Ancient Highs:Cannabis Residue Discovered in Italian Hospital Skeletons from 1600s

Archaeologists excavated a hospital crypt from the 17th century in Milan and discovered the skeletal remains of 9 people, several of whom had traces of THC

by Sededin Dedovic
Ancient Highs:Cannabis Residue Discovered in Italian Hospital Skeletons from 1600s
© Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images

In a groundbreaking archaeological discovery, researchers excavating a 17th-century hospital crypt in Milan discovered the skeletal remains of nine people. However, the importance of the findings goes beyond mere bones, because this excavation also provided the first archaeological evidence of psychoactive components of cannabis in the bones of ancient people, which further confirms the claims that cannabis and Indian hemp were massively used in the past.

Cannabinoids, including the well-known psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are found in cannabis and can be stored in various tissues of the human body, including bones. A 2013 study published in the journal "Drug and Alcohol Dependence" noted that THC can be detected in human bones several weeks after the last use of cannabis.

However, recent advances in scientific research, as shown in a study published in the journal Science Direct, have shown that these psychoactive substances can last for centuries in the bones.

Our ancestors were heavy users

The exact mechanisms of cannabinoid storage in bone and the duration of detection vary depending on individual factors such as frequency of use, dosage, and metabolism.

And it seems that our ancestors were very and constantly "high". Bones essentially act as a reservoir for cannabinoids, providing a unique avenue for forensic and clinical assessment of past cannabis use. "Medicinal plant molecules can be detected by toxicological analysis even centuries after a person's death," notes Gaia Giordano from the University of Milan.

These molecules, including cannabinoids, can be absorbed into the bloodstream, travel through blood vessels, and become trapped and stored in bone tissue. Interestingly, the research team found no mention of cannabis in Ca' Grand's hospital records detailing the medicinal compounds used for treatment.

Dr. Giordano speculates that individuals may have "self-medicated or recreationally used cannabis" rather than receiving prescriptions for treatment, shedding light on historical attitudes toward the use of cannabis in the context of health and wellness.