Cannabis Residue in 17th-Century Human Bones Indicates Recreational Use Among Italians

Jeremy Bouvet
Cannabis Residue in 17th-Century Human Bones Indicates Recreational Use Among Italians

Throughout history, cannabis has been a recurring part of human culture.

In 440 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus mentioned flowers with mind-altering effects, and during the Middle Ages, cannabis was a common remedy for a range of ailments. However, the plant faced opposition, notably from a papal decree in 1484 that labeled it as unholy.

Recently, a team of forensic scientists in Milan unearthed traces of cannabis in 17th-century human remains, marking a significant discovery in a field where such investigations are rare. This finding was led by Gaia Giordano, a biologist and doctoral student at the University of Milan, who emphasized the scarcity of laboratories capable of detecting drug remnants in bones.

Published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, their study delved into bone samples from 1600s Milan, revealing the presence of cannabinoids in two individuals—a woman around 50 and a teenage boy. The cannabinoids detected were Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (DTC) and cannabidiol (CBD), indicating not only widespread consumption across ages and genders but also the likelihood of recreational usage, possibly in edibles or infusions.

Curiously, despite detailed medical records of healing practices in Milan at the time, there was no mention of cannabis, leading researchers to speculate its use for leisure or self-medication purposes, especially given the harsh living conditions of 17th-century Milan.

This historical use of cannabis was not isolated to the 17th century. Centuries later, Napoleon prohibited its consumption among soldiers due to its perceived negative psychological effects. Additionally, Italy was a significant hemp producer, utilizing the plant for various industries, which possibly extended to recreational use as well.

Yet, despite its historical significance, cannabis has been steeped in social stigma, with bans and negative associations persisting till today. Even as Italy legalizes cannabis for medical purposes, resistance to its acceptance remains, reflecting a complex interplay between historical, cultural, and religious influences.

As debates on cannabis legalization continue, researchers plan to further their investigations by examining more human remains from the same period, aiming to gain a clearer understanding of the prevalence and frequency of cannabis use during that era. Their work, led by Cristina Cattaneo at the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology in Milan, sheds light not only on historical drug use but also on the lives of marginalized individuals throughout different periods of history.

 

source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/cannabis-bones-milan-italy-1.7020809

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