general sense of euphoria generated by cannabis may counteract or override the reception of sexual stimuli.

Let’s skip forward a bit. Recreational smoking became especially popular after the 9th century AD. In the Middle East and Western Asia, the followers of Islam took up the habit for the simple but somewhat amusing reason that their holy scripture, the Quran, forbade the consumption of alcohol and various other intoxicating substances. Fortunately for Muslim stoners, the Quran did not say anything about weed. Of course, they smoked not just any weed, but hashish.

Skipping forward again, this time to the 16th century—the century that cannabis arrived in the New World, and for the sole purpose of making rope no less. Actually, Americans did not start smoking weed until about one-hundred years ago, when Mexican immigrants entered the country to seek refuge from the Mexican Revolution. For decades the U.S. government turned a blind eye on this harmless, multicultural and age-old practice. However, this changed during the Great Depression, when Washington redirected the anger of unemployed workers to their Mexican brethren. After millennia of peaceful consumption, cannabis was suddenly decried as an “evil weed” and, in 1937, the U.S. became the first country in the world to criminalize cannabis on a national level.

The rest, at this point in time, has now become history as well.

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